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Literature / The Decameron
aka: Decameron

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The Decameron is a classic work of Italian literature, written c.1350-53 by Giovanni Boccaccio.

In the midst of The Black Death, ten wealthy young Florentines decamp to the countryside with their retinue, and pass their days in storytelling, an attempt to reclaim a world that everywhere is dying.

Over the course of ten days, the three young men and seven young women tell a hundred stories, full of generous aristocrats, clever tricks, toilet humor, lustful women, wicked churchmen and lots of illicit sex. Boccaccio himself steps out of the shadows twice (once in the introduction to the fourth day, once in the epilogue) to deliver impassioned, hilarious, self-deprecating, and (in the case of the epilogue) incredibly obscene defenses of his work.

Famous stories include:

  • Day 1, story 1: Ciapelletto, a notoriously wicked Italian Amoral Attorney and scoundrel (he's a murderer, forger, perjurer and Depraved Homosexual among many other things) falls terminally ill while on business in Belgium, where almost absolutely no-one knows him. His slightly less evil companions bring a monk from a nearby convent to confess him and give him last rites. Ciappelletto proceeds to tell him the most ridiculous lies about his life and how holy he's been the whole time, while pretending to cringe over venial sins. He is completely believed by the friar, who preaches a sermon on his life and ends with everyone there believing him a genuine saint and attributing miracles to him.
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  • Day 1, story 2: A Jew converts to Catholicism after seeing the corruption of Rome, reasoning that if Christianity can still spread even when its hierarchy is so sinful, it has to have something else going for it.
  • Day 3, story 1: Masetto da Lamporecchio feigns to be dumb to win a seat as gardener in a convent. He ends up having sex with all of the nuns.
  • Day 3, story 10: Long considered the most obscene and was censored or removed in translations for a significant period. Might be a codifier of Is That What They Are Calling It Now.note 
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  • Day 4, story 5: Lisabetta and the lowly Lorenzo love each other in secret, but her three brothers find out, lure Lorenzo away and kill him. He appears to her in a dream and leads her to where his body is buried, and she cuts of his head and hides it in a jar of earth where she plants basil. Her brothers note her obsession with the jar and steal it away, and she dies of grief.

