The Decameron (mid-14th Century)

Dublin Core


The Decameron (mid-14th Century)


Fairest ladies, there be many men and women foolish enough to believe that, whenas the white fillet is bound about a girl’s head and the black cowl clapped upon he back, she is no longer a woman and is no longer sensible of feminine appetites, as if the making her a nun had changed her to stone; and if perchance they hear aught contrary to this their belief, they are as much incensed as if a very great and heinous misdeed had been committed against nature, considering not neither having regard to themselves, whom full licence to do that which they will availeth not to state, nor yet to the much potency of idlesse and thought-taking. On like wise there are but too many who believe that spade and mattock and course victuals and hard living for altogether purge away carnal appetites from the tillers of the earth and render them exceeding dull of wit and judgement. But how much all who believe thus are deluded, I purpose, since the queen hath commanded it to me, to make plain to you in a little story, without departing from the theme by her appointed.

‘I know not if thou have ever considered how straitly we are kept and how no man dare ever enter here, save the bailiff, who is old, and yonder dumb fellow; and I have again and again heard ladies, who come to visit us, say that all other delights in the world are but toys in comparison with that which a woman enjoyeth, whenas she hath to do with a man. Wherefore I have often had it in mind to take trial with this mute, since wit others I may not, it be so. And indeed he is the best in the world to that end, for that, e’en if he would, he could not nor might tell it again. Thou seest he is a poor silly lout of a lad who hath overgrown his wit, and I would fain hear how thou deemest of the thing.’ ‘Alack!’ rejoined the other, ‘What is this thou sayest? Knowest thou not that we have promised our virginity to God?’ ‘Oh, as for that,’ answered the first, ‘how many things are promised to Him all day long, whereof not one is fulfilled unto Him! An we have promised it Him, led Him find Himself another or others to perform it to Him.’



The filmmakers behind The Little Hours (2017) drew inspiration from The Decameronby Giovanni Boccaccio; specifically, stories one and two told on the third day. The Decameron was written in the mid-fourteenth century and focuses on a group of ten young men and women telling different tales to each other as they avoid the black plague. The stories often carry a moral message hidden behind their use of satire.

This excerpt is taken from two separate passages from the character Filostrato’s narration of the first story, told on the third day. Filostrato begins the story by drawing attention to the themes he wished to highlight. The idea here that nuns do not suddenly lose their sexual appetites because of their vocations is a theme strongly echoed in the film. Here, the story also focuses on how women may exercise sexual agency, despite how they are portrayed, and perceived by, the outside world. One nun even goes so far as to state, “[Other women] say that all other delights in the world are but toys in comparison with that which a woman enjoyeth, whenas she hath to do with a man” (Boccaccio, 172). This sentiment is evident in the second passage where the nuns are discussing their curiosity about sexual desire.  

Boccaccio uses The Decameron as a whole to highlight the darker and more sexualized world that people in the medieval (and even in our modern!) period like to ignore, but does so with a comedic approach. The Decameron and its collection of stories force the readers to confront some of deeper questions about sin, corruption, and sexuality in a lighthearted, satirical way. The Little Hours stays true to Boccaccio’s goal in writing The Decameron; the film simply modernizes the content and makes it more accessible to today’s viewers. Specifically, this passage reflects the internal struggle we see in some of the sisters in the film: whether embracing their sexuality would betray their promise to God.Both the story lines and the themes of The Little Hours run parallel to those found in The Decameron.


Giovanni Boccaccio (c. 16 June 1313 - 21 December 1375)


Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, trans. John Payne (New York: Liveright Publishing, 1943), pp. 169-173


Liveright Publishing Corporation


c. 1353


Brittany Wissel


Copyright, 1925, By Horace Liveright, Inc.


Italian (Florentine)


Primary Source Text


Giovanni Boccaccio (c. 16 June 1313 - 21 December 1375), “The Decameron (mid-14th Century),” Medieval Hollywood, accessed June 6, 2023,

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