Feather and Coals in Decameron

Feather and coals


Why did Boccaccio choose a parrot feather instead of a different kind of feather? He often chooses realistic objects in his novellas and may have chosen this one for a particular reason. This specific feather is characterized by being multicolored and rather large. In the novella, Fra Cipolla claims that the feather is from the wings of the archangel Gabriel. Archangels belong to the highest rank among angels and are closest to God. In the Divine Comedy, Dante describes the feathers of these archangels to be large and multicolored, just like the feathers of a parrot. This is reminiscent of the feather Fra Cipolla uses in the novella. From this we can take away that Boccaccio deliberately chose this object in his novella.

The colorful birds can be found in tropical regions like South America, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. However, parrots were not present in Italy or the rest of Europe in the Middle Ages . In the fifteenth century, there were some parrots in Rome, but the people in the time of Boccaccio merely knew about these birds from literary works.(Boehrer 2010). Thus, Boccaccio uses an object, the parrot feather, that was not known to his readers. The author may have read about the specific feather in Śukasaptati, which is an Indian bundle of novels also called Seventy tales of the parrot.


Coal, derived from the old English col meaning glowing ember, is a black rock that mostly consists of carbon. It is formed after millions of years when compact plant remains are hardened and then transformed by heat, pressure and chemical reactions. In Boccaccio’s time, coals were rediscovered in Europe and were only used in the Late Middle Ages in areas where the resource was mined, for example in Belgium and in London ([Cf]](https://www.worldcat.org/title/coal-energy-systems/oclc/613055795&referer=brief_results)). Coals were also used later in these times by blacksmiths, but initially their use was limited because of the smoke they produced. It is of no surprise that Boccaccio chose to mention the parrot feather and the coals instead of other objects. The people in Boccaccio’s novella, and in his time, did not know what they were seeing, because these objects were not known to them. This serves the story, because it is easier to trick people and make them believe that an object is “miraculous” when people are not actually familiar with it.

From a different point of view, we might also see it as a call back to faith and its strength. This suggests that the power of belief is what matters, whether something is really a miracle or not. Thus, in this novella the objects turn into special items because of the people’s belief in them.