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The Decameron (Signet Classics) Mass Market Paperback – December 3, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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About the Author

Giovanni Boccaccio was born in Florence, Italy, in 1313, and he died there in 1375. His life thus coincided with the flowering of the early Renaissance and indeed his closest friend was Petrarch, the other towering literary figure of the period. During his lifetime, Boccaccio was a diplomat, businessman, and international traveler, as well as the creator of numerous works of prose and poetry. Of his achievements, The Decameron, completed sometime between 1350 and 1352, remains his lasting contribution—immensely popular from its original appearance to the present day—to world literature.


Mark Musa is a professor at the Center for Italian Studies at Indiana University. A former Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellow, Musa is the author of a highly acclaimed translation of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella are professors at the Center for Italian Studies at Indiana University. Mark Musa, a former Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of a highly acclaimed translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Peter Bondanella, a former Younger Humanist and Senior Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has published, among other works, Machiavelli and the Art of Renaissance History and Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism. He is coeditor of The Dictionary of Italian Literature and The Portable Machiavelli.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Signet Classics (December 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451528662
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451528667
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 1.4 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,210,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Unlike a lot of the writers who sprung out of the medieval period, the Decameron is extremely readable. 100 stories organized into 10-day chunks makes this book a classic piece of literature... and unlike Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, you don't have to wade through the language to get at the meaning (part of this has to do with the translation of Italian into modern English).

During the Plague of the mid-14th century, ten people (7 women and 3 men) escape the city of Florence to the then-countryside of Fiesole. Each day they elect a king or queen, who dictates the theme of the day's stories. Centering around love, lust, sex, and relationships between people, the stories in the Decameron transcend stereotypes of the middle ages and created a scintillating and fresh approach to the art of storytelling. The Decameron is one of my favorite novels; this is the second time I've read it, and it never ceases to amaze me by the depth of human life represented.

In addition, this is an excellent translation of the original; the translators manage to get at Boccaccio's meaning without destroying his prose.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Don't be intimidated by this medieval masterpiece. It is actually just a collection of very loosely related short stories, most of which are rather comical. You need not read them in one sitting and you need not read them all. In fact, the editors provide a list of their favorite stories (an alternative view is that they are telling you which ones to skip).
Great modern translation.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This mammoth collection of short stories was written in the wake of the Bubonic Plague which killed a third of the population of Europe back in the 14th century. The stories are for the most part really good narratives, and they're told through ten young noblemen who are trying to hide out from the plague to save themselves and tell these stories to pass the time. Written in a clear, classical, controlled, strongly plotted style, these are tales about sex, violence, intrigue... but nothing gratuitous of course. Good, easy-to-read translation!
David Rehak
author of "Love and Madness"
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I've tried to read these stories several times before but this is by far the best translation I've found yet. Very adult reading but passes for educational and is a great summer read!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Amazon has linked this book to the page for Penguin's edition of The Decameron translated by G.H. McWilliam. After careful shopping for the "right translation," I ended up purchasing McWilliams'. And the more I read it the happier I am with my choice. When I saw that the book was also available for my Kindle I impulsively downloaded it. WARNING: This is NOT the McWilliam's translation (it seems to be a very old, public domain text); nor does it include McWilliams' excellent and conprehensive introduction.

My advice to Kindle customers: When buying classic literature in translation for downloading, always order a free sample first so you be sure it's the translation you want.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The translation that you choose will have an impact upon your enjoyment of any work written in a foreign language. In the case of The Decameron, the translations recommended by "The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation" are those by (1) G.H. McWilliams and (2) Bondanella and Musa.

I purchased the McWilliams translation and found it to be enjoyable, although slightly wooden. There were also several howlers (e.g., addressing the women in the group as "Delectable Ladies.")

There's a 100+ page introduction, which I found to be overly academic and tedious. This is, as far as most readers are concerned, a fun book to read; the introduction should not detract from that experience.

This volume has extensive endnotes at the end of the book. Most of them are of little interest to the general reader and add nothing to one's enjoyment of the stories. Since they are short, and given modern editing technology, they could just as easily been included as footnotes at the bottom of the page on which they appear, which would have been more convenient. (Inexplicably, the notes to the Introduction are footnotes.)

The book is bawdy, but not obscene. McWilliams, justifiably I think, is of the opinion that certain passages are misogynistic and homophobic, which seemed to me to be correct. The latter is odd, because Florence during the Renaissance was notorious throughout Europe for its large homosexual population (most of its great artists reputedly were gay). Forewarned is forearmed.

I have not read the Bondanella and Musa translation, but McWilliams (who appears to be remarkably fair) speaks well of it in his Second Preface. Based upon the foregoing, I would choose it instead.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
100 stories to read time and again.

The Decameron contains many references to the church and its influence. The first story of Ser Cepparello pokes fun at the church, but the storyteller, Panfilo, precedes his tale with a pious preamble: "It is fitting that everything done by man should begin with the marvelous and holy name of Him...I intend to start with one of His marvelous deeds, so that when we have heard about it, out faith in Him will remain as firm as ever" (25). Panfilo goes on to tell the story of the worst sinner in Europe who becomes a saint merely by duping his confessor. At the end of the tale, Christians worship the false saint, and Panfilo concludes with another tribute to God. The effect is hilarious. The tale makes religion a farce, but the opening and closing take religion very seriously. This disguises the biting satire of the story. By framing stories with prayers, the contents within the frame seem less irreverent. The second story fits in the same framework, as Neifile tells a story to promote "His infallible truth so that with firmer conviction we may practice what we believe" (38). She goes on to tell the story of a Jew named Abraham, who converts to Christianity after he observes the wickedness of the clergy in Rome. Abraham finds Rome to be "a forge for the Devil's work" and is amazed that "in spite of all this...your religion grows and becomes brighter and more illustrious" (42). The incredible corruption of the church, coupled with its success, baffles Abraham enough that he has to conclude that God must favor the Christians if they are allowed to be so evil. Like Panfilo, Neifile concludes her tale by praising God.

The third story also focuses on religion, but this time the main characters are a Saracen and a Jew.
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