World Civilization in Giovanni Boccaccio's "The Decameron"

Introduction

The Decameron written by Italian writer, poet and famous humanist of the late Middle Ages Giovanni Boccaccio has largely influenced the further development of Italian Renaissance literature and European culture as a whole. The work of art carries some important ideas reflecting the way the world of life and death, culture, love, societal hierarchy was perceived by people of Italy, particularly of Florence, of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The reason is that the author was in the ranks of the most notable and intelligent persons of Italian Renaissance.

 

Therefore, he saw the changes in the perception of the world and human relationship better than a common man. To better understand this literary work and clearly comprehend the ideas on which it is based, it is necessary to reflect on and analyze some aspects concerning the book. Thus, it is crucial to analyze the time and circumstances under which it was written and learn the author’s opinion on its subjects, aims he pursued, and what this text was intended to say or explain to the reader.

The Decameron Term Paper Example

The Decameron is basically a collection of one hundred tales told by the main heroes of the book and is one of the greatest masterpieces of Western literature. First and foremost, it is regarded as a masterpiece due to its combination of tragic and comic points of view on life. Due to its size, it took more than five years and an enormous effort to compose this book of narratives meticulously written in vivid and easy language. During the period in which Giovanni Boccaccio is thought to compose his masterpiece, the Florentine government has appointed him to act as an ambassador of the city-state to the governors of Romagna region. Few years later, he took the position of municipal councilor and later the duke Bavaria, in the Tirol, and even was empowered to be the ambassador to the Pope Innocent VI.

Therefore, it is not surprising he felt and noted more changes in society and culture than a regular citizen of Italian city-states. First published in Naples in 1470, the book has not been released for a hundred years since 1370 when the manuscript had appeared in Florence. Afterward, some ancient copies were found in the catalogue of Italian librarian Alfredo Bacchi della Lega, but the only surviving text of the 1471 Venetian edition was bought on the auction in 1812. The Decameron was written in informal Florentine language considered classical for early Italian prose.

A number of English translations appeared in twentieth century, but the first one was done much earlier, in 1620 by John Florio. The purpose of writing this work is to try to reflect on and show the idealistic ideas of Dante Alighieri and Francesco Petrarch and subtly describe human personal experience through realism like most Renaissance artists with their paintings. Apparently, this was a second reason why the writing of The Decameron became one of the most perfect works of Italian classical prose of all time and the impact of this set of novellas on European culture was great.

Talking about the author’s point of view with regard to the first novel in The Decameron, it can be clearly observed that Giovanni Boccaccio tried to reflect on and describe some crucial issues in society of that time. He was addressing them basically to all citizens of Italian city-states, regardless of their origin or education, since the majority of tales described struggle between life and death and a variety of ways in which life can be asserted without any traditional moral virtues and values. The whole body of Boccaccio’s book in the beginning appears generally medieval in terms of from, matter and taste, but it changes with time. Hereby, instead of presenting a list of some traditional medieval moral indications, the author draws reader’s attention to some fundamental historical change from God-focused point of view to a dramatically reversed and human-focused one.

One of the strongest ideas presented in the text is the concept of being noble. Apparently, one has to make considerable efforts to accept the life as it is without any woes and bitterness, and most importantly, to accept all consequences of one’s activity, although they can be opposite to expectations or even tragic. According to Boccaccio, a person should limit the desire to the level that is humanly acceptable and to reject it without any regret. In fact, it is only through the combination of man’s powers, desire and their limitations that can make a person realize their own true happiness. The reason why Giovanni Boccaccio is no longer referred to as an indecent ironist and simply a cynic by the modern critics is that he combined some spiritual realities with an importance of moral order and virtues which form the basis and underlie lightheartedness and frivolousness observed even in the most immoral passages and stories of The Decameron.

