Monday, May 19, 2014

The Decameron of Boccaccio

This is the book that made me realize I come from a long line of Catholics.

Having no knowledge of this book, I decided that I would start reading The Decameron with a little investigation of the book first. There is a fantastic page from  Brown University's Italian Studies Department that actually tells a lot about the history of the book. Between them and Wikipedia I set myself up with some good knowledge that I will now share with you. (Yes I know that Wikipedia is a disreputable source but I backed it up with academic knowledge so bleh!)

The Decameron was written by Giovanni Boccaccio from 1348-1351. The book is a collection of stories told by 10 individuals who escape the black plague together by fleeing to a country house owned by one of them. They entertain each other with stories to pass the time during the 10 days that they are together. Sound familiar? Well this is probably because there is a good chance that Chaucer took the format of his Canterbury tales from The Decameron. In fact, it is believed that Chaucer's Knight's Tale is pretty much lifted out of The Decameron. The book is a historical goldmine of 14th century Italian conceptions of Chivalry, Sex, Religion, and life in general. I am only a third of the way through it, mostly because it is somewhat boring, but so far I've read a few humorous stories.

Now when I found out all of this information I was not exactly thrilled that this was the next book on my list. But I really had no choice because I managed to check it out from my library. Unfortunately its not the same translation as the one my great grandparents owned, but its mainly the same book. I am so glad its not the same translation because theirs looked like it was slightly more difficult to comprehend. It's definitely better than the translation available from the Gutenberg Project. Their version was so flowery and filled with thees and thous that I couldn't get two sentences in without wanting to break the computer screen. My mom pointed out that the GP one is probably from the 1600s which would explain the language. This book is from the 1930s and fairly close to the age I believe my great grandparent's version is - there is no publishing date in it. It is translated by Richard Aldington and although I have no knowledge of medieval Italian, I think its a good translation.

Now onto what my tagline means. As I was reading this book I noted that it has a lot of religious connotation to it. Several stories are all about behaving properly in the eyes of God and the greatness of God and so on and so forth. I'm just gonna state, I'm an Atheist, and although I know that the Medieval period was religious and although I know that historically this is what it was like. I hated it. The constant He referred to in the stories was starting to get my temper chomping. And then I wrote myself a historical question about the rotten clergy - there was a lot of it - and why were they still religious despite the horrible plague and horrible clergy. That's when it clicked in my mind, all of these stories deal with Catholics. 'Cause well, Medieval Italy. Then my neurons chewed on that information and spit out some random answer to a question I was working on in the back of my mind. Why on Earth did any of my ancestors read this book? Was it just because it was a classic? (One I'd never heard of.) Or were they interested in medieval literature (only book on the shelf.) And then my neurons responded, oh wait. Catholics. My great grandfather's family was Catholic. They could have been reading the book because they enjoyed religious medieval stories. Or maybe it was done on a bet. A library initiative? Curiosity's sake? Or not even read at all. I don't really know and I have no way of finding out. But suddenly the religious stuff didn't bug me so much because I had a personal history with it. Now the book can mention He as much as it wants because I feel some stronger connection to my ancestors when I read it.

Just a note though, my Great Grandfather became a content Atheist later in his life.

That's all for today, next time I'll share some information with you about what a Sirocco wind is and which King Charles are they all talking about.