Suck it Boccaccio, I totally read your shit. Well, around 65% of it. I used a couple of different lists of "the best of them," and skipped any stories that weren't on either list.
I've read a bunch of non-fiction books recently that at least touch on Italy in the 14th century, and I keep thinking, "Yeah, I understand this from Boccaccio." Corruption in the church, the role of women, the lives of the nobles and the common people... I get a better sense of these things from the Decameron than from the history books. So if Boccaccio's goal was to describe what life was like in his time, from every imaginable point of view, he has nailed it.
I thought about what it would be like if someone did a modern version of the Decameron - 100 stories from all kinds of perspectives on today's world. At its best, that would be pretty awesome, huh? Worthy of being a classic.
And that got me thinking more about all those stories about violence and rape. Because there are a lot of them, and they're often played as sorta funny and I haven't been sure how to deal with that, but it's true that Boccaccio's exposing the darker things that were happening in his time - along with all the other things. It's an unflinching tour, but it's misted by this irreverent tone that throws you off balance.
Apparently Boccaccio himself wasn't crazy about the Decameron, but I think it's pretty dope.
Not that I have anything to compare it to, but I found Michael Musa's translation easy to read and entertaining, modern without being over-modern. Thumbs up to that.
I've been reminded recently how grotesquely hateful the last story in this collection is, and I feel like it's a public service to warn potential future readers about it: it leaves a very bad taste in your mouth. Horrifically misogynist. Skip it - or at least read it out of order, somewhere around the middle, so it's not your last impression.