Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Decameron of Boccaccio Final

I completely skimmed this book.

After reading halfway through it, of course. I believe that I'm covered by skimming it, because technically I finished it. (I even read the conclusion.) I just didn't read every single one of the 100 1/2 stories inside it. I say 100 and 1/2 because Boccaccio started the Fourth Day with a rant about how people need to stop telling him that he spends too much time with women. In this rant, he told a small story as an example, but he only told half of it and for all that I looked in the book - I never did find the other half. Which is annoying.

Outside of that, the book does say a lot about medieval attitudes, or at least the attitudes of the well off. There is, sadly, only one occurrence of a voice from the lower class and it is merely a bawdy old woman - servant - complaining about a man that told her that he knows more about virginity than she does. Which, as proven by the revelers, he did not. First, what was slightly surprising to me, in the medieval ages the clergy was seen as ridiculous. But you still must believe in God, God is great. But the friars, monks, and pope - all shameless sexual deviants - the lot of them. Women, too restrained by Boccaccio's standards. On the one hand, Boccaccio seemed to be arguing - especially in his conclusion - that women should be allowed to hear dirty stories and should give up pretending to be pure. At least, that was my reading of his message. Brown University's page points out that women were seen as having greater sexual desire, so perhaps this is why Boccaccio constantly pointed out that women enjoyed sex.

However, even though women should enjoy sex, they should not be unfaithful. Here is where patriarchy makes all men hypocrites. In his stories, men were to be praised for their successes in sleeping with other men's wives. But women, women were to be censured for sleeping with men other than their husbands. For example, in one tale - a monk meets with a woman who has a very stupid husband. He persuades her, very cleverly, to do away with her husband - tells her how - and then proceeds to enjoy her. At the end of the story, he is lauded by the revelers as being so clever. This doesn't mean that men weren't punished for their actions as well. The prince that steals away the neighboring kingdom's princess is killed in the process. The man who slanders another man's faithful wife to win a bet, is brought before a king and punished. But in each of these tales, the men go above and beyond in their attempts to win their desired goal. Love and money.

To be honest, although a good portion of the stories seemed repetitive, the book does provide a good insight into 14th century Italian life. The mention of other kingdoms, like England, was especially interesting. It was very easy to get a grasp on the Italian world view at the time - which existed of the Mediterranean, Turkey, and some other portions of Europe. The discussion of Muslims was interesting as well, though only one or two stories mentioned them. Mostly the women were considered looser, and in some cases a bit smarter, than the European women. Cleverness in all people was praised. If I could only read a selection of stories from The Decameron I would probably have enjoyed it more, but trying to read all 100 1/2 was just too much for me.

For my next book I'm starting the Code of the West by Zane Grey. I've heard that Zane Grey is fantastic, and I know he was once very popular, so I'm excited to finally start reading one of his novels. 'Til next time, may you all enjoy a very good book. (That is not The Decameron, unless you like that sort of thing.)