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The Decameron

The Decameron

4.4 14
by Giovanni Boccaccio

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Esta obra fue la precursora del Renacimiento italiano. Escrita en lengua vernácula, consagró a su autor como el representante y difusor de la prosa hablada por el vulgo toscano. Sin embargo, sufrió la persecución de las autoridades religiosas, que interpretaron que el texto era inmoral y obsceno. La causa era que varios cuentos estaban


Esta obra fue la precursora del Renacimiento italiano. Escrita en lengua vernácula, consagró a su autor como el representante y difusor de la prosa hablada por el vulgo toscano. Sin embargo, sufrió la persecución de las autoridades religiosas, que interpretaron que el texto era inmoral y obsceno. La causa era que varios cuentos estaban protagonizados por frailes y monjas corruptos. En el Decamerón los humanos se desnudan en todos los sentidos, mostrando al lector el catálogo de imperfecciones interiores que dan, en cierta manera, sentido a su existencia: celos, envidias, traiciones, sexo..., nada permanece oculto a la incisiva mirada de Boccaccio. No sabemos cómo ni cuándo el autor tuvo acercamientos a las antiguas colecciones literarias eróticas. En cambio, tenemos la certeza de que la suya es la obra maestra de las recopilaciones, la selección más completa de relatos orientales y occidentales de su tiempo. En la presente selección incluimos 28 de los cien relatos que componen la obra completa.

Editorial Reviews

Edith Grossman
“Wayne A. Rebhorn deserves our gratitude for an eminently persuasive translation of Boccaccio’s collection of tales…I celebrate his accomplishment.”
Stephen Greenblatt
“The Decameron, an inexhaustibly rich late-medieval feast of narrative cunning, bawdy humor, and sly wit, is a celebration of the sheer pleasure of being alive…With gusto and energy, Wayne Rebhorn has risen to the daunting task of translating this great work into lively, contemporary, American-inflected English.”
Leonard Barkan
“A lively, readable translation of the greatest short story collection of all time. The laugh-out-loud quality of Boccaccio’s delicious vernacular is admirably preserved.”
Valeria Finucci
“This superb, powerful, beautifully crafted, and indeed definitive translation of The Decameron introduces readers anew to the sparkling and colorful writing of a pre-Renaissance Italian master.”
Jane Tylus
“Ser Cepparello, Andreuccio, and Calandrino have never come across so well in English—Wayne Rebhorn’s vibrant new translation makes Boccaccio’s scoundrels and victims alike come back to life.”
““Fluent and elegant . . . the achievement genuinely honours its original.”
Joan Acocella - The New Yorker
“Probably the dirtiest great book in the Western canon. . . . Rebhorn’s translation of The Decameron is a thoughtful piece of work, with populist intentions. . . . If you want the true, mixed, fourteenth-century book that Boccaccio wrote, choose Rebhorn.”
“Wayne A. Rebhorn succeeds in retaining the quiddities of Giovanni Boccaccio’s original Decameron while rendering a medieval Italian text intelligible to the modern reader of English. His scrupulously detailed translation infuses the text with fresh energy and delicately preserves Boccaccio’s titillating use of language.”

Product Details

Pomona Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.81(d)

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Just as Hamlet has been described as full of quotations, so the Decameron may at times seem to be full of stories we have heard before. That so many later writers have drawn on this work is of course a testimony to Boccaccio's skill as a storyteller: few if any of these tales were of his own invention, but – as is often said about jokes – it is the way they are told that counts. To imply a comparison with telling jokes is not inapposite and is not to depreciate these stories: true words can be spoken in jest. The complexities of this work are such that not only the book as a whole, but each of the hundred tales has acquired its own extensive critical bibliography. Nevertheless, the essential thing is as always (in the words of Pope) simply to

. . . read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ
(Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 233–4)

which in this case involves being alive to the subtle play of the writer's mind over his narrative, and being especially sensitive to Boccaccio's nods and winks. In his Conclusion to the work he gives some advice to readers who might be offended by the inclusion of bawdy tales: they can easily check first with the summaries given at the head of the tales and thus avoid any which are likely to upset them (or, although Boccaccio does not quite say this, use the same method if they want to find those tales in order to read them). In his Conclusion he says he could hardly have avoided mentioning everyday objects, such as pestles and mortars, which might be thought by some to have a sexual significance, and in saying this he draws attention to their significance for the sake of any reader who might have missed it.

It is natural, when reading a book of short stories, particularly when they are placed in a fictional framework, to look for some purpose in their arrangement, and in the Decameron it is not difficult to find reasons for the way they are set out. Against what might be called the ''blackground'' of the 1348 plague in Florence, with its breakdown of law and order and the usual decencies, a civilized assembly of seven young women and three young men in a villa outside the city and their entertaining tales stand out in bright relief. At the same time it should be recognized that the reader does not remain conscious of this background for very long, as the stories themselves distract him. Similarly, order is given to the tales by various devices: many of them are grouped under common themes; they may be placed in opposition to each other, comic ones to contrast with solemn ones, and so on. All this is true, but it does not mean that the work as a whole is a kind of bourgeois epic, as has been suggested, or even simply one long story. Short stories are by their nature enclosed works, each with a beginning, a middle and an end, and however many there are, and however they are arranged, they remain separate. They are like sonnets in this respect and, like sonnets arranged in a sequence, they are strikingly ill suited to the telling of one long tale. Like a group of sonnets, however, they do have to be arranged in some fashion, they do have to be put down one after another, and their author does well to place each sonnet or short story in a position where it may be seen at its best, and this Boccaccio has done. There are patterns to be found, but they are such as reveal themselves to later consideration rather than in the act of reading.

