4. One Hundred Tales of Love in the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism

Submitted by Fozzie on April 28, 2020

"I was on DMSO [chronic topical application of dimethylsulfoxide] last year. It paid real good and it was better than that plague thing [bubonic plague vaccine immunization study] that fucked with guys last year. There was a lot of bad reactions to DMSO, but I guess that's why it paid so good."

Department of Criminology, University of California, Vacaville Prison interview (1969).

The Decameron was written by Boccaccio (Bo' for short) shortly after the Black Death of 1347-1349 which killed more than one third of the European population. He was the son of a Florentine banker. He went to Business School in Naples, but he couldn't hack it, so he tried Church law, but he couldn't cut that either, so he became a diplomat and survived the Plague.

The hundred tales contain as many satiric pricks against the Church and the Bourgeosie. Although the stories were stolen from the dying peasants to whom Bo' stood in a relation that may be compared to Joel Chandler Harris and the Afro-American, i.e., as a vector of palliation, their goal was to amuse the genteel who were occasionally and good-humouredly satirized.

The peasants "had no physicians or servants whatever to assist them, and collapsed by the wayside, in their fields, and in their cottages at all hours of the day and night, dying more like animals than human beings."
Bo' begins the fun with a short disquisition on comfort and compassion. This does not lead him to the subject of nursing, of tending to the sick, of caring for the dying. No, the comfort he means is the entertainment of those who have abandoned the city to escape precisely "an endless torrent of tears and sobbing." "Fathers and mothers refused to nurse and assist their own children, as though they did not belong to them."

The seven ladies and three gentlemen escape the town because: "Most houses had become common property;" "All respect for the laws of God and man had virtually broken down and been extinguished in our city;" and bereavement became a signal "for laughter and witticisms and general jollification."

The ladies meet in church and begin to talk, to plan: criminals are no longer exiled but career in the streets "in open defiance of the law." The ladies agree that they are at "the mercy of the scum of our city, who, having scented our blood, call themselves sextons and go prancing and bustling all over the place, singing bawdy songs that add insult to our injuries."

They skip town and ease their digestion of banquets savoured with eastern spices by telling their jokes and stories. These spices, however, came aboard the same ships that brought pasteurella pestis.

This is the name of the microparasite whose vector is a flea and whose host is the "ship rat." It was brought to Europe by a combination of two macroparasites,

1) Ghengis Khanis plunderitis and the rapid circulation of life forms in central Asia, and
2) the virus Venetia avaricious, the central artery of European commodity trade.

The macroparasites had not developed techniques of self-immunization, that is, there were not "administrative routines" (triage, quarantine) in urban Europe for dealing with the infestation.

Pasteurella pestis found a succulent human population to thrive upon, because the defenses of the host had been severely weakened by malnutrition and war. The feudal peasantry had begun to develop patterns of its own against these scourges, namely millenarian movement and peasant rebellion against the parasites of Church, Lord, and Prince.

The Lollard movement in England and the Fraticelli movement in Italy were two such, and it was against them, as well as every other form of deviance, that ruling class commentators welcomed the Plague. The ruling class theory of disease was that it was either influenced by changes in the heavenly bodies (astrology) or that it was a punishment from God for an iniquitous way of life. Henry Knighton, the English chronicler, considered the Plague a "marvellous remedy" in the prevention and punishment of the practise of women dressing as men, for instance. Furthermore, vicious pogroms against Jews began, and ended, with the course of the plague.

Meanwhile, the Church offered salvation in exchange for money. The Pope invited Christian souls to Rome. One million two hundred thousand heeded the call and upon completion of their pilgrimage deposited their offerings, and (since only 10% survived to return home) their corpses as well. Meanwhile, the Pope moonlighted to the fairer clime of Avignon whence he ordered that the dice factories be converted to the manufacture of rosary beads.

In Germany, meanwhile, the bravest souls seemed to get into beating themselves up, for it was in central Europe that the Flagellant movement, or the Brothers of the Cross, originated as a response to the Plague. Men (and a few women) wandered the desolated countryside in bands of two or three hundred. On arrival in town they assembled themselves in large circles and proceeded to whip themselves into a frenzy of weeping, singing, and hollering.

The authorities at first met them with sceptical toleration, but it soon became clear that the Flagellants meant the Church no good as they ridiculed the hierarchy and looted the monasteries of their ill-gotten gains. Thus did pious S&M turn to revolutionary chiliasm. Genocide on the scale of the Black Death had its revenges upon the macroparasites. Pasteurella pestis neither annihilated the sources of revolt, nor disciplined the working class to moil, nor prevented men dressing as women. Wages doubled in Europe - life actually became more valuable. Furthermore, to quote Thorold Rogers, "the effect of the Plague was to introduce a complete revolution in the occupation of the land." This reached its apogee in England where the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 produced an historic crisis of feudalism. Attacking monasteries, liberating prisons, taking over land, assaulting lawyers and priests, peasants and urban craftspeople united under the potent slogan,

When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the Gentleman?

The meaning is double, for the words "delve" and "span" may refer to either agricultural fertility or human generation, that is to ploughing, harvesting, fucking, and birthing.