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The Decameron Hardcover – 15 Oct 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1024 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (15 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393069303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393069303
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 4.6 x 24.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 595,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Ser Cepparello, Andreuccio, and Calandrino have never come across so well in English--Wayne Rebhorn's vibrant new translation makes Boccaccio's scoundrels and victims alike come back to life. --Jane Tylus, New York University "An inexhaustibly rich late-medieval feast... a celebration of the sheer pleasure of being alive." Stephen Greenblatt

About the Author

Wayne A. Rebhorn is the Celanese Centennial Professor of English at the University of Texas, where he teaches English, Italian and comparative literature.

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin Lunøe on 27 April 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I feel pretty dumb rating something like the Decameron on a scale from 1-5. Obviously, this is a master piece of literature and a very interesting Collection for any short story writer to have in his or her library. The stories are vibrant and diverse even as the language is pretty spare. They conjure up images of a vanished world where the alien and the oddly familiar intermingle.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Professor Rebhorn took 700 hundred-year-old Tuscan brick and left us with Carrara marble. 12 Sept. 2013
By Steve Amoia - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"While my general goal as a translator, like that of all translators, is to make a text written in a foreign language and coming from a very distant culture comprehensible to modern readers of English, I also want them to appreciate something of the `strangeness' of this great classic work.

The root meaning of `translate' is to take something across a border or boundary, thus bringing that which is foreign or strange from one language, and in this case from a different age as well, into another. Translation makes strangers feel familiar, but a good one should also allow us to sense something of the alien in our midst.

A good translator is, in short, a go-between or middleman, linking the foreign with the domestic, the strange with the familiar, while preventing the former from being completely absorbed by the latter...

As a translator my goals are clearly contradictory, indeed paradoxical. The work that I have produced is thus, to some extent, betwixt and between two worlds, the modern world of the English-speaking reader, and the late medieval world of the Italian-speaking author."

---- Wayne A. Rebhorn, translator of "The Decameron" by Giovanni Boccaccio, pages lxiii and lxiv.

Most translators struggle to properly convey the meanings of words, feelings and emotions from modern-day writers. Professor Rebhorn took a trip 700 hundred years into the past to tackle one of the great works of Italian literature: The Decameron. As we have just seen from his introductory quote, he is our trusted middleman to a distant world, remote culture and a colloquial way of speaking.

Organized Format from Beginning to End

Given the voluminous nature of this work, the translator and publisher made a concerted effort to make the readers' task much easier. There is a detailed Table of Contents that is itemized by each of the ten days of the book with 100 concise summaries of every story. This is an excellent addition that acts as a prelude and a valuable reference source.

Detailed Introduction and Headnotes Sections

There is a lengthy introduction, of over 25 pages, where the translator introduces us to this epic tale. There is an interesting and educational Headnotes section where the translator introduces us to many time-specific and historic references. For example, the Names and Numbers of Storytellers where we learn that Fiammetta means "the little flame," and Panfilo means "he who is made entirely of love."

Professor Rebhorn also added a nice historic touch by describing the times of day in medieval Italy: "The hours included: matins, which, followed immediately by lauds, was celebrated before daybreak; prime, at sunrise; tierce, at midmorning; sext, at noon; nones, at midafternoon; vespers, at sunset; and compline, after dark." (Page lxxiii).

Brilliantly Constructed Notes Section

The notes section at the end of this work was almost a book in itself. There were 90 pages of the most organized and detailed notes by Day/Story with translation explanations in minute detail. For example: "The Doria family played an important role in the economic, military, and political life of Genoa from the twelfth century onward. There is no record of any of its members having the surname of Guasparrino (a Genoese dialectal variant of Gasparino, the diminutive form of `Gasparo,' or Casper, the name of one of the three Magi.)" (Note 5, Day 2, Story 6).

