Looking for a diversion in the midst of these days of isolation and uncertainty? The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature is urging people to join its book club and pick up a book, and it has found just the one — “The Decameron” by Giovanni Boccaccio.
The book was written during the Great Plague of the 14th century. It is funny, imaginative and a bit bawdy, the perfect antidote to worry-inducing headlines, according to a news release by John Kenyon, executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. Starting April 1 and for the three-plus months that follow, people will gather together, virtually and spiritually, to read this classic.
“The Decameron” takes place in a Tuscan villa where seven young women: Pampinea, Filomena, Neifile, Fiammetta, Elissa, Lauretta, and Emilia; and three young men: Filostrato, Dioneo, and Panfilo, are self-quarantined while the plague is ravaging Florence. Being young and of active disposition, they stave off boredom by establishing a routine – every day they take walks, sing and tell stories. They do so for 10 days, with each of these young people telling a tale each day, for a total of 100 stories.
Anna Barker, an assistant adjunct professor at the University of Iowa, and a member of the City of Literature board of directors will lead the discussion.
“This is not so different from the routines the world community finds itself developing today while dealing with yet another global plague, COVID-19...,” Barker said in the news release. “Written at the intersection of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the tales reveal a great deal about the values and aspirations of the times, but remain vital and relatable today because of their earthy humanity. In her 2013 New Yorker review of Wayne A. Rebhorn’s new translation, Joan Acocella states: ‘This is probably the dirtiest great book in the Western canon.’ The tales of love range from romantic and erotic to the tragic and grotesque and offer a witty and honest glimpse into the complexity of human interactions. In addition to the tales of courtship and lust, the young story tellers indulge in a vast variety of topics that deal with cleverness and trickery, free will and virtue, reversals of fortune, lost and restored faith.”
On April 1, the City of Literature will post Barker’s introduction to the first 10 stories on the project webpage, and then will post her introduction to each new set of 10 stories every 10 days. To prepare to join us, read the Introduction by J.M.Rigg and Boccaccio’s Proem by April 1. They can be found, along with the book itself at the following links:
• The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Decameron, Volume I, by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by J.M. Rigg, www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/3726/pg3726-images.html
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• The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Decameron, Vol. II, by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by J.M. Rigg, www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/13102/pg13102-images.html
The conversation will be kept going each day on social media. Follow along and contribute your own thoughts and ideas at #100DaysofDecameron.