Decameron: Stories vs. Setting

Boccaccio wrote the Decameron, as I’ve already said in the last essay, for the audience of rich, literate men (those who survived the Black Death, at least). And that didn’t include many individuals. The stories portrayed the declining morality of society and the dissolution of hierarchy in church, state, and home.

But, I was actually more interested in the setting, and the way he reflected on the effects and aftermath of the plague. He described the plague much the same as anyone would: with the diffraction of standards in the minds of the people, the tossing out of morals and the abandonment of many of the hierarchies and social structures of that time. But it was set in Florence in 1348 or 1349, as the Black Death plowed through slews (hundreds of thousands) of people. Seven noblewomen and 3 honorable men fled the city to the countryside, not more than two miles thence.

The stories of the first day were not as interesting or intriguing as the second day. The second day was focused more on fortune and chance in the stories’ subjects lives. One such story was about how a woman with two sons was left on a beach, and every day the woman would leave her sons for a while to go and weep for her misfortune. Then, one day, while the mother was away weeping, a gang of pirates arrived and kidnapped one of the children. Then the woman returned and realized that, because of her folly, her son was stolen. This is utter nonsense. Either this woman was a complete fool, or fortune had frowned upon her. Both it was, though I think it was more because she was an idiot.

One of the facets of the effects of the plague was that people refused to believe that God had played a role in the plague’s appearance. They wanted to think that Fortune had turned rotten, that Chance had struck them a mighty blow. Some replaced God with the idea that Fate, Fortune or Chance was instead the guide of history. Some mocked God, and the idea of God, and this was mentioned in the Decameron, a few of the tales spun on this fact.

Conclusively, I enjoyed the setting much more than the stories. I am intrigued by the massive wipe-out of uncountable hordes of the population, a pandemic unlike anything the world had ever seen before. The stories of Boccaccio’s famous work just don’t have the same curiosity and intrinsic mystic effect on my mind. I’d rather study the Black Death intensively than memorize a story from the Decameron. It’s almost like a recounting of the Black Death’s devastation on the human mind like any other history book you can read, only it is warped into a kind of fire-side tale.

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