Giovanni Boccaccio: The Decameron

(ca. 1350–1353)

A collection of one hundred novellas, Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron is unanimously considered a fundamental book in the development of Western prose. Written during the Middle Ages, it has deeply influenced various writers from later historical periods, among them, Niccoló Machiavelli, Geoffrey Chaucer, and the English Romantics. The title derives from the Greek for “ten days,” referring to the time employed by the ten narrators (seven women and three men) to tell the one hundred short stories collected in the book. These one hundred narratives are framed by the tragic events of the plague that hit Florence in 1348 and which Boccaccio witnessed. In the introduction to the first day excerpted here, the author directly reports the tragic situation created by the plague. In a following section, he also explains how the ten narrators of the collection fled the city, where death and chaos reigned, to go to the countryside. There, accompanied by their servants, they lead an...

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Giovanni Boccaccio (Yale University Art Gallery)

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