Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century literary masterpiece The Decameron may hold the recipe to defy these troubled times. Boccaccio’s collection of 100 stories told over 10 days is set against the backdrop of a crisis that puts today’s credit problems in perspective: the black death. He begins it with a harrowing piece of reportage on the plague in his city, Florence, describing how the disease spread across Europe in 1347-8, killing rich and poor alike in such terrible numbers that bodies littered the streets, the sick were shunned by their families, and funeral rites were abandoned. He paints a picture of a society on the brink of absolute disappearance – would everyone in Florence die? Everyone in Europe? Yet this shocking opening is the prelude to a book of life, laughter – and sex.
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