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Analyzing Boccaccio’s Writing

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    Analyzing Boccaccio’s Writing

    During the late years of the 14th century, humanism emerged as an intellectual movement in Florence.[1] The main premise of humanism is to break the transcendental beliefs attributed by the Catholic Church and to deal with the concrete situations to explain the social and natural phenomena. The Italian poet, Giovanni Boccaccio, was one of those humanists of his times.

    Satirist is Giovanni Boccaccio in his writings for the tales in ‘The Decameron’ served as a critic of the medieval times Catholic Church and the state from which he lived. He made use of real life phenomena and stories (both oral and written) which are centuries older than him. His tales are mosaic of unrelated tales that were brought together to form a magnificent and unique story. Allegory had been widely used these times to imply something with the use of rhetoric. Moreover, tales in ‘The Decameron’ was believed to be based on far away countries like Persia and India.

    The Great Plague, an epidemic that killed thousands of England’s population, was the first scene in the story. It then shifted to the seven ladies and three young men who ‘flee’ from Florence to Fiesole where each one of them tells a story day for ten days in total of one hundred stories. This is a frame plot where the whole basic story took place in the villa. In the first day, 2nd tale, the following quotation says:

    I think God owes them all an evil recompense: I tell thee, so far as I was able to carry my investigations, holiness, devotion, good works or exemplary living in any kind was nowhere to be found in any clerk; but only lewdness, avarice, gluttony, and the like, and worse, if worse may be, appeared to be held in such honour of all, that (to my thinking) the place is a centre of diabolical rather than of divine activities. To the best of my judgment, your Pastor, and by consequence all that are about him devote all their zeal and ingenuity and subtlety to devise how best and most speedily they may bring the Christian religion to nought and banish it from the world.  And because I see that what they so zealously endeavour does not come to pass, but that on the contrary your religion continually grows, and shines more and more clear, therein I seem to discern a very evident token that it, rather than any other, as being more true and holy than any other, has the Holy Spirit for its foundation and support. For which cause, whereas I met your exhortations in a harsh and obdurate temper, and would not become a Christian, now I frankly tell you that I would on no account omit to become such. Go we then to the church, and there according to the traditional rite of your holy faith let me receive baptism. (Boccaccio, 1972)

    The statement above was the words said by the Jewish Abraham to his fellow friend Jehannot, who is a Christian, after going to the Pope to see for himself the practices of Christians through their leaders. Opposed to what Jehannot had expected, Abraham decided to receive baptism, to convert himself to a Christian and to live a good life.

    It is a good manifestation of some people who, despite of the flaws of Christianity, decide to be part of this religion believing that their good deeds could help to cover the dark side of Christianity. Furthermore, it has the objective also to expose the wrongdoings of these high priests that instead of being a good example of a good Christian, they are the ones who violate the teachings of the church.

    Various tales in the story were being told as each day has different topics from which the tales should fall in the category of. On the sixth day, the main topic is on how people ‘avoid their embarrassment in a clever remark’.

    And when she walked abroad, so fastidious was her humour, she was ever averting her head, as if there was never a soul she saw or met but reeked with a foul smell. Now one day–not to speak of other odious and tiresome ways that she had–it so befell that being come home, where Fresco was, she sat herself down beside him with a most languishing air, and did nought but fume and chafe. (Boccaccio, 1972)

    Another is the eighth tale in the 6th day. This tale tells a story of a woman who is drowned by her vanity. Like Narcissus who worships himself, the woman here did so. Edwin Mullins says that ‘the artist invites us to pay lip-service to condemning her while offering us full permission to drool over her. She admires herself in the glass, while we treat the picture that purports to incriminate her as another kind of glass—a window—through which we peer and secretly desire her’.

    Boccaccio’s style of writing is extraordinary due to his capacity of fabricating stories based on events and other stories, as well as his own. He made use the concept of humanism that was dominating those times. The main argument of humanism can be reflected through his writings where the ‘rumors’ and the wrong practices of the Christians, together with their high priests were radicalized. Each tales of ‘The Decameron’ depicts forms of humanism where the premise of god had been attacked not in a serious way but in a humorous sense that the readers may enjoy.

    The power of humans has overgrown and the concept of free vanquished the destiny propagated by the Catholic Church. Rationality arises and the Dark Ages had come to an end. An era of enlightenment conquers Europe where Florence rests. So as the social conditions affect how humans think they also affect the interaction of humans, thus, their socialization. And this is the main reason of shaping the minds of humanists during these times. This is the main reason why Giovanni Boccaccio’s mode of writing is based on the concept of humanism and this is why the tales in ‘The Decameron’ are built in a way that is both criticizing the norms and the domination of a belief that has affected thousands of minds and the flaws of human beings in the time where rationality was starting to grow.


    Boccaccio, G. 1972. The Decameron. trans. by G.H. McWilliam. England: Penguin Group.

    Petrosyan, M. 1972 Humanism: Its Philosophical, Ethical, and Sociological Aspects. Moscow:

                Progress  Publishers.


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