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10 Days of the Decameron

The Decameron is a collection of 100 tales by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio written between 1350 and 1353. It is a medieval allegorical work best known for its bawdy tales of love, appearing in all its possibilities from the erotic to the tragic. Many notable writers such as Shakespeare and Chaucer are said to have borrowed from it. The tale begins with 7 women and 3 men who move to a country villa to escape the Black Death in Florence. The group stays there for fourteen days and on ten of those days they each tell one tale on a set theme. Each day a different person is King or Queen and they decide what the theme will be. One character Dioneo, who usually tells the tenth tale each day, has the right to tell a tale on any topic he wishes, due to his wit.

This is the first list of many more to come, which will explore books that our readers may not have read. The aim is for us all to increase our literary knowledge. If you would like to suggest books that may be worthwhile including in future lists, tell us in the comments.

1. Day One

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Under the rule of Pampinea, the first day of story telling is open topic. Although there is no assigned theme of the tales this first day, six deal with one person censuring another and four are satires of the Catholic Church.


2. Day Two

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Filomea reigns during the second day and she assigns a topic to each of the storytellers: Misadventures that suddenly end happily.

3. Day Three

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Neifile presides as queen during the third day. In these stories a person either has painfully acquired something or has lost it and then regained it.


4. Day Four

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Boccaccio begins this day with a defense of his work as it is thus far completed. Although he says that portions of the earlier days were circulating among the literate citizens of Tuscany while the work was in progress, this is doubtful. Instead, Boccaccio is probably just shooting down potential detractors. Filostrato reigns during the fourth day, in which the storytellers tell tales of lovers whose relationship ends in disaster. This is the first day a male storyteller reigns.

5. Day Five

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During the fifth day Fiammetta sets the theme of tales where lovers pass through disasters before having their love end in good fortune.


6. Day Six

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During the sixth day of storytelling, Elissa is queen of the brigata and chooses for the theme stories in which a character avoids attack or embarrassment through a clever remark. Many stories in the sixth day do not have previous versions. Boccaccio may have invented many of them himself. He certainly was clever enough to have created the situations and the retorts.

7. Day Seven

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During the seventh day Dioneo serves as king of the brigata and sets the theme for the stories: tales in which wives play tricks on their husbands. Stories of this type are typical of the misogynistic sentiment of the Medieval era. However, in many of the stories the wives are portrayed as more intelligent and clever than their husbands. Though Boccaccio portrays many of the women of these stories in a positive light, most of the men in the stories are stereotypical medieval/Renaissance cuckolds.


8. Day Eight

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Lauretta reigns during the eighth day of storytelling. During this day the members of the group tell stories of tricks women play on men or that men play on women.

9. Day Nine

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Emilia is queen of the brigata for the ninth day. For the second time there is no prescribed theme for the stories of the day (the only other time was during the first day).

10. Day Ten

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Panfilo is the king of the last day of storytelling and he orders the company to tell stories about deeds of munificence. These tales seem to escalate in their degrees of munificence until the end, where the day (and the entire Decameron) reaches an apex in the story of patient Griselda.

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Source: J. M. Rigg English translation (1903)

Listverse Staff

Listverse is a place for explorers. Together we seek out the most fascinating and rare gems of human knowledge. Three or more fact-packed lists daily.

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  • I can’t say I’ve ever heard of this or its author before. I might go see if my local library has it.

  • Cnorman

    Nice list. There’s also a new movie coming out about the decameron starring erm Mischa Barton and Hayden Christensen…..

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0437954/

  • Well – putting Hayden Christensen in it is bound to ruin what might have been an okay movie! Pasolini did a film of it too. There is a NSFW video clip of it here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNgIT3JUm4E&feature=related

  • haha, well said jfrater!

  • dangorironhide: heh I had to say it – he is on our worst actors list :)

  • DiscHuker

    maybe he will pull out his light-saber and scream some over-dramatic lines to spice up the tales.

  • DiscHuker: At least he would be animated if he did that – without his light sabre he is as animated as a piece of cheese!

  • DiscHuker: and look at everyone like he’s had a few too many and is feeling overly amarous (sp?)

  • Randall

    Wonderful list… The Decameron has been one of my favorite books for years now.

    There *was* a film made of the Decameron in…. the early 70s I think… Joan Collins was in it… it was called “Decameron Nights.” No idea as to its quality, though—I’ve never seen it.

