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Decameron

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DECAMERON, The. In the year 1348 the plague, which had been for some time devastating the East, appeared in "the notable city of Florence." A hundred thousand persons perished. Boccaccio in the first part of his work, after his immortal description of the ravages of the pestilence, exclaims: °Alas, how many great palaces, how many goodly houses, how many noble mansions, once full of families, of fords and ladies abode empty even of the mean est servants! How many memorable families, how many ample heritages, how many famous fortunes were seen to remain without lawful heir! How many valiant men, how many fair ladies, how many sprightly youths whom not others only but Galen, Hippocrates or /Escula pius themselves would have judged most hale, breakfasted in the morning with their kinsfolk, comrades and friends and that same night supped with their ancestors in the other world!" Boccaccio tells us how at seven o'clock of a Tuesday morning it chanced that seven young ladies, all knit to one another by friendship, neighborhood or kinship met in the venerable church of Santa Maria Novella for divine service: "Each was discreet and of noble blood and well-mannered and full of honest sprightli ness." He does not give their actual names but applies to them fictitious designations cor responding to their qualities. The eldest is called Pamfinia, "the all-admonishing"; there is Fiammetta, known to be the Princess Maria, illegitimate daughter of King Robert of Naples,. for whom Boccaccio cherished a "very high and noble passion." The others are Filomena, the "Nightingale," Emilia, Lauretta, the "laurel crowned Neifile, the and Elisa. they propose to flee from the death stricken city and go to the country: °There," they say, "we may hear the small birds sing; there we may see the hills clad all in green and the fields and plains full of corn wave even as Both the sea; there may we see trees, a thousand sorts, and there is the face of heaven more open to view, the which angered against us though it be, nevertheless denieth not unto us its eternal beauties, far goodlier to look upon than the empty walls of our city. More over, there is the air far cooler." While they are discussing how best to go, threeyoung men enter —Pamfilo ("Perfect in Love"), Filostrato ("Unhappy in Love") and Dioneo ("The Amorous"), all very agreeable and well-bred, of worth and discretion." The ladies invite the young men to accompany them, and the next day with a train of servitors of every kind they repair to a place two miles from the city, on a little hill back from the road where stands a palace with courtyard and loggie and saloons and bedrooms, abounding in costly paintings, with wells of cool water and cellars full of rare wines. They organize their sessions in the most formal manner with the design of "living merrily." Each member of the party must take turns in being "King or Queen of the day." Pamfinia is chosen to be first and is crowned with "a goodly and honorable wreath" of laurel-leaves. Each servant has an appropriate name and a set task: Parmeno is seneschal and has charge of the chief saloon; Sirisco is purveyor and treasurer; Misia and Lirisca take charge of the kitchen; there are others in charge of the bed-chambers. They stray about till dinner; then they find the tables laid with snowy cloths and glittering with silver; the viands are delicious, they have the choicest wines. Dinner is followed by music and dancing: Dioneo plays the lute, Fiammetta the viol.

At three in the afternoon, after their siesta, they go to a little meadow of green grass and the daily session of story-telling begins. The °Queen" calls upon each in turn and one story suggests another, but each is °free to tell of such matters as are most to his liking.° On the Second Day Filomena assigns a general topic: °of those who after being baffled by divers chances have won at last to a joyful issue beyond their hope.° Friday and Saturday they have no general gathering, but begin again on Sunday, which is devoted to tales of °such as have by dint of diligence acquired some much desired thing or recovered some lost good.° It is rather odd that the stories on this Third Day, whether told by the three young men or by the seven young ladies, rival one another in not merely veiled vulgar allusions but in broad farcical obscenity. This tone is carried on in the stories of the Fourth Day which is ordained by Filostrato, when they all discourse of those whose loves had unhappy endings. Fiammetta is °Queen° for the Fifth Day, and she proposes for the topic the happy fortunes of lovers who had suffered sundry cruel and misfortunate ad ventures. Elisa is °Queen° for the Sixth Day,