Therefore, Boccaccio is perceived as the pioneer of the innovative modern moral order which contravenes that of the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Since Giovanni Boccaccio lived during the period of transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and from the late medieval period to the Early Modern Age, it is not surprising that the perception of an individual and their role have dramatically changed. Thus, wholly ascetic, fully focused on God, and believing in the salvation after death, this perception was substituted by the one which was characterized by opposite values, especially by close attention to the human individual. In addition, this work does not cover some particular historical events and developments and enabled author’s opinion not to be distorted by some biases and prejudices typical of this period in Italian history.

To summarize the contents of The Decameron, it is necessary to analyze its plot. Apparently, the work depicts the fourteenth century plague-infected Florence and shows the group of ten youngsters willing to escape from the horrors of the city to the mansion on its outskirts and tell each other different stories to entertain themselves. Each of these young people has to become a king or a queen over the other in order to make a decision on how they shall spend their day and what they shall do. Moreover, one decides the way they have a daily rest and the way they spent their leisure time as well as directs their dialogs between each other along with their dances and songs and, of course, their interchanging storytelling.

The process of the story lasts ten days that is why the name of the book The Decameron means “Work of Ten Days.” Furthermore, every day of the story ends with a traditional song for dancing that sometimes includes Boccaccio’s love poetry performed by those chosen to be storytellers. The beginning shows the real intent of the author which presents his work as a representation of the tortured lovers whose sorrow is almost impossible to endure. A reader then faces the author’s apology for such disgusting yet realistic, detailed and precise description of the plague in Florence which led to devastation and hundreds of victims.

Thus, the date and location is observed in the begging as well as ten main characters, namely seven young women and three young men. As it was mentioned before, they spend their time in the villa telling one story a night, and these stories are basically the major part of the work. Hereby, these people discuss the issues which are basically main ideas of the author to be delivered to the reader. They describe power of fortune, give examples of power of human will and virtue, and tell different romantic tales with both tragic and happy ending, even some ingenious tricks that women play on men and vice-versa. Generally, the plots of these stories concern some actual tensions in Florentine society between the newly appeared rich commercial class and old aristocratic families or merely the adventures of some travelling tradesmen.

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All in all, in addition to a number of romantic, tragic and comic stories, Giovanni Boccac—Āio’s Decameron provides some important historical record concerning social and psychological effects of the plague spread. To be more precise it describes the way of life of the newly appeared and refined commercial class comprising rich merchants and artisans who could both respect the conventions and have and open-minded approach to personal behavior, not traditional one. Having worked as an ambassador of Florence to different Italian and European states, Boccaccio has developed a very precise manner of writing on what he had noticed around, especially issues concerning historical and societal changes. Therefore, along with writing and describing some historical issues in The Decameron, he had a chance to observe and even to participate in historical process so that there is no doubt that his insights into philosophy, culture and human relations were trustworthy.

Thus, for the first time in the medieval period, Giovanni Boccaccio clearly shows a person seeking fortune and trying to overcome it. The author gives a reader a precise philosophical insight into the minds of regular European people who faced a devastating and destructing epidemic. The work sheds the light on people’s moral behavior changed under the circumstances of the great woe. For example, the persecution of foreigners and Jews is observed as well as non-acceptance of the sick and simultaneously the escape of healthy and readiness to abandon the lovers and families to flee far away. The discrimination of poor classes is also notable and can be even referred to as one of the contemporary societal problems. Boccaccio’s work is very special because it is one of the most famous precise and detailed descriptions of the Black Plague which actually occurred in Western Europe in 1348. The author covers some awful historical events with professionally written prose, and it raises the question whether the facts described in the work can be perceived as true and accurate. The answer is rather ambiguous, and the reason for this is that his literary work can be perceived as relatively reliable taking into account the situation.

Summary

The frame of his work is the only part that can be considered historical, and many historians continue arguing about the trustworthiness of the facts described in The Decameron while comparing other primary sources regarding the Black Plague written in the same time by famous scientists. The literary work can be perceived as relatively reliable taking into consideration the situation. Thus, Boccaccio’s work can be a good addition to some true historical facts from other more precise specialized information, and since this is a work of art, it should not be perceived as a primary source of absolutely reliable information on the theme.

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