The narrator, a calculated, controlled voice, sensitive and seemingly genuine, that speaks directly to the reader. In the preface and introduction, the narrator establishes the narrative framework, describes the Florentine Black Plague of 1348, and introduces the ten storytellers. In the prologue to the fourth day, he defends himself against criticism. In the conclusion, he defends himself against charges of obscenity, slandering the clergy, and frivolity.
Pampinea (pahm-pee-NAY-ah), the storyteller who conceives the idea of the excursion into the countryside, which provides the framework for the story as a whole. She also is the one to suggest the rotation of group leadership duties. Pampinea is wise, self-possessed, and the most mature of the group, having often been in love.
Dioneo (dee-oh-NAY-oh), the wittiest, most attractive, and most self-willed of the three young men to participate in the excursion. He is the first to insist on forgetting the cares left behind in Florence and tells the first of the stories to have sexual content. He tells the last story on each of the last nine days, without regard for the topic established for that day.
Filomena (fee-loh-MAY-nah), a wise and discreet woman who seconds Pampinea’s suggestion to bring men along on their excursion, relying on truth to protect her honor and reputation should it be questioned later. She is passionate and amorous.
Elisa (eh-LEE-sah), a very young woman characterized by a powerfully passionate nature.
Fiammetta (fee-ahm-MEHT-tah), who is generous in giving love and desirous of being loved but fearful of the pain of losing love.
Ser Cepparello (sehr chehp-pa-REHL-loh), a character in a story told by Panfilo. Known, because of his small stature, as Ciappelletto, he was perhaps the vilest man to ever live. A notary known for his dishonesty, he was chosen by a wealthy merchant to deal with the treacherous Burgundians. While in Burgundy, he took ill and was confessed by a gullible but pious priest, whom he tricked into thinking he was a very godly man. When Cepparello died, the priest convinced his brothers to regard him as a saint, after which many miracles were said to have been performed in his name.
Abraham, a character in a story narrated by Neifile. He is a Jew, harassed by his Christian friend to become a member of the Catholic church. He went to Rome to see how the Holy Father and the cardinals deported themselves. Their wickedness and profligacy were such that Abraham became convinced that the foundation of the church of Rome must truly be God in order for it to prosper and grow, because it obviously was not the piety of its leaders. He converted to Catholicism.
Alatiel (ah-lah-tee-ehl), a character in a story narrated by Panfilo. She is the beautiful daughter of the sultan of Babylon and is promised as a wife to the king of Algarve. On her way to the wedding, she is shipwrecked on Majorca. Her beauty and courage bring her, through a series of nine abductions in various lands over four years, back to her father, who still believes she is chaste. She is finally wed to the king and lives serenely in well-earned peace and honor with him.
Brother Alberto, a character in a story narrated by Elisa. He convinces a woman that the archangel Gabriel is in love with her; then, disguising himself, he takes advantage of her several times. Finally, fearing reprisal from her relatives, he runs away and is given refuge by a...
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poor man, who unwittingly leads him to capture the next day by his brother monks.
Isabetta (ee-zah-BEHT-tah), a character in one of Filomena’s stories. After her brothers kill her lover Lorenzo, she is visited by his spirit, who tells her where he is buried. In secret, she exhumes his head and places it in a pot of basil, which she waters daily with her tears. After her brothers discover her secret and take the pot away from her, she dies of grief.
Madonna Usimbalda (ew-seem-BAHL-dah), a character in one of Elisa’s stories. She is an abbess who is called from her bed to judge one of her nuns, who is accused of being unchaste. In her haste, the abbess, who had herself been in bed with a priest, mistakes the priest’s pants for her veil and wears them on her head into the chamber where the accused nun is to be examined. Madonna Usimbalda’s harshness is mitigated when the accused nun points out the abbess’ unusual headdress.
Griselda (gree-ZEHL-dah), a character in a story narrated by Dioneo. She is the peasant wife of the Marquis of Saluzzo. Her constancy and firmness are tested by her husband when he takes her two children at birth and pretends to have them killed, meanwhile secreting them. When Griselda bears this with fortitude and mildness, Saluzzo tells her that she has displeased him and pretends to take another wife, driving Griselda out of the house in nothing but an undergarment. He then brings their daughter into the house as his new bride. After Griselda endures these trials, he restores her as his wife and abundantly honors her as marchioness.
Branca, Vittore. Boccaccio: The Man and His Work. Edited by Dennis J. McAuliffe, translated by Richard Monges and Dennis J. McAuliffe. New York: New York University Press, 1976. Offers critical biography and critical analysis of The Decameron. Details of Boccaccio’s life and culture are chronologically correlated to his body of work; analysis emphasizes literary traditions.
Deligiorgis, Stavros. Narrative Intellection in “The Decameron.” Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1975. Organized by day, treating each successive story in its turn. Provides a comprehensive view of the work’s themes and its narrative framework.
De Sanctis, Francesco. “Boccaccio’s Human Comedy.” In Critical Perspectives on “The Decameron,” edited by Robert S. Dombroski. 1972. Reprint. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1976. Analyzes the purpose, tone, and focus of The Decameron. Includes an incidental comparison of Boccaccio’s style and emphasis in The Decameron to Dante’s.
Lee, A. C. “The Decameron”: Its Sources and Analogues. New York: Haskell House, 1966. An annotated list of possible and probable sources for the individual tales told by the characters in The Decameron, plus parallels where the same stories are told by different writers of other ages and cultures. Careful collation and synthesis; a helpful index.
Mazotta, Giuseppe. “The Decameron: The Marginality of Literature.” In Critical Perspectives on “The Decameron,” edited by Robert S. Dombroski. 1972. Reprint. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1976. Discusses The Decameron as a vehicle for interpreting history, as well as for using secular literature as a means of coping with mutability and death.