The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio

I started this, as you may remember, at the beginning of the pandemic; and now I’ve finished, as is fitting, towards the end. (My government has determined that the pandemic will finally end some time next week). I find myself wondering though, if our pandemic had happened in Boccaccio’s time, whether anyone would have noticed.

Like many books, it was good to read it slowly, occasionally. Perhaps I read the first half too fast; – or perhaps Boccaccio just became more accomplished – or his story-tellers did; – or he just saved the better stories for the end; – or maybe it was just a delusion of recency: – but I certainly think that books 8 to 10 were the best.

A friend of mine once told me that he’d started reading The Decameron; but he’d made the mistake of mentioning it to his priest, who told him to stop, because the book was under ban of the Catholic Church. Strangely, my friend did actually stop. (People are odd). – What could the Church have against such a book? – Well, certainly it’s deeply anti-clerical (not uncommon in medieval literature): – if it has a single good word about a priest, it will go on and on about his uniqueness. Priests are all frauds, charlatans, hypocrites. – Maybe it was that. – Or maybe it was the fact that the one thing on everyone’s mind in the medieval world (according to Boccaccio) was sex: – where they could get it; preferably without getting married first; – as if no one cared at all chastity, virginity.

Perhaps as well it was the way I read it, but I could never distinguish at all between his ten narrators. – Do they even have separate characters? – I wonder. – Chaucer was very influenced by Boccaccio: but, if there’s the interest in sex and the stories, there’s nothing in here about the idiosyncrasies of individual narrators. – Or is it all just lost in translation – in my own lack of concentration? Who knows? – I certainly shan’t be enquiring into it any further.

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