An Epicurean Tale
Mentor:Alannah Rosenberg, Professor of Economics, Saddleback College
Dicipline: Humanities, Italian Literature This work compares three aspects of similarities between Boccaccio's Decameron and Epicureanism: the garden as the origin of ideas, happiness as the ultimate goal of life, and friendship as the greatest pleasure of all. The “Garden School” founded by Epicurus outside the walls of the city of Athens sets the ground for ideas, whereas the garden in Decameron is what Boccaccio scholar Massim Riva has called the “laboratory for storytelling.” To attain happiness, Epicurus focuses on achieving the state of “ataraxia”--the absence of disturbance, a state of tranquility, or — simply pleasure, whereas Boccaccio advocates happiness as the goal in Decameron through the voice of Pampinea, the storyteller. Epicurus offers demanding instructions for how to be happy over a whole life, teaching that the most pleasant life is a life of moderation, discipline, and careful planning. Similarly, the storytellers in Decameron set rules that structure their days of maintaining sustainable, long-lasting pleasure even in the period of the Black Death. For both storytellers and Epicurus, grateful remembrance of past pleasure is a way of “pain management” that helps to achieve ataraxia in the present and cultivate hopes for the future, although for the storytellers, this is accomplished by their stories rather than memories. Epicurus views friendship as “of all the preparations which wisdom makes for the blessedness of the complete life, by far the most important.” In Decameron, Boccaccio demonstrates that companionship from friends offers one the joy of happiness and the opportunity of conversation, which then become a source for future happiness when they are gratefully remembered. Through the stories of Decameron, Boccaccio is arguing that Epicurean philosophy is European civilization’s best resource for surviving the social and cultural devastation that came with the Black Death.