Tropes in The Decameron include:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Girolamo after two years comes back to find his lover married to another man and she completely forgot about him. He dies after failing to win her back and she dies from remorse.
  • Accidental Pornomancer: Alatiel becomes the sex slave or the wife of eight men before being reunited with her fiancé. (Day 2, story 7)
  • All Women Are Lustful: "While farmers generally allow one rooster for ten hens, ten men are scarcely sufficient to service one woman."
  • An Aesop: All the stories end with some kind of lesson. However, some of them fall into other categories, like Captain Obvious Aesop or Spoof Aesop.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Ciapelletto's List of Transgressions includes blasphemy, sacrilege, inciting violence, and many felonies such as assault, robbery, and murder, but concludes by noting that he's known to use loaded dice.
  • Bed Trick: Frequently, and with many different outcomes - a woman is tricked into having an affair with another man and decides she prefers him to her husband (Day 3, story 6); a woman tricks a suitor into having sex with a maid and humiliates him (Day 8, story 4); a case of mistaken identity makes a woman think quickly to come up with a cover story (Day 9, story 6); a palace worker impersonates the king, sleeps with his wife and gets away with it by shaving the heads of the palace staff (Day 3, story 2).
  • Black Comedy Rape: Apparently, Alibech does this to Rustico in (Day 3, story 10).
  • Blasphemous Boast: (Day 1, story 6) has a drunken man claim that his wine is "good enough for Christ himself."
  • Brainless Beauty:
    • Cesca (Day 6, story 8) is told not to look at her face in the mirror lest she sees nasty folk.
    • Lisetta da Quirino (Day 4, story 2) is easily fooled by Friar Alberto, who claims that he's the Archangel Gabriel so he can sleep with her.
    • Cimone before falling in love with Iphigenia (Day 5, story 1).
  • Cartwright Curse: Alatiel. Six of her eight lovers die (often being murdered one after the other). (Day 2, story 7)
  • Corrupt Church: Very frequently referenced. See Dirty Old Monk below.
  • Covered in Gunge: Day 8, story 9 has Bruno and Buffalmacco cast a physician named Simone into a filthy ditch and leave him there.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: (Day 7, story 5) is set on Christmas Day and involves a husband who is suspicious about his wife.
  • Dirty Old Monk: At least half of all male clergymen in the stories are also shameless leches.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Teodoro is recognized by a strawberry shaped birth mark (Day 5, story 7).
  • Domestic Abuse: It will lead to your wife stop being so stubborn (Day 9, story 9). You were warned about the Family-Unfriendly Aesop.
    • A less sympathetic example of a domestic abuser would be Calandrino in (Day 8, story 3). In it, he collects stones. As soon as his wife catches him in their house, he beats her up until she is black and blue! Boccaccio points out that in this instance, he is more at fault than she because he did not warn her beforehand.
  • Downer Ending: The theme for Day 4 is that a character ends up suffering misfortune, although the second tale has a comedic tone and the person who suffers is an asshole.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: (Day 4, story 6): Andreuola dreams that a dark and terrible thing is clutching at her lover Gabriotto. The next day, Gabriotto dies in Andreuola's arms.
    • (Day 9, story 7) has a man named Talano d'Imolese dream that his wife is attacked by a savage wolf. He tries to warn her, but she ignored him. The dream comes true.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: Messer Gentile goes hugging and kissing his lover's corpse, just to find out her heart is still beating.(Day 10, story 4).
  • Exact Words: Ciapelletto doesn't have to lie when the monk asks him whether he has ever fornicated with women...
  • Far East: The story of Mithridanes and Nathan (Day 10, story 3) takes place in "Cathay", a little bit outside the capital (probably Khanbaliq, i.e. Beijing).
  • Fate Worse than Death: A lady rejected her knight suitor and rejoiced when he killed himself. She's sentenced to be hunted and killed by him, eaten by his dogs and brought back to life every Friday for the same amount of years than the months she was cruel to him. This frightens Nastagio's love so much she finally agrees to marry him. (Day 5, story 8)
  • Female Misogynist: The female storytellers. It is Emilia who narrates the infamous "Salomon and the Bridge" tale (Day 9, story 9).
  • Flat Character: The ten storytellers. Or so many readers think; some scholars think there's actually a lot more to them than meets the eye.
  • Happily Ever After: The theme for Day 5 is that a pair of lovers survive calamities or misfortunes and attain a state of happiness.
  • Historical-Domain Character: A lot of the people in the stories are historical figures- most of the time, they are merchants/aristocrats who were contemporaries of Boccaccio, but there's also some figures who are well-known today, such as the painter Giotto.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Surprised? The storytellers are all in their late teens or early-to-mid twenties. They are essentially unsupervised. An inordinate proportion of the stories either have to do with sex or hint strongly at sex. And there is much subtext indicating that each of the three guys is trying to get into at least one of the girls' pants (or in Dioneo's case, it would appear that he's trying to get into all of their pants). So no wonder there's so much fucking in the stories.
  • I Call Him "Mr. Happy": Rustico's "The Devil" in Day 3, story 10.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Pietro, a Depraved Homosexual whose wife is pretty much The Beard. (Day 5, story 10). Pietro's wife ends sharing her lover with him.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Abraham's reasoning for becoming a Christian in Day 1, Story 2 is that if Christianity can still spread even when its hierarchy is so corrupt, it must be the true word of God.
  • Malicious Misnaming: (Day 4, story 2) in which Boccaccio refers to Lisetta as, among other things, "Lady Numbskull," "Lady Birdbrain," and "Lady Noodle."
  • Moral Dissonance: A lot! One example: two stories involved ladies who dangerously prank their unwanted suitors to get rid off them (Day 8, story 7 and Day 9, story 1). For some reasons the storytellers think the first one is a bitch but praise the second's ingenuity. In another story, lovers use a stupid but apparently genuinely pious priest as an unwitting go-between. This is praised by the storytellers, despite being somewhat at odds with all of the other stories where they criticize the sexual immorality of the clergy and wish for a return of the Saintly Church.
  • Mister Seahorse: Calandrino is tricked by his two friends to believe he's pregnant. It works. Then he buys an expensive medicine to abort. (Day 9, story 3)
  • National Stereotypes: Several stories note stereotypes associated with various Italian regions. For instance, people from Sienna were supposedly stupid and all Venetians are greedy and corrupt (because Venice was a rival of Boccaccio's city state, Florence).
  • Those Two Guys: Bruno and Buffalmacco in (Day 8, story 3), (Day 8, story 9), and (Day 9, story 3) are two pranksters who outwit such buffoons as Calandrino and Simone.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Putting the Devil back into Hell" (Day 3, story 10). It is for this reason why this tale was not translated in earlier English translations of the Decameron.
  • A Wizard Did It: An eden garden in winter (Day 10, story 5) and teleportation of a man from Saladin's palace to Pavia (Day 10, story 9).
  • Wretched Hive: At least, that's how Boccaccio views Venice, "where the scum of the earth can always find a welcome." (Day 4, story 2)
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: Torello arrives just in time when his wife is about to remarried after he had been declared dead (Day 10, story 9).

Alternative Title(s): Decameron


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