The Decameron

Boccaccio, Giovanni

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Annotated by:
Jones, Therese
  • Date of entry: Jan-11-1999
  • Last revised: Aug-17-2006


The Decameron consists of one hundred tales--ten tales told over ten days by ten storytellers, three noblemen and seven ladies. The structure of the work is distinctly medieval by virtue of its allegorical numerology and elaborate architecture, which finds its counterpart in the Gothic cathedral; its scathing and hilarious depictions of a corrupt clergy; and its idealization of women. However, Boccaccio’s attitude towards love--the right true end being pleasurable and guiltless consummation--is much closer to the Renaissance viewpoint.

In addition to the stories is a lengthy introduction in which Boccaccio describes the "brief unpleasantness" necessitating the geographical wanderings and narrative adventures of the ten storytellers, the outbreak of bubonic plague in Florence in 1348.


The "Author’s Introduction" to The Decameron is both an important historical document of the Black Death in Europe and a significant example of the emergent conventions of plague chronicles and narratives in western culture. For example, Boccaccio proffers the by now familiar conjecture about the source of contagion, a heathen and uncivilized Other (in this case, the infidel East) and the by now common explanation for any medical catastrophe: "God’s righteous anger at our iniquitous way of life."

Most interesting is his protracted description of the display of human behavior during epidemic such as the scapegoating of groups and individuals; the abandonment of family and friends; the personal choices of isolation or dissolution; the cruel indifference to a disproportionately affected underclass. Boccaccio also comments on the deterioration of social institutions such as religion, medicine and public health, law, and customs--all of which prove to no avail in either controlling or comprehending what is happening.


Translated by G. H. McWilliam. The Decameron was written 1344-1350; the Introduction was written in 1348.



Place Published




Page Count