    Joan Collins, however, was hot back in the day… so at least maybe there was something to look at.

  • Emeraldi

    One of my favorite books! Great list!

  • Never heard of it, now I want to check it out! Thanks! :)

  • This sounds like it was supposed to be a sort of “vacation”? Sounds more like a really intense creative writing camp.

  • I’ve never heard of it either, but it sounds interesting.

  • JD

    I’ll have to pick this up at the library, looks very interesting.

    On Hayden, you have to give anyone credit who worked on episode 1-3. It’s hard to work with green screens all around you and very few set-pieces. I’ve seen pictures where the only thing other than green screen in a shot is the actor. Just something to think about.

  • mooster

    My first thought was “this isn’t really a list!”, but after seeing so many ‘never heard of it’ comments, I guess it does serve a purpose. Thumbs up!

  • Idreno

    Just want to remind people that the story of Pinocchio comes from this work, however, the original (which I read in Italian class many years ago) is far more sinister and serious in nature. I’m not sure which ‘day’ this story falls in as I have yet to read the entire work, but it has been on my to do list!

  • Amanda

    Well I shall have to seek this out! I would love to see a Dr. Zhivago list, both movie and book. That glorious daffodill scene (that led to my daffodil tattoo) would be #1 on my list! Vastly underated IMO…

  • Idreno: thanks for the pointer on that – also many of these tales were derived from other earlier works so they are rather ancient :)

    Amanda: what a good idea – Dr Zhivago is a great film.

  • JD: You have to think about the other actors in the film as well though. They still managed to act properly with a green screen. Look at Samuel L. Jackson. He has a few scenes just him and Yoda, where’d be talking nothing, but he still manages to melt the walls with his awesomeness.

    With Hayden, even with the scenes where he’s talking to people on proper sets he still looks like a drunk rapist, especially when he’s trying to be ‘dark’.

    Fair enough the character may be badly written, but a good actor can work past that.

  • Randall

    REQUEST TO EVERYONE:

    This is no offense to anyone—but would the people who say they’ve never *heard* of “The Decameron” please write in here and tell me what they studied in college and how old they are? I’m just curious.

    I ask because when I went to high school and college, the canon of Western Literature was still largely intact. And I’ve wondered how badly it’s been deracinated and gutted over the years.

    This is…. professional curiosity for me.

    I’ll thank everyone in advance for their assistance on this.

  • I won’t give up my age – but I will tell you that when I was in high school we were studying books like Lord of the Flies – there as no classical literature at all – either there or in College. I learnt of the Decameron because my parents are very keen readers and we had a copy at home.

  • Randell: As Jamie said, I will not give up my age. I will say I am 30 give or take a few years. I never heard of the Decameron. In high school the major book we read was Gulliver’s Travels (which my teacher turned into a huge satirical piece and torn the story apart and made it much more difficult to soak). Unfortunatly I didn’t go to college. Didn’t even get a glance from any scholarship, grant or loan and could not afford it any other way.

  • Martin L

    Randall: Went to college at the beginning of the 80s (I’m 51 now); studied poetry, fiction writing, took a course in Joyce’s “Ulysses,” another in Old Anglo-Saxon, had Chaucer in British Literature and History, plus Marlowe, Shakespeare, Sir Philip Sydney, Robert Herrick — but these were all English writers, obviously. Not a lot of classical literature, but I think that’s because I didn’t take a concentration in the older European stuff; I know it was available. Had heard of Boccaccio’s Decameron — but that’s because it was in our bookshelf at home. (Lots of good stuff there.) Haven’t read it, but you know, I just might.

  • Randall

    Martin:

    You really should read it, it’s a fun book. I note by your age that you probably got the Western canon even more intact than I did (I’m 42).

  • Randall: 17. The closest we came to studying classical literature was shakespeare, though I didn’t take the highest school level of English.

  • Randall

    Actually, I must apologize—no one has to give me their age—I’m more interested in simply knowing when people were roughly educated–in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, etc. And, of course.. I’m only talking about people who had liberal arts education, primarily college… Engineering majors, for example, aren’t likely to be exposed to something like the Decameron… nor is it likely to be something anyone in high school will encounter.

