For my final essay for the 10th Grade English course with the Ron Paul Curriculum, I will be writing a 1000 word essay on the worldviews of the Renaissance and how they can found in literature. During the past few weeks, I have been reading The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio and The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I will be using these two books as examples of my points during this essay.
The Decameron was written in 1353, only a year after the end of the Black Plague. During the Black Plague, many started to lose faith in God and Christianity. People started to think less about God, and more about self-preservation. Many, including priests and other churchmen, abandoned their towns and families, hoping to escape the vicious claws of the plague. Any morals people may have had were forgotten if it meant they could survive another day. Many people believed that God was no longer protecting them, and if that was the case, nothing could save them. Others believed that God had sent the plague as a way to punish them for some crime they had committed. Some people gave in and feasted and spent whatever money they had saved, while others tried to escape with a fighting chance.
It is safe to say that this atheistic mindset did not end at the same time of the plague. Throughout The Decameron, Boccaccio demonstrated time and time again that he did not believe, or trust in, God. If anything, he seemed to despise Him.
In the first story of the book, seven young maidens ran away from their town to spend the day in an abandoned house. They told stories to each other to entertain themselves, and in every story God’s name was brought up. However, His name was not praised. Every time God was mentioned, it was only to mock or bash Him and the Church.
Many of the stories attributed good fortune to luck or chance. None of the stories would ever hint that it was God causing all of these “fortuitous” incidents.
The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales was written in 1392, about 40 years after The Decameron. Many claim that the book demonstrates a “Christian worldview.” But I have to disagree. Throughout the book, God’s name was rarely brought up. There were no obvious morals or lessons demonstrated in the stories. The book felt like a compilation of random short stories Chaucer wrote in his free time. In my opinion, there was nothing relatively close to Christianity in the book.
Unlike The Decameron, the book did not bash the name of God because it did not bring up God at all. The Decameron, a book written by an obvious atheist, mentioned God’s name more than The Canterbury Tales, which supposedly reflected a Christian mindset.
I do not have much to say about The Canterbury Tales because there was nothing especially interesting or notable in the book.
After reading both books, I think it should be obvious that the worldviews in The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales resembled Greek and Roman literature rather than Christian literature. Neither books described, or even mentioned ethics and sanctions. Boccaccio hinted that there were a system of ethics in place in the beginning of The Decameron, but he never talked about it again.
Both books also demonstrated a common theme of randomness, much like Greek and Roman works would. Every incident that happened had an odd and rather random cause. Both Boccaccio and Chaucer made good fortune happen at random times in their stories.
Their explanation for this randomness? It was simply luck or chance. Sometimes they even attributed it to fate. This is another commonality The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales shared with Greek and Roman literature. The Greeks and Romans had multiple gods, and often attributed good fortune to one of their many gods or other forces like luck or fate. This is obviously the opposite of Christian literature, where the author would have praised and thanked God when good things happened to the characters.
The Decameron also exhibited negative views of the future. In one of my previous essays, I talked about Hesiod’s view of mankind and its future. Hesiod made it obvious that he believed that the human race was getting more evil the longer they stayed on Earth. He described the people/gods who came before the humans and how pious they were compared to mankind. Like many of his time, Hesiod did not have much hope for the future of mankind and predicted that the human race would cause their own demise.
While The Decameron did not state any ideas about the human race ending themselves, it did show helplessness for the future. I think that this was a very accurate representation of what people’s mindset was during the time period of The Decameron. Even if a person survived the plague, what would be left for them? What was there left to live for? This kind of negative mindset of the future was, unfortunately, common after the plague ended.
A negative mindset for the future is the exact opposite of the Christian worldview. The Christian worldview demonstrated hope for the future because of people’s faith in God and His forgiveness. However, I think this negative mindset was justified if you consider what was happening during that period.
Personally, I did not think The Canterbury Tales resembled Greek or Roman literature. However, it definitely did not resemble Christian literature in any way, unlike what many have claimed. The Canterbury Tales did not seem to exhibit any hints of the author’s worldview and belief system. Nonetheless, I think it is safe to say that Chaucer was not a Christian and did not intend for his book to be referred to as a piece of Christian literature.
The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales were great works for their time, but they displayed Greek and Roman worldviews and not the Christian values that people used to follow. I am not surprised by this, however. Both books were written during a time when people had stopped trusting in God and the Church. It was not uncommon for people to have hatred towards the Church or simply not want to concern themselves with it.
As you can see, Boccaccio and Chaucer communicated a lot of their values and beliefs through their stories and characters in their books. Even Chaucer’s book, which admittedly lacked worldview and morals, showed what kind of man he was. The books were hard to get through after spending the whole course reading works with Christian values, but they were interesting to analyze. It is incredible what you can find out about a person based on their writings.
Thanks for reading!