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July 28, 2014

The Decameron Preface and Introduction by Giovanni Boccaccio- Summary

The Decameron Preface and Introduction by Giovanni Boccaccio- Summary

Boccaccio wrote this novel as a way for women to divert themselves from their heart ache. Men have many outlets for their pain, which include: taking a walk, hawking, hunting, fishing, horseback riding, gambling, or attending to business; all of which will diminish the pain that they feel. Women, on the other hand, do not have these same luxuries. Boccaccio intends to tell 100 stories in ten days. A group of seven women and three men will tell ten stories a day; each person having their opportunity to tell a tale.


...I intend to tell one hundred stories, or fables, or parables, or histories, or whatever you wish to call them, as they were told in ten days (as will become quite evident) by a worthy group of seven ladies and three young men who came together during the time of the plague (which just recently took so many lives), and I shall also include several songs sung for their delight by these same ladies. These stories will contain a number of different cases of love, both bitter and sweet, as well as other exciting adventures taken from modern and ancient times. (pp.5)

This novel takes place in Florence, Italy, in 1348. This same year the deadly plague began in Florence; either by the authority of the heavenly bodies or as a punishment from God for all the evil committed by humans. The plague had originated in the East years earlier, wiping out a lot of people. Nothing could stop the plague. Officials were appointed to remove the filth from the city. No sick person was allowed in the city.

The first signs of the plague were swelling in the groin or armpits. These bulges ranged between the size of an apple and an egg. They were called gavoccioli. Soon after contracting the plague the gavoccioli would spread over the whole body. The next stage of the disease was black or livid spots on the arms and thighs, spreading over the rest of the body in a short time. Nothing could be done, most died within three days, only a few were ever cured. The pestilence passed from the sick to the healthy, being around a sick person in any way including touching their clothing could make you sick. I (the narrator) saw it with my own eyes. Animals even died from the pestilence. The healthy began to avoid the sick and the sick person's possessions in order to protect themselves from death.

Some people thought that if they avoided excess they would be spared from the disease. They lived together apart from everyone else. No one was allowed to speak or listen to anything regarding the sick. They entertained themselves with music.

Others believed that excess was the answer. Heavy drinking, singing, and satisfying every whim was the way to ward off the disease. They always avoided the sick.

Laws, both human and the divine were abandoned. Everyone was free to do what they wanted.

There were still others who took the middle road. Neither restricting themselves food and drink nor eating and drinking to excess. They walked about smelling the flowers without a care.

Still others thought that the best way to deal with the plague was to flee the city. They only cared about themselves. They abandoned their homes, cities, and possessions.

An unheard of practice began to spread through the city due to the plague; women did not mind having man-servants. They felt no shame being naked around them. This may be the reason why after the plague women had looser morals.

The city was full of corpses. The bodies of the dead poor would be put at the curb in front of their house and taken with other bodies to be buried with very little ceremony. Often times these people would die all alone and their death would only be discovered when the stench of their dead bodies reached their neighbor's house. When the churches ran out of graves they dug huge trenches and the dead bodies were dumped into them.

The wind spread the pestilence to the surrounding towns and villages, wiping out the residents. From March to July 1348 approximately 100,000 people died in Florence.

One Tuesday morning at the Santa Maria Novella, there were only seven ladies there to hear the services. They were dressed in mourning clothes. They were between the ages of 18 and 28. They were all intelligent, beautiful, and noble by birth. They were also well mannered and modest. I will not tell you their real names, in case they become embarrassed about what I am going to say about them. Paminea was the oldest, Fiammetta was the second oldest followed by Filomena, Emilia, Lauretta, Neifile, and finally Elissa.

Pampinea says to the other ladies: we are all afraid for our lives. The world is going to hell around us; everyone is dying and has abandoned their morals. I think that we should leave the city to protect ourselves. We should go to one of our country houses and enjoy life rather than live in fear and grief.

When she had finished the others were very excited and began planning their trip, all except Filomena.

Filomena fired back: there is no reason to be hasty. Women naturally do not know how to reason in a group. They need the guidance of a man to make the right decision.

Elissa agreed saying: men are supposed to lead women. Without men, we would rarely succeed.

While they were discussing this, three you men came in. None of these three men were over 25 years old. Unlike the names chosen for the women, the men's names all had an etymological significance; their names were Panfilo ("completely in love"), Filostrato ("overcome by love"), and Dioneo ("lustful"). They were all charming and came from good families. All they wanted was to be with the women they loved, who just so happened to be three of these afore mentioned ladies.

When the ladies saw the men come in, Pampinea decided that these men would be their guides. Neifile blushed, because she was loved by one of the young men.

Neifile said to Pampinea: I am scared that if we take them with us there will disgrace and disapproval to follow, because they are in love with some of us.

Filomena responded to Neifile's statement: that doesn't matter as long as nothing dishonorable happens.

The ladies all agreed and Pampinea, who was related to one of the young men, went over to them and explained the plan and begged them to come along. They agreed to come and the seven of them discussed the preparations for the trip. The next morning, at dawn, they and their servants set out for their first stop, which was about two miles away.

Soon after they arrived at their destination, Dioneo, who was more handsome and funny than the other two men, said: everyone should laugh, sing, and have fun or let me go back to town.

Pampinea replied: Dioneo is right, we should liven ourselves up. I believe that disorder will make us want to split up and go back to the city. I propose that we elect a leader from among ourselves and this person will be in charge of keeping everyone happy and entertained. Furthermore, each one of us should experience this title so we will rotate leaders. We shall all elect the first leader, but after today the next leader will be appointed by the current leader. The leader will dictate where and how we shall spend our time.

Everyone agreed and Pampinea was unanimously elected Queen for the day. Filomena went and gathered branches from a laurel bush and wove them into a crown signifying the position of King/ Queen.

Pampinea ordered everyone to be quiet and she called for the three men's servants and four of the lady's servants. She elected Parmeno, Dioneo's servant to be her steward; his job was to manage the household and everything to do with the dining hall. Next, Sirisco, Panfilo's servant was chosen to be the treasurer and the buyer. He has to follow Parmeno's orders. Tindaro, Filostrato's servant, will be the servant to all the young men with regards to their bedchambers when the other men's servants are busy. Misia, my servant, and Licisca, Fiolomena's servant will work in the kitchen as cooks under Parmeno's direction. Chimera, Lauretta's servant, and Stratilia, Fiammetta's servant, will be in charge of taking care of the lady's bedchambers. Furthermore, you servants will only bring us good news despite what you may hear or see, in town.

Pampinea excused everyone to enjoy the gardens and meadows. Everyone was to reconvene at the hour of tierce (about 9 am) for breakfast. When the hour had come they all came into the dining room. They washed their hands and were seated in their assigned places.

After the meal, Pampinea ordered Dioneo to play his lute and Fiammetta to play her Viola. Everyone sang and danced. After a while the Queen decided that it was time for a rest and everyone was sent to their bed chambers for some relaxation. Around the hour of nones (3 pm), the Queen had everyone woken up, because too much sleep in the middle of the day is not good for a person.

They met up in the meadow where there was a cool breeze and shade. They sat in a circle. The Queen said that we should each tell a story rather than just play games, because in games there can only be one winner and happiness will only be felt by one person, but if we tell stories then everyone is entertained. Everyone agreed to tell stories and the Queen appointed Panfilo, who was sitting to her right, to begin with the first story.


Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron. Translated by Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella, Signet Classic, 1982.