and commands discourse of such as had ex tricated themselves from perilous or unpleasant predicaments by some ready reply or device. On this occasion most of the stories are mere anecdotes, and it is the shortest part of the 'Decameron.' The Seventh Day, guided by Dioneo, is devoted to relating the tricks played by wives on their husbands for their own preservation. The Eighth is a sort of continua tion of the preceding, treating of the tricks that all day long women play upon men or men upon women or men upon one another. This again comes on a Sunday, and many of the stories are long and exceedingly obscene. Emilia offers no set topic for the Ninth Day, and they all follow their own impulses. The Tenth and last Day is under the lordship of Panifilo, and the company discourse of such persons as have wrought generously or magnificently in matters of love or in any other way. 'The Decameron' ends with an apology for the author's license °in inditing these stories as well as in making ladies now and then say and very often hearken to things not very seemly to be said or heard of modest women.° He defends himself by saying: °There is nothing so unseemly as to be forbidden unto anyone, so but he express it in seemly terms, as methinks I have here very aptly done); and he goes on to argue at some length that no harm can come to any one who reads the stories in the right spirit; and says naively that while it is perfectly true that some might well have been omitted, yet he had to tell them as his little company of 10 told them at their daily sessions. Boccaccio did not invent the hundred stories; many of them are folk tales which had been in vogue for centuries. He merely retells them in a style which has been the admiration of the world, although in many places it is marked by strange obscurities, by affected attempts at °Ciceronian concision," by imitations of Dante's symbolism and by the use of words of unfamiliar significances. There are beautiful descriptions; there is broad wit; there is farce; there is pathos, as in the famous story of the Patient Griselda. Some of the stories are elaborations of the anecdotes of the °Gesta Romanorum;° but Boccaccio makes no attempt to attribute them; he took whatever he wanted wherever he found it and made it his after the manner of the famous conquerors of the world. Attempts have been made to locate the deserted villa where the lieta brigata first took up their abode and that to which they moved after the Second Day as being more commodious and magnificent. ' The one is con sidered to have been the Poggio Gherardi; the other, judging from the famous description of its surroundings, was the Villa Pasolini or Ras poni, at that time the property of the Memmi, the pupils of Giotto, overlooking the valley which in the last century belonged to the American, Prof. Willard Fiske.

Each of the stories is introduced by a vignette in words, describing the activities of the gay little company; all of the characters are vividly depicted and artfully contrasted. Their behavior is in deliberate contrast to the freedom of their speech, and when there is some talk about a scandal arising from their sojourn together Filomela replies to Neifile: °That amounts to nothing, where I live virtu ously and my conscience in no wise reproaches me; let those who will speak against me: I take God and the Truth for my defence.° Some of the stories have been retold in modern times; others have been elaborated into plays. Washington Irving used that of °Fred erick of the Alberighi and his Falcon.° Keats put into immortal verse the °Pot of Basil?' Chaucer, who died only a quarter of a century later than Boccaccio, imitated him and used his material. In spite of the indelicacy of many of the stories the work, as a whole, is one of the classics of world literature. It has been fre quently translated in expurgated form; com plete it is to be found in three volumes trans lated into rather stilted and affected English by James Payne and published in 1886 by the Nrillon Society for private circulation. Consult Bartoli, Adolpho, 'I Precursori del Boccaccio e alcune delle sue Font? (Florence 1874) ; Lee, A. Collingwood, 'The Decamerone, its Sources and Analogues' (London 1909) ; Symonds, J. A., 'Giovanni Boccaccio' (London 1895) ; Moutier, Ignazio, Decamerone, con spiega zioni tratte dai migliori commentari) (Paris 1849) • Morley, Henry, Decamerone, Forty of the 100 Novels with Introduction' (1902 and 1909) ; also the edition by Dr. Guilio Farrario with notes from the best editions (Florence 1841).