"The Horrid Beginning": Boccaccio's 'Decameron' as Archetype of Modern Post-Apocalyptic Narrative

January 15, 2020 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm

Lecture by Alberto Iozzia, Visiting Assistant Professor of Italian

In my presentation, I link contemporary expressions of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narrative to Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, and I claim that the zombie-ridden landscapes of The Walking Dead lead back to Boccaccio’s masterpiece, to its structure, and to its main themes.

Dennis R. Perry defines the apocalypse as the breaking up of the predictable universe: the world as we know it starts collapsing, and so does the scale of values everyone relies on. Apocalypse is therefore but a massive change of costumes, of parameters, of language. These are the very same changes Boccaccio depicted in his collection of novellas: those of a world that was coming out of the Middle Ages much faster than many could perceive.

By using textual evidence, with a particular focus on The Walking Dead – both Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel (2003–present) and Frank Darabont’s TV series ( 2010-present) –, I show that defining the Decameron as the secular archetype of post-apocalyptic fiction is not a stretch, and that the themes of social reconstruction, natural law, and human ingegno are of primary importance in Boccaccio’s book, as much as they are crucial in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature and cinema of the past two hundred years.

Location and Address

Humanities Center, 602 Cathedral of Learning