Are Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Closer in Outlook to Greek and Roman Literature than They are to Hebrew, Christian, and Medieval Literature?

The comparison of pieces of literature to literary genres or other pieces of literature is an educational exercise that helps better understand the piece of literature you are comparing. Two pieces of literature that were written in a similar time period(late medieval period), are Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the note of comparison, are Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales closer in outlook to Greek and Roman literature than they are to Hebrew, Christian, and Medieval Literature?

Boccaccio’s Decameron is a story collection written in the late 14th century during the period of the catastrophic Black Death or Bubonic Plague. The story collection begins with a story of ten men and women who attempt to escape the Black Death by staying in an abandoned home. During their stay in this abandoned place, these ten individuals over the course of the days each share a story a day, which is thus why there are a total of 100 stories in the collection. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is another late medieval story collection. Similar to the Decameron the Canterbury Tales is a story collection that begins with twenty-nine pilgrims who are journeying to a shrine of a Saint; these pilgrims decide to each share a couple of stories each day of the journey. The collection itself only contained twenty-four stories which most likely meant that Chaucer did not finish the collection. Both of these pieces of literature are very similar to each other in style, structure, and even context, but are these pieces of literature closer in outlook to Greek and Roman literature than they are to Hebrew, Christian, and Medieval Literature?

Greek literature, meaning literature written in the period of ancient Greece is a literary period that comprised epic poems, plays, and prose. Ancient Greek literature usually revolved around myths or the mythological or revolved around philosophic thought. Examples of Ancient Greek literature include the famous and well-known Iliad and Odyssey by Homer, to The Republic, by Plato. Similar to ancient Greek literature is the genre of Roman Literature; literature written in the period of the Roman empire. Like ancient Greek literature; Roman literature was a literary period that had a mythological light or was in a more intellectual or philosophical light. Some Roman literature pieces also had a warlike theme to them. War was a key aspect of the culture of the Romans. Many of the pieces of literature written in the Roman period were inspired by the previous ancient Greek literary pieces. An example of Roman Literature is 

Hebrew literature was literature mainly written by the Hebrews. This area of literature consisted of a variety of topics but the common theme was that these topics had a religious theme to them. On the note of religious themes Christain literature also highly revolved around religion. A key example of Christain literature is the Christian Bible itself, which is the key book that the majority of Christians today use as a written guide for their faith. A subset of Christian you could say is seen in Medieval literature which had many literary pieces that had Christian themes, even in the pieces of literature that in and of themselves would not be considered religious. Medieval literature is a vast collection of literature with a variety of pieces, which either consist of myth-like stories with a moral ending, religious stories, etc. 

But how do these genres of literature listed above apply to Decameron and the Canterbury Tales? Which literary style is most similar in outlook to the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales? Regardless, both of these pieces of literature because they were written in the medieval period would fall into the category of medieval literature, which is a wide area of literature. An example of a story in the Decameron itself is a story of a sinful man who on his deathbed provides a false confession to a priest. The priest who believed this false confession in turn influenced this sinful man to become a Saint. Though at first, this story would seem to fit the category of Christian literature this story itself shows the loss of faith in the structure of the Church. Clearly, how could one trust the judgment of the Church if the Church allowed this sinful man to become a Saint? Many of the stories in this collection use satire to show the shortcomings or flaws of the Catholic Church during that period. In the Decameron, there are many stories that are more secular(do not have religious themes), such as displaying the collapse of society during the Black Death, which in a sense is similar to ancient Greek and even Roman literature.

The Canterbury Tales, like the Decameron, had stories that had Christian themes, including a widely anti-Semitic story of how a group of Jews killed a young Christian boy. This story even though it does have Christian themes the structure itself makes it clear that it is similar to Greek and Roman Literature. Another story in the Canterbury Tales, which further shows that this collection of stories is similar in outlook to Greek and Roman Literature is the Pardoner’s Tale. This story is about three men who set off to kill Death itself, but ultimately in the end Death tricks them and the three men end up murdering each other. This story is clearly not factual and contains similar themes to some of the Greek and Roman myths. If this story was written in the Greek and Roman periods of literature it would be believable.

With these points in mind, Boccaccio’s Decameron, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, are medieval literary pieces that are more similar in outlook to Greek and Roman literature than Hebrew and Christian literature. Both of these pieces of literature do have aspects of Christian themes, but overall these stories are more secular, hence why they are more similar in outlook to Greek and Roman literature. 

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