The unfraught sex of Boccaccio’s Decameron
November 8, 2013 3:00 PM   Subscribe

 
Oh, I love me some Decameron.

But it was pretty obvious to me why so many of the stories are about sex, so I don't know why the first article sounds so baffled by that. The storytellers are a) survivors of a plague who are looking for something life-affirming, and b) young singletons, some of whom have raging crushes on each other. Of COURSE they're gonna talk about sex - and probably a couple of late night hookups happened between stories to boot.

The biggest wiseass, Dineo, usually had the best stories. Watch for his when you read this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:22 PM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Finally, the high spirits of the Decameron have political force. They help make the book proto-democratic. Boccaccio probably wasn’t trying to raise the humble. Yet, because he clearly liked these people, he did raise them.

Oh, Joan Acocella, so predictably muddled about historical politics. Would it really kill her to use the word "carnivalesque" here, or is there some kind of repression at work? Her piece is so dependent on this watered-down Bakhtin for Dummies account of the relationship between Boccaccio and his social world that it almost seems dishonest not even to name-check him, or at least it would if that silence didn't also come across so clearly as an expression of her political discomforts.
posted by RogerB at 3:23 PM on November 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh - and when I'm on a better computer, I can link to pictures I took from when I went to the church where they all met up before their journey into the hills.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:23 PM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


RogerB: " Her piece is so dependent on this watered-down Bakhtin for Dummies account of the relationship between Boccaccio and his social world that it almost seems dishonest not even to name-check him"

Well, that's the New Yorker for you, dear.
posted by Malory Archer at 3:29 PM on November 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Curious she makes no mention of G. H. McWilliam's translation. That said, I will be adding this one to the pile, to check out if nothing else.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:08 PM on November 8, 2013


I was happy to read Acotella's article, because I'm happy for anything that would lead people to read Boccacio.
posted by acrasis at 4:25 PM on November 8, 2013


But the most important point about this version is that it is heavily abridged. It has only twenty-one tales out of Boccaccio’s hundred. It also deletes most of the material between the tales: the tellers’ introductions and commentaries, and the descriptions of how the group played the viol, took nice naps, and so on. Without this context, not to speak of the missing tales, one loses much of the flavor—indeed, much of the meaning. And yet, this is the version I would recommend to many readers. A hundred stories is a lot of stories.

I don't know what to make of this review. 80% or more of the book has been deleted. The reviewer admits it has a detrimental effect to point that much of the meaning has been lost. Yet, this is the version he would recommend to most people.
posted by stbalbach at 5:37 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can hardly recognize my Boccaccio's Decamerone from this article. Dirty? No, absolutely no: naughty maybe, irreverent, spirited, amusing and reflecting the attitudes of the time. The Italian is brilliant, very much a easy read even after seven centuries. I am now curious to read either translation, but I'm sure that I will be disappointed, if dirty is the main point that come across.

This is still one of the required readings in high school in Italy, along with Alighieri, Petrarca, and Cecco Angiolieri. It makes me appreciate my less stifling upbringing: these books would not be on the shelves of high school libraries in the US, except maybe Petrarca.
posted by francesca too at 5:49 PM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know what to make of this review. 80% or more of the book has been deleted. The reviewer admits it has a detrimental effect to point that much of the meaning has been lost.

And this detail is buried at the end of a long review. It's a weirdass statement to be sure. A richer translation of stories would probably make that worthwhile to people who had already read the entire book, but it seems like a strange first point of entry unless this version is just so much better than any other one (and unless, I guess, the other seventy-nine stories just aren't so hot).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:43 PM on November 8, 2013


So, as promised....

I got to go to Italy this spring, and made a point of going to Florence in part because of The Decameron. I tracked down the church the characters all meet up at in the beginning of the book; Santa Maria Novella, this cathedral about 10 minutes' walk from the Duomo. (Actually, a lot of things were about 10 minutes' walk from the Duomo. Florence's city center is small.)