A Translation Masterclass

Professor Rebhorn told us that his job was to transcend two worlds from speakers of fourteenth century Florentine-influenced Italian to twenty-first century readers of American English. Here were a few examples how he achieved this objective:

"One of the most interesting features of the style of Boccaccio's work is that although he frequently speaks of the `low' subject of sex, he never resorts to anything like low language in order to do so." (Page lxvii)

"Some people were of the opinion that living moderately and being abstemious would really help them resist the disease... Others, holding the contrary opinion, maintained that the surest medicine for such an evil disease was to drink heavily, enjoy life's pleasures, and go about singing and having fun... In the midst of so much affliction and misery in our city the respect for the reverend authority of the laws, both divine and human, had declined just about to the vanishing point..." (Pages 8-9)

"This gal's a beauty, and nobody really knows she's here. If I can get her to have some fun with me, I don't know why I shouldn't do it. Who is there to know? No one is ever going to find out about it, and `a sin that's hidden is half forgiven.' " (Day 1, Story 4, Page 53)

"The podesta (chief magistrate), thinking it preferable to accuse himself of having tried to rape her before she leveled that charge herself, began by praising her for her constancy, in proof of which he proceeded to explain what he had done. He went on to say that as a result of seeing how wonderfully resolute she had remained, he had fallen passionately in love wit her, and in conclusion, declared that, if it was agreeable to Messer Negro, as her father, and also to the girl herself, he would gladly make her his wife, notwithstanding the fact that her previous husband had been baseborn." (Day 4, Story 6, Page 388).

"It's not like that for men. They're born with a thousand different talents besides this, and for the most part, the older ones are worth much more than the young. But women were born just to do this single thing, and to make babies, and that's the only reason why they're cherished.

Now, if nothing else will convince you of this, then you ought to consider the fact that we women are always ready for it, which is not the case with men. What's more, one woman could exhaust a host of men, whereas a host of men can't tire out a single woman." (Day 5, Story 10, Page 503).

" `By gosh, your Reverence," Bentivegna replied, `to tell the honest truth, I'm a-goin' to the city on some bidness of mine, and I'm taking these things to Ser Bonaccorri da Ginestreto so that he'll help me with --- well, I just don't know what to make of it ---- for the persecuting judge had his provoker give me a parentstory summons to appear before him.' " (Day 8, Story 2, Page 650).

"I remember once being told that in Persia they have a custom, most agreeable in my opinion, which is that whenever someone wants to confer a special honor on one of his friends, he invites him to his house and shows him the thing he holds most dear, whether it's his wife or his mistress or his daughter or whatever it may be, declaring that just as he has shown him this thing, he would show him his heart even more readily if he could. Now this is a custom I would like us to observe here in Bologna." (Day 10, Story 4, Page 842).

The Long-lost Treasure Trove of Giovanni Boccaccio

Professor Rebhorn: "Anyone producing a book like this one has incurred debts almost too numerous to mention." (Page 935)

Augustus: "I found Rome a city of brick, and left Rome a city of marble."

One of the goals of literary translation is to share great works of literature with an audience who would otherwise remain in a cognitive darkness. The translator finds and unlocks a long-lost treasure trove the same way that explorers used to put messages in bottle. With the hope that their message will change the life of its recipient in some distant land.

This book chronicles the earthy humor, grace, intellect and irony from a miserable time in human history: The Great Plague of the Middle Ages. We are in Professor Rebhorn's debt: He took 700 hundred-year-old Tuscan brick and left us with Carrara marble.

Please Note

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from a representative of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company. I was not compensated by the publisher, translator or any other party who would benefit from a positive review.
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Disgraceful publisher 13 Jan. 2014
By M. C. Valentine - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To use a fourteenth century image, this book is a handsome prince dressed in rags. The translation is wonderful--it reads smoothly and enjoyably, and the stories themselves are a pleasant window into life among the upper crust in the transition from medieval to Renaissance Italy. W.W. Norton has chosen to wrap this masterpiece in a paperback masquerading as a hardcover. I know hardly anyone uses cloth in publishing hard-backed books anymore, but this book isn't even machine sewn. It is glued together, and my copy is coming apart even though I am only 3/4 of the way through the first reading. Save your money and wait for the paperback edition, because this one won't stand up to repeated use. Norton should be ashamed.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Read The Decameron — but consider a different translation 8 May 2014
By Chris Fow Cohen - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The unabridged story collection is a must-read, but try out a few translations before you choose one.

