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English 10, Lesson 160 – Boccaccio: Decameron

The Decameron is a book of stories about the Black Plague that was written by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century.  Boccaccio supposedly wrote the book to show the effects of the plague, but majority of the stories in the book are from his imagination.  In this essay, I am going to show how a reader could have learned about Boccaccio’s worldview from the stories in the book.

For some background, the book was published in 1353, only a year after the plague ended.  During the plague, it seemed that all morals went out the window.  People would abandon their families so they could live to see another day.  Popes and friars, who were expected to protect the people, abandoned their towns so they could escape the plague.  People lost faith in God.  They no longer felt like God was protecting them.  Christianity started to lose the affect it once had on people.  Even when the plague ended, the faith people once had in Christianity was no longer there.  It was very obvious that Boccaccio was part of the majority who no longer believed in God or Christainity.

The first story starts with seven young women who lived during the Black Plague.  They were in Church together and were complaining to one another about how dreadful home life was because all of their maids or servants had contracted the plague or ran away out of fear.  Together, they decided to spend the day at the abandoned cottage outside of their town with a few of their male friends.

The group decided to tell stories to entertain one another.  The first storyteller told a peculiar story about a crook who lied to a friar on his deathbed, which led to his canonization (made into a saint).  The crook, was described as “the worst man that was ever born.”  He stole, swore, lied, and murdered, but did not confess any of this to the friar on his deathbed.  Instead, he spun a story about how pious he was during his life and how he regretted not being able to do more.  The friar believed the crook, and after his death, told the whole town about the holiness about the man.

At the beginning and end of the story, the narrator called upon God.  I was not sure why the storyteller would do that as it did not seem to have any relevance to the story at the time.  Perhaps it was Boccaccio trying to mock God in an indirect, and confusing, way.

As the book goes on, it is obvious that Boccaccio was not a believer of God.  Almost every story mocks or ridicules God in one way or another.  Many stories blamed incidents on luck or fortune, much like the Greeks would have done.  They gave all credit to luck instead of God.

For example, in one story a pirate is sailing home after his adventures.  When his ship sank because of a storm, he found a floating chest in the water and used it as a buoy.  A poor woman on a nearby island saw the pirate and helped him.  The pirate was despairing over all of the lost treasure that was in the ocean, but he and woman soon discovered that the chest he pirate was using as a buoy was filled with precious gems.

The woman finding him was simply fortune, not the goodwill of God.  The chest being filled with gems was simply luck, not the work of God.

As you can see, Boccaccio wrote the book during a time where God and Christanity was not an idea that would get positive comments from the general public.  From the first story, it was obvious that Boccaccio was not a believer of God when the narrator mocked God’s name.

Thanks for reading!


Author: sophiaelahirpc

10th Grade student in the Ron Paul Curriculum. Full-time teen writer living in Singapore.

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