The Santa Maria Novella portion of the Flickr set starts here; clicking on through to the very end of the set will also take you on a walk through the Boboli Gardens, which may give an idea what the gardens our storytellers were sitting in maybe looked like.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 PM on November 8, 2013 [8 favorites]



I don't know what to make of this review. 80% or more of the book has been deleted.

This article talks about three different English translations of the Decameron. The author suggests the abridged translation in this case: If you want just a sample of the saltier side of the Decameron, the quality for which it is most loved—or if you are teaching an undergraduate survey of Italian literature—use Musa and Bondanella’s abridged edition. If you have more time, and want the true, mixed, fourteenth-century book that Boccaccio wrote, choose Rebhorn.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:07 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cecco Angiolieri

I remember having to memorize "S'i fosse foco" to consolidate the subjunctive conditional. One classmate refused because she found the poem itself schifo. Good times, good times.

unless, I guess, the other seventy-nine stories just aren't so hot


They do vary in quality.
posted by BWA at 7:12 PM on November 8, 2013


The author suggests the abridged translation in this case: If you want just a sample of the saltier side of the Decameron, the quality for which it is most loved—or if you are teaching an undergraduate survey of Italian literature—use Musa and Bondanella’s abridged edition. If you have more time, and want the true, mixed, fourteenth-century book that Boccaccio wrote, choose Rebhorn.

Yeah, that makes more sense on a second reading. It's kind of murky, because the author goes right from talking about Rebhorn to mentioning "the most important point about this version," which sounds like it should mean Rebhorn's version, but doesn't.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:21 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


She says that Rebhorn’s book is more than nine hundred pages long. Definitely not the abridged version.
posted by Kevin Street at 7:43 PM on November 8, 2013


What great timing! The National Gallery here in DC is doing a Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective, and his version of "The Decameron" is playing in a couple of weeks.
posted by bcarter3 at 8:07 PM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pasolini's movie is wonderful. Definitely more about his own vision than Boccaccio's, but who cares. It's gorgeous.
posted by Erroneous at 9:17 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Folks who love the Decameron should be sure to check out the 1949 edition with illustrations by the brilliant American illustrator Rockwell Kent. Most of the color images can be seen here (note how many of them are about fucking, almost fucking, getting caught fucking, jumping out the window to avoid getting caught fucking, etc).

It's kind of murky, because the author goes right from talking about Rebhorn to mentioning "the most important point about this version," which sounds like it should mean Rebhorn's version, but doesn't.

Yeah, I also thought Acocella was talking about the new Rebhorn translation when she mentioned the abridgement. It's a weird, sort of clumsy transition between paragraphs she makes there; the 1st sentence in the 2nd paragraph should have been "But the most important point about this version Musa and Bondanella's version is that it is heavily abridged."

(No, seriously. That would have helped a lot, and the technical writer in me can die happy knowing I just copy edited a sentence in The New Yorker and made it better.)

For the record, this is the Norton Critical Edition Acocella recommends (with 21 of the 100 stories, translated by Bondanella and Musa, and including the critical essay by Thomas Bergin). She notes Bondanella and Musa published a full translation of all 100 stories a few years later. I know Acocella's been controversial here in the past for her lack of expertise - or willingness to search out others with expertise - on the subjects she writes about, but that seems like a pretty decent recommendation.
posted by mediareport at 9:44 PM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is a striking series of paintings in the Prado based on one of the stories.
posted by empath at 2:37 AM on November 9, 2013


Unfraught?
posted by Segundus at 6:11 AM on November 9, 2013


I read the Richard Aldington translation from 1930 (unabridged). This is the same translation later used in the 1949 Rockwell Kent edition. But the 1930 edition is illustrated by Jean de Bosschère. Wikipedia says "he developed a fascination with the occult, the spiritual, the obscure and the sexual. He gave himself the nickname "Satan"" - examples of Bosschère's satantic/erotic art.
posted by stbalbach at 9:43 PM on November 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had my grubby hands on the Norton edition in high school. I salute you, Mr. B. for having the guts to have that in your classroom and for letting us peruse it as we would. Funny that having it be accessible took some of the spice out.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:56 PM on November 10, 2013


The Decameron Tarot is a damn sexy one. (NSFW)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:05 AM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


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