Suicidal Ideation and Completed Suicide in The Decameron
Dr. Saxby PRIDMORE, Dr. Garry WALTER
2014; 25(1): 38-41

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Objective: To extend our understanding of suicidal ideation and completed suicide via examination of a medieval Italian text—in particular, examination of the role of social and environmental triggers in such events. Previous studies have successfully examined the texts of ancient Greco-Roman, Old Norse, and Finnish civilizations to better understand the circumstances associated with suicidal ideation and completed suicide. Those texts included depictions of suicide by people without any apparent mental disorder in response to painful social/environmental circumstances.

Materials and Methods: The Decameron, a collection of 100 short stories written by Giovanni Boccaccio in 1349-51, was examined in detail. The setting of The Decameron is during the Black Death and concerns a group of 10 people that leave plague-ridden Florence for a holiday in the countryside. On each of the 10 days of their trip, each individual tells a story, which in total form the 100 stories of Boccaccio’s work. For the present study, all mentions of suicidal ideation and completed suicide were listed and arranged with appropriate headings.

Results: In total, 9 accounts of suicidal ideation and 4 accounts of completed suicide were identified, all of which were in response to social stressors, particularly romantic problems.

Conclusion: Suicidal ideation and completed suicide in response to social stressors was a feature of The Decameron and it is feasible that this may have been a feature of medieval Italian culture. This would be in agreement with the findings of other studies that suggest that although commonly occurring in response to mental disorder, suicide can occur independently of such disorder as a result of a predicament in which an individual finds him/herself.

Keywords:  Culture, history, suicide, The Decameron