Penguin Little Black Classic #1 Mrs. Rosie and the Priest
Who would have thought a 14th century Italian classic written at about the time of the Black Death would be such a hoot. The four "tales" (I think they are considered novellas, but the four I read are fairly short) in my Little Black Classic edition were of the outrageous/eyebrow-raising variety. I think you have to read these in the spirit they were written, though without any sort of introduction or contextual information I am doing a little extracurricular reading about the Decamaron, from which these were taken.
The Decameron is a "frame story", which means the disparate tales are connected by their individual storytellers, so stories within a story. A group of women and men (seven and three respectively) shelter in a secluded villa outside Florence as they try and avoid catching the Plague. The tales they tell over the course of ten days (ten stories each day) make up the book (sort of like a scheherazade situation perhaps). I see it called a mosaic, which is fitting since each teller has a different style most likely, and while the stories are interlinked they are all slightly different, too. There is a little bit of everything, humor, love, death, tragedy, practical jokes. I'm imagining they are tales on the foibles of mankind. According to the wikipedia the book is written in the "vernacular of the Florentine language" and it gives a taste of what life was like in this particular time and place. I wonder if (despite being fiction/literature) you could count it as a primary resource?
It sounds like Boccaccio used other works for his inspiration in his retellings (which just goes to show you there really are a limited number of stories out there and it is all in how they are told that makes them fresh or different). But then the Decameron served as inspiration to the likes of Chaucer and Dante, and so it goes.
Some things I have learned from my wanderings online to learn more about the Decameron. Decameron actually means "ten days work", hence ten days with ten stories each day. The group spends a full two weeks together, though the other days are given over to other activities religious or otherwise. Each person has a day where they 'reign' and would set the day's activities and themes. My little mini version with just a few tales has four. The first two are from day two of the group's gathering and Filomena is the day's 'Queen'.
The first story in my little black book is "Andreuccio da Perugia's Neapolitan Adventures" in which Adreuccio from Perugia has come to Naples with five hundred gold florins in order to do a little horse trading. Ah, young man, careful. He is soon parted from his money (somewhat ignominiously including a fall out of a window without his clothes into a filthy alleyway). It is a little comical what he goes through, but in the end he may have lost his florins but he leaves with a beautiful ruby!
In "Ricciardo da Chinzica Loses His Wife" it would seem a man with more brains than muscle fails to realize he must satisfy his young wife a bit more often than a mere "monthly treat". So many holy days in which to abstain and then the poor man needs a glass of fortified wine and a biscuit as a pick-me up after his rare act of congress. Ahem. Beware of fishing trips wizened old men with young wives. You never know when a corsair will happen by and make off with your wife! She may in the end prefer his company to yours.
I must say there were some pretty entertaining double entendres in "Mrs. Rosie and the Priest". Yes, it is just as naughty as the title implies. We are all the way to day eight now with Lauretta reigning for the day. Let's just say there were some illicit acts of congress, a cloak and then a mortar and pestle being exchanged and/or borrowed. I'll leave it up to your imagine what the mortar and pestle signify. Ahem.
Finally with the last tale on day ten, "Patient Griselda" we have a King for the day, Panfilo, directing the day's events. I must say Griselda is indeed more than patient in this story. She marries above her, but the ordeals her lofty, aristocratic husband puts her through in order to test her faithfulness is more than I would have put up with. I wonder what the lesson (are there meant to be lessons learned in the Decameron?) learned (patience mainly, I guess) when your husband takes both your children and tells you he has murdered them (he really didn't however), and then tells you that you must leave (in only your undergarments!) as he must find a new wife. Well, she passes the test and apparently they live happily every after, but you must wonder how she manages to overcome any resentment. A better woman than I, I think!
Such a tiny little book. Fifty or so odd pages, but what a tiny portal into a massive and very vivid unknown world to me. There is so much to the Decameron that it seems almost rude to not give more time and energy to Boccaccio. I am sure it is filled with all sorts of meaning and linguistic brilliance. These books are, I can see now, going to be very very dangerous. You see, after hooking me, Boccaccio has gotten me to buy his whole, and unabridged, work. I opted for the newest translation (interesting to see how the translations compare--they are quite different) by Wayne Rebhorn which won the Pen Center's Award for Translation. Maybe reading the Decameron in full will be one of my 2017 goals (and that would be a whole project in and of itself) . . .
And now, my next selection from my bounty of little black Penguins is Kenko's A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees, which I will tell you about next week. I will only say that now, it too, has opened yet another new can of worms. (But good worms. Classical literature worms). My only disappointment in this set is that so few women writers are represented.