Alongside Petrarch and Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) is one of the great authors of the Italian Renaissance. Drawing on the idea that stories should be both useful and delightful, Boccaccio’s Decameron seeks to give enjoyment to the reader while also providing sophisticated commentary on the social norms and customs of Late Medieval Europe. Set in the Tuscan countryside, ten young men and women, who are escaping a Florentine plague, entertain themselves by recounting tales. Swapping tales laced with sexual and moral undertones, the youths escape their earthly circumstances over a period of ten days and provide the reader with one hundred stories—each, though often comedic, championing Medieval virtues and rejecting vices.
Some of the questions that will guide our discussion include: How can comedic stories provide valuable lessons to the reader? How does social class inflect Boccaccio’s thinking and storytelling? How are clerical and religious leaders portrayed, and to what ends? What roles do gender and sexuality play in Boccaccio’s work? How does sensual beauty lead to intellectual clarity, according to Boccaccio? How does desire, positive or negative, move beyond itself toward the Good?
Optional book to purchase (will be available at Argo Bookshop):
- The Decameron by Boccaccio (9780199540419)