It is also natural for anyone to ponder what each story adds up to, what its point is, or perhaps what moral comes out of it. In the Decameron we are again and again encouraged to do this, although often the encouragement is not explicit but implicit in the actions of the stories themselves. The storytellers frequently appear to be little concerned with moral issues. For instance the merchant Landolfo Rufolo (ii.4), after losing all his money by unwise investment in stock, decides to become a pirate (as an indirect result of which he eventually prospers); there is no adverse comment on this kind of business diversification, merely a slight hint of extenuation when we are told that he ''devoted himself to making other people's property his own, especially that of the Turks.''

There is even at times in the Decameron a pleasure in flagrantly unchristian actions, as in the tale (viii.7) of the scholar's meticulous and sadistic revenge on the widow, where the symmetry between the initial offence and the revenge triumphs over all other considerations: there is very often a Kiplingesque delight in getting one's own back. Again, sheer cleverness is often seen as an admirable characteristic, particularly when it enables people to extricate themselves from tricky situations, as with the erring wife in Arezzo (vii.4) who manages so unerringly to put her innocent husband in the wrong. And although friars are attacked fiercely for their failure to live up to Christian standards, this does not prevent our taking pleasure in the glorious lying eloquence of Brother Cipolla (vi.10), who could give Chaucer's Pardoner a run for his money. Both of them are adept at openly mocking their audiences in the very instant of deceiving them. Perhaps this glorification of smart-aleckry ought not to be so surprising: most of us have been familiar from a very early age with folk tales such as that of Puss-in-Boots, the arch confidence trickster; but it does shock when it comes in stories of such evident moral sophistication, in a collection where many of the tales exalt Christian values of honesty, trustworthiness, and kindness. Oscar Wilde's Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest said of the novel she had written: ''The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.'' She had clearly not read the Decameron.

The desire to put one over on others is closely connected with an emphasis on worldly honour, most obviously in the great concern for reputation. This can be taken to extraordinary lengths, as when a man is prepared to commit murder (x.3) in order to take over his victim's reputation as the most hospitable of men!

We are not dealing here merely with the expected cultural differences between a fourteenth-century Florentine and ourselves: indeed the popularity of the Decameron over so many hundreds of years testifies rather to what we have in common with Boccaccio, which is basically our humanity. To try to extract a set of generally applicable abstract principles of morality from these tales is a waste of time. The moral attitude varies with the storyteller and the story, and the net result is a whole world of conflicting, and frequently unresolved, reactions and attitudes – in short, the world we live in.

Meet the Author

Giovanni Boccaccio was born in Florence, Italy, in 1313, and he died there in 1375. His life thus coincided with the flowering of the early Renaissance and indeed his closest friend was Petrarch, the other towering literary figure of the period. During his lifetime, Boccaccio was a diplomat, businessman, and international traveler, as well as the creator of numerous works of prose and poetry. Of his achievements, The Decameron, completed sometime between 1350 and 1352, remains his lasting contribution—immensely popular from its original appearance to the present day—to world literature.
Mark Musa is a professor at the Center for Italian Studies at Indiana University. A former Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellow, Musa is the author of a highly acclaimed translation of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella are professors at the Center for Italian Studies at Indiana University. Mark Musa, a former Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of a highly acclaimed translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Peter Bondanella, a former Younger Humanist and Senior Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has published, among other works, Machiavelli and the Art of Renaissance History and Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism. He is coeditor of The Dictionary of Italian Literature and The Portable Machiavelli.

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The Decameron (Rebhorn Translation) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Jennifer_Malin More than 1 year ago
Ten young people flee medieval Florence during the plague and take refuge on a beautiful country estate, where they amuse themselves telling stories for ten days. For me, the stories were more intriguing than entertaining. It was interesting to see what sorts of stories people told at that time. Some of the "clever" speeches or retorts made by characters don't seem to transcend time and translation, but the values these admired characters espouse are timeless. On the other hand, many other characters are applauded for their trickery, and at times the storytellers laughed over a story when I thought the outcome was cruel. There's an overabundance of stories about men trying to lock down their wives and daughters, and women tricking their husbands and fathers so they can be with their lovers. Then there are guys who trick the ladies, too. It's a long book, but the individual stories are short, so it's easy to put it down and pick it up another time without having to remember what was going on. If you read a couple here and there, eventually you're finished -- and sorry to see it end.
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Purplearrow More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. It had a great historical feel and it had kind of a sensual feel.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a true masterpiece of literature. It incorporates beauty with wit, and is a must for any reader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bocaccio writes an excellent and entertaining book. It's a very easy read since it's a collection of stories 'told' by a group of friends during the age of the Black Death. It's racy and funny and tells of all the follies and foibles of humanity. I would recommend it even to non-readers since it is very easy to pick up and put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best translation of the Decameron I have come across. it is easy to read due to McWilliams very intelligent literary style. While other translations are hard to follow and often choppy, this one flows like any good book. I recomend a read even if you have read other translations. In my opinion this is the only translation that does this delightful collection of tales justice.