The Decameron Special: A Response To Our Times

by | March 24, 2020 |

What’s a Decameron Special?

First, I made it up.

Second, it refers to Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron of 1353.

Third, the Special means that I am offering all my books for free on all platforms. For how long? I can’t say. For at least as long as we are all self-isolating.


Let me break my idea down:

The Decameron Special: The Black Death

Remember the bubonic plague? You likely know it as the Black Death. It arrived in Europe in 1347, raged for five years and ravaged the European population.

The Decameron Special

La peste pendant la siege de Leide” The plague during the siege of Leiden

Interest in the Black Death has surged lately, for obvious reasons. Read all about The Greatest Catastrophe Ever

There’s also been a resurgence of interest in an old urban legend. Namely, whether or not the nursery rhyme “Ring Around The Rosie” is Black-Death related. The first line may – or may not! – refer to the red rings around the raised buboes on the skin caused by swollen lymph nodes. And so the Black-Death interpretations of the next two lines go until “we all fall down.” Did we all just die – or not?

Whatever the truth of the origin of the rhyme, the urban legend has had staying power. And underscores our fear in the awful power of epidemics/pandemics.

The Decameron Special: Boccaccio’s Decameron

Back to the reality of the Black Death. Just like the coronavirus, the bubonic plague cared nothing for social class. However, the rich were more easily able to leave urban centers and go into seclusion. This is the case for the characters in The Decameron. Seven young women and three young men leave plague-ridden Florence and find shelter in a deserted villa outside of town.

So, now what are they supposed to do with their time?

Tell one another stories!

The word decameron is Greek for ‘ten-day-event.’ Each of the ten characters is responsible for telling one story a day on ten different days. Which means the entire collection has 100 stories. The seclusion lasts two weeks. Thus, the participants do not tell stories on four of the days, when they are occupied with chores or observing holy days.

The stories are romantic, erotic, tragic, comic, what-have-you. In sum, any juicy topic to take their minds off the plague.

Over the centuries The Decameron has been a hit with painters. The most popular subject has been the story of Cymon and Iphigenia. It is the first story on the fifth day.

The Decameron Special

Cymon and Iphigenia by Peter Paul Rubens, 1617

Long story short: Cymon, a simple-minded nobleman, becomes a mental wizard upon beholding naked Iphigenia. There you go!

The Decameron also influenced the Middle English masterpiece The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400). Geoffrey Chaucer wrote 24 tales told by pilgrims going from London to the shrine of the martyr Thomas Becket in Canterbury. It was probably a seven-to-eight day round trip. So, they passed the time the way we humans like best.

Chaucer’s Prologue is probably the most famous part of it. Beginning with:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote ….

For more on prologues see: Prologues – Does Your Story Need One?

The Decameron Special: That Was Then

This is now. The moral of all these stories is: We need stories!

The New York Times and the Washington Post are making all their coronavirus stories available free of charge. It’s their public service.

I figure I have a public service job to do, too. I have made my stories available free of charge to anyone who wants to curl up with a romance or two or three or thirty. You’ll need a break from Netflix at some point. And when you do, think of me.

All free downloads are at my site. Or, if you prefer, go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, kobo and everywhere else.

My latest release, the Forest Breeze trilogy, set in Vietnam if you really want a get-away:


Final Note

Perhaps you don’t want relief from reading the news about the coronavirus. Perhaps you wish to read more about plagues. If so, see Pandemic Readings: Three To Consider

And, of course, be safe. Metaphorically speaking, wear your seatbelt and drive carefully! (You know what to do.)

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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