This translation was touted for its modernity. I think that gets in the way. A friend and I are reading it together, and at times I prefer her translation to mine. The cadence of the stories is Old World, and sometimes the newfangled words jar me into realizing I'm reading a modern translation.

Also, if you find a translation that doesn't summarize the story at the beginning of the chapter, or one that doesn't tell you the ending, consider that a bonus. I don't need to know the ending before I even begin to read it.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A welcome edition of a classic anthology 15 Oct. 2014
By John L Murphy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This handsome edition fulfills the need for a brisk American English version of these hundred tales. This interpreter of Dante a generation before, and friend (or rival?) of Petrarch occupies the third position in fame among the Italians who championed energetic tales and vivid verse. As this U. of Texas professor emphasizes in his helpful introduction, "being in the middle of things" not only sums up Dante as he started his epic, but Giovanni Boccaccio. Around 1348, nearly half a century after the Commedia took place and the Inferno began, this Florentine set his prose in the wake of the Black Death. Rebhorn reckons that Boccaccio followed the Renaissance-minded Petrarch in turning away from the medieval mindset, as well as the vernacular which Dante had championed, but luckily Boccaccio took time from his classic endeavors to copy his manuscript and to preserve it from a pious mood later in his life when he threatened to burn it and the other salacious or sly stories.

These, of course, kept his reputation, more than what Chaucer took from the classical tales and moralistic concerns before and after the hundred tales. It "takes a set of medieval genres and fills them with Renaissance themes and characters." (xxvi) More women, more merchants, more ribaldry and fewer nobles than before. Seven women and three men tell the tales, ten a day with breaks for all to pray and the women to bathe for the Sabbath, in retreats just outside plague-ravaged Florence. These follow in Rebhorn's interpretation a ritual community of ten tellers, considering as if case studies (for the book ends abruptly and the return to normal life is sudden) of four themes: the power and the temptations of intelligence, fortune, desire, magnanimity (a more sly virtue than it seems).

The stories have unsettled some; their sexual content is famous but the real tug against convention persists beneath the rather decorous tone Boccaccio sustains for his properly raised tellers. That is, the tales test our understanding of why they draw us so much into a morally ambiguous array of characters, and how they often carry out their subversion free of any comment from author and usually the teller. Sophisticated prose in longer fiction was, after all, starting to emerge back then. I will leave explication of the tales aside, for the bulk of this encourages slow reading, as too many rushed by make their themes blurred, and a sensation is dulled of contents. Like Chaucer or Dante, this collection of adventures merits a more thoughtful pace than we modern readers tend to cultivate.

Don't expect, therefore, a quick rush as you make your way through. These tales reflect an early stage in narrative, and they do not display the links between themes and characters or tellers as sharply as Chaucer's tales started to do, a few decades later. As an aside, it's noteworthy to consider how Chaucer seemed to side with Petrarch's advice to Boccaccio to move to the classics for inspiration, even as of course how Chaucer supported his own polished vernacular phrasing, and mixed wittier or earthier content with the very learned and dogmatic pronouncements akin to those three Italians.

Rebhorn strives for the long, periodic and sinuous sentences of the original, but he admits he cuts some for clarity, as the tone of Boccaccio can elude the more direct phrasing our own time favors. He suits a modern ear, although he often avoids the more elegant diction of British predecessors. He captures the register and the class or dialect range of the original, and the endnotes assist users, who need a sturdy large-format edition that can hold up under use, as opposed to smaller paperbacks from preceding translators and presses, which have small type and fewer notes, let alone a lovely typeface.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A fine translation of these rollicking 25 Aug. 2014
By Duncan Armstrong - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A fine translation of these rollicking, sometime raunchy stories - slightly modernized - good back ground information & easy to navigate foot-notes on the Kindle. Life before radio wasn't so dull after all.
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