  • MeadOldMan

    Randall:

    OK, by your new standards, educated in the late 70s-early 80s (I’m 44, old enough to not care who knows it). I actually had this book in high school, along with Shakespeare, Voltaire, Edmond Rostand (he did Cyrano de Bergerac, for those who are scratching their heads). This was in, of all places, Michigan, in a rural high school during what was called Advanced Placement English Lit. It was structured like an actual college class, and the toughness level was definitely not high school, mainly because at the end of the year, you took a specially monitored test, and certain grades allowed you to skip college level English. Now, since I went straight into the Air Force out of high school, this may seem like a waste, but I’ve always been an inveterate, voracious, and almost indiscriminant reader (almost, because I won’t read romance novels).

    Having said all that, I agree with all those who commented on reading it: a pretty good read, lots of bawdiness, lots of ready wit, lots of poking fun at the establishment. Just what a growing high-school kid needs, yes?

  • MeadOldMan

    Oh, and I address your original request, Mr Frater, even if everyone else has forgotten: I suggest 2 books:

    Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but in an understandable version (Old English is just too hard on the brain).

    And much more audacious, Sir Richard Burton’s 1000 Nights and a Night, THE FULL VERSION mind you. If anyone says they’ve read the book, they haven’t read the book. The last time I checked, a full version goes at least 15 volumes, depending on the typeface used. My personal copy is 17 volumes printed in the early 1900s. It is erotic, adventurous, magical, and in all ways entertaining.

    And if someone casts Hayden Christiansen in a movie about it, I’ll blow up the world to stop it.

  • I like to comment…

    ;)

  • DK

    well those last few comments were…utterly pointless, what a shame.
    Randall: I’m 26, graduated HS in 2000. I’ve never heard of this work before. In HS (and even Junior high) we did some Shakespeare, but that was mostly it on the “classic” literature. I only took one Lit class in College which I think was a Contemporary Lit class (I remember we read Joy Luck Club & hmm…I can’t think of the name…some book about a murder trial in Puget Sound or something like that).
    Now that I know about this, I’m interested in reading it. Think it’s available on Amazon?

  • DK: it is – click the “Get a price and buy it” image at the bottom of the list – it will show you where to get it on Amazon.

  • Oh – and I have removed those pointless comments.

  • MeadOldMan: brilliant! Thanks for the suggestion – I desperately must own a copy of those volumes now!

  • DK

    Hah! don’t I look silly, soon as I finished reading descriptions I came straight to the comments!

  • MeadOldMan

    jfrater: Just because I was curious after I made those remarks, I started looking for more copies, possibly ebay or somesuch. Imagine my surprise when I came upon a website where someone had scanned in EVERY book EVER written by Burton. 1001 Nights and all the addenda, the Kama Sutra, his trips to Mecca and Medina, everything, scanned in PDF format and searchable. Almost makes me wish I hadn’t started looking, I’ll never have enough time to read all these now…

    Oh, and the website is http://www.burtoniana.org

    Happy reading!

  • cautionblack

    VIRGIN TERRITORY

  • Estelle

    For those considering seeing the movie I would advise against it. Unless, by some miracle, they changed the entire film. I saw it when it was first screened at the 2006 Paris Film Festival. It was horrible. Quite possibly one of the worst films I’ve seen.

  • LilPete

    Wow… It’s really amazing to know that must of these people didn’t know anything about this book… I am from Mexico, attended both HS and College in the same country. During my junior year in HS I had my second Literature class, even when we didn’t have to read the book, it was mentioned in the course along with many other ‘Classics’ such as Iliad, Odyssey, Dante’s Comedy, and many others… I read it before I was 21 (I am 33 now). It’s a really good one.

  • The Only Sane One

    I’m in my third year of college and had not heard of it, although I’m not really taking literature classes. In high school we read some pretty forgettable books, an exception being Huxley’s Brave New World. My question is, is this book approachable, or is it all “Olde English?” I can’t stand most of Shakespeare simply because it seems to be written in a foreign language, it’s too much work to understand.

  • DK

    Sane One-I know it’s been some time since you posted this, but if you are still around I hope you see this. The book was originally written in Italian, and has been translated several times into English. The one I ordered is the translation by Musa & Bondanella, and it is a modern translation. There are also footnotes to explain strange phrasing etc to make things a little more clear.

    I’ve enjoyed this book, but haven’t finished it yet. It’s not a book I can sit & read through in one go, I’ll read a few stories from it, then put it down for several weeks to read other things, then come back to this for a few more stories.

  • Anonymously

    Just got my copy in the mail.

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