Revisiting ‘The Decameron’ in Quarantine

March 25, 2020

Pandemic literature has been around for centuries, with one of the most popular being Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron. At Electric Literature, Elyse Martin examines how this collection of “medieval Italian sex stories” shows that storytelling is integral to our survival. “The rigid structure of the work—ten characters tell ten stories for ten days—seems at odds both with the chaotic setting of the plague and with the content of the tales,” Martin writes, “where characters tumble from fortune to misfortune to fortune again, with each spin of Fortune’s wheel. But this strict structure is intentional. Just as Boccaccio most likely wrote these tales as a way to understand and also escape the plague, so do his ten storytellers embrace this structure as an escape from the now ordinary chaos of their lives.”

is a writer and illustrator. She is the author of two illustrated books, Last Night's Reading (Penguin Books, 2015) and Sanpaku (Archaia 2018).

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