Tag: old book

Stories of Quarantine: Boccaccio’s ‘The Decameron’

There is a 700 year old book that has recently been gaining popularity among readers. 14th century Italian writer, Giovanni Boccaccio, wrote “The Decameron” as a way of compiling a series of stories set during the Black Death of 1348.  What about this book is so popular now, you may ask?

image via amazon

In order to understand why, Professor Martin Marafioti of Pace University talks about the book and its relevance now compared to a few months or years ago.  The book title itself stands for “Ten Days,” and as said before, it is a series of stories surrounding the time of the Black Death. Boccaccio tells a story of ten young people residing in northern Florence, Italy, who are facing the difficulties of the plague like many other people. The ten people get together and strategize on the best way to deal with the epidemic illness.


The group knows that it would be best to stay away from other people, but since they lived in such a densely populated city, doing so would be difficult.  After deliberating, they all decided that it would be the best for all of them to leave the city and take shelter in the countryside.  After the group physically leaves both the city and the plague behind them, they now faced another problem: passing time.  After thinking about what they could do, they agreed that something fun to do would be to tell stories.  Like we are doing now with the coronavirus pandemic, finding ways to amuse ourselves while we are quarantined at home like the group of young people in Boccaccio’s book tried to do in their own quarantine.

image via wikipedia

Their rule as this: each story teller would recount only one story per day. Some of the stories are funny, some of them are tragic, some were set in contemporary times, and others were set in the distant past. Even though “The Decameron” is 700 years old, the book has become relevant over and over again through the centuries because of not only the story but the way in which Boccaccio tells the story.  The book has been read, published, and made more widely available during periods of epidemic outbreak. Wonder why? Professor Marafioti had this to say:


“Bocaccio’s formula, his idea of storytelling as distraction in times like this, is something that we continue to use over and over again in our lives.  It’s so important.  We’re doing the same thing now, in 2020, with the outbreak of coronavirus.  People are reaching out to their loved ones, they’re sending letters, they’re journaling, they’re sharing on social media.  So, in many ways, we’re doing the same thing that the young men and women in Bocaccio’s work were doing over 700 years ago.”



Now that’s really interesting.  Essentially, books, and even movies, whose main story circulates around diseases, becomes ever more relevant for those who find themselves in the same situation.  When art imitates reality (known as mimesis, by the way), we may be drawn to said art when we are in the same conditions.  We all want to find ways to escape, to find distraction.  I don’t know about you, but I definitely will be checking out Bocaccio’s book, as I too need some fun things to do while I’m at home. Happy reading!

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Featured image via Kobo