We read for many reasons and there are hundreds of books to suit each and every taste, but only few of them can be considered as fun, deep and influential at the same time. The Nights of Straparola is definitely one of these. If you are looking to expