The Decameron

This morning I got my head around Judy’s Holiday Challenge and published my earlier post of today – the first of 10.

This put me in mind of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron which I read 60 years ago in my Folio Society fifth impression of 1960. The work has been translated by Richard Aldington.

Despite the exquisite, mostly erotic, aquatints of John Buckland-Wright, my recollection of the stories – 100 to be related in 10 days – does not stretch that far. I will therefore reproduce most of the last paragraph of the introduction.

‘The book was probably written between 1348 and 1353 (the oldest known manuscript of it was made in 1368), and Boccaccio was therefore about 40 when he finished it. He brought to it his whole experience of life, shot through for so many years by his desire for ‘Fiametta’, his shrewd but tolerant insight into the hearts and minds of men and women of all kinds, and a literary skill which had been developed by a lifetime of devoted practice. His hundred tales were gathered from many sources, French, Italian and Oriental. All of them were transmuted by his realism and sense of style, so that they were accepted at once as models of their kind. The manuscript was copied so often that in a few years it was known all over western Europe, to be translated and imitated again and again. It was printed for the first time, apparently in Florence, in 1469 or 1470. Since then innumerable writers have used its stories or acknowledged its influence – among them Lope de Vega in Spain, Moliere in France and Lessing in Germany. The first complete English translation did not appear until 1620, but long before that Chaucer had taken from Boccaccio the idea of a linked series of stories, and the realistic, humorous treatment of them, to make his Canterbury Tales, five of which are directly borrowed from The Decameron: the tales told by the Franklin, the Reeve, the Merchant, the Shipman and the Clerk. Shakespeare followed suit in All’s Well that Ends Well and Cymbeline, and after him came Fletcher, Marston, Tourneur, Otway, Dryden, Pope, Keats, Tennyson, Swinburne and many more…..’

This edition comes in a two volume set.

These, including the frontispiece portrait above, are the illustrations from ‘The First Five Days’.

Elizabeth joined us for dinner and convivial conversation. Jackie produced tender roast lamb, crisp Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and parsnips; firm Brussels sprouts, carrots and green beans, with meaty gravy, followed by apple pie and cream. My sister and I finished the Recital and my wife drank Hoegaarden.


  1. Very beautiful, and evocative illustrations indeed!
    I haven’t had parship yet this year, and must rectify that soon – Jackie is right, that time of the year is upon us
    …a happy thought πŸ™‚

  2. I think I read parts of The Decameron decades ago, but not in a book with illustrations. These are wonderful–sort of teasing. Thank you for sharing.
    You can’t beat dinner and convivial conversation!

  3. That is some stunning art preserved by you over the decades. I am not surprised the stories are still fresh in your mind. I am tempted to buy a volume of Boccaccio but I fear it will have none of those rejuvenating pictures.

  4. That IS an old manuscript!
    So glad Elizabeth joined you for dinner! Convivial conversation is my fav conversation. πŸ™‚
    HUGS!!! πŸ™‚
    PS…Oh, the nuns illustration…I was named after a nun.

  5. As soon as I started reading your post, I seemed to remember lectures from my Chaucer class in college about the Decameron’s influence on The Canterbury Tales. As I read on, I learned that my dim memory was correct. I can remember what the classroom looked like in Battten Arts & Letters, the name of the professior (Dan Wilson), and what he looked like. I had no idea that image was still in my brain.

  6. I read this last night, mesmerized, and didn’t have a chance to respond (ie, my comment didn’t go through!). I have a Master’s in English Literature, and yet I was never taught about this book and its history and resultant influence on literature. Loved this post and learned so much. The illustrations aren’t bad either. πŸ™‚

  7. To be honest, I don’t recall all those breasts in the Decameron. Mybe my mind wass on higher things in those days.
    I will check my spam filter for Lavinia’s comments. πŸ™‚

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