The Decameron — Boccaccio

The Decameron was written by Boccaccio after the Black Death in the fourteenth century. It was written for learned men, which in that day meant the elite. It is the biggest and the most informative document regarding the Black Death. Boccaccio wrote about the effect on society that the Black Death had.

The Black Death caused most people to become alienated from their customary morals, religions, ethics, etc…. The typical view of the Renaissance people was that the Black Death was sent as a punishment from God.

The plague spread like wildfire. Anyone who caught it, normally died within three days of incubation. Because the transmission of the germs was extremely easy, as it could happen through breathing on someone else or contact with rats (the main carrier of the disease), anyone who came in contact with a sick person was likely to die.

It was because of this that the healthy people strictly stayed away from the sick to the point of cruelty, causing a breakdown in society. They began to ignore laws, authority, and government, all because there was a loss of hope for the future. People lost their desire to live. There was a general resignation to whatever fate life had in store for them. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die,” became a popular saying. Nothing mattered anymore to them.

After the rather depressing section on the Black Death, Boccaccio changes the tune and begins to tell stories. He tells them through several young people who have gone to live in the country, away from the threats of the plague. They tell ten stories per day for ten days.

One story, novel three, is called Melchisedech. Melchisedech was a Jew, during the time of the Crusades. Saladin asks him a question: “Which do you think best, the law of the Christians, the law of the Saracens, or the law of the Jews?” Melchisedech answers with the story of the three rings.

“There was once a king who had three sons. He decided to give an ancestral ring to the heir. However, because he loved them equally, he made two other rings. All three sons had rings, and no one could tell which son was to be the heir. It is the same with religions: all have the same basic teaching, although they differ on the outside.”

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