My Weird Old Italian Book: Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron

by Liz

I love a good story. I love an old book. I love an old book that tells a good story. This is an old book that tells a bad, bad, series of stories about bad, bad people. I love a bad story about bad people!

I was “browsing” (i.e. running wildly through aisles as though I had just discovered Aladdin’s Cave) the collectable book section at Half Price Books when I came across a rather boring-looking heavy maroon book.

 

I would have ignored it if it weren’t for two things: delicious, rough-edged paper and a demonic-sounding title: The Decameron. Never, never, never judge a book by its cover! I cracked open the book to peek inside and was immediately greeted with this:

Which reminded me of this:

The Garden of Earthly Delights. Do NOT zoom in if you are weirded out by crazy!

What gloriously hideous book was this?!

The Decameron was penned by Giovanni Boccacio (translated by Richard Aldington). It’s like the Tales of the Arabian Nights, Version 2.0: the Bawdy Orgy meets Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales on opium. The intriguing stories are told by a group of young men and ladies and are decidedly college-conquest material.  The book I found was published in 1930 and is only the first volume of a set that’s chock-full of nasty little tales and tidbits. Sadly, the second volume was nowhere to be found. Here’s a tiny taste of Volume I’s contents:

 

 That, folks, was a story about naughty nuns. Italians have lots of nuns running willy-nilly all over the countryside and the rule is if it exists, someone has to make it dirty (Internet rule #34).

BARSTOOLS! Those are BARSTOOLS!

Not all the stories are that bad , but many of them remind me of modern movie plots, mostly soap operas or Lifetime channel stuff. Some of them are actually classic trickster tales, rags-to-riches dreams, or pirate yarns that usually end with the main character finding a giant ruby or something equally rich.

Like cheesecake

While the stories are mildly entertaining, the illustrations are what make this book sing. The lusciously bizarre illustrations are the work of Jean De Bosschere, a man who fondly nicknamed himself “Satan.” There are plenty of brilliant color illustrations and a few black and whites. Some have metallic gold ink which, over the years, has taken up the impression of the inked words on the other side of the page. They are all quite strange, many erotic, some demure, and a few (like the duck-riders) are just plain strange.

Of course such illustrations, such sexy material, and such wonderfully rough-cut rag paper would make this volume much too pricy to afford, surely. I hesitantly flipped to the first leaf. There, written in pencil was the shocking price tag:

$5.00

For the price of Subway sandwich, this strange, creepy, colorful romp through Italian indecency was MINE!

Even though the content may be a little iffy, the illustrations are just too pretty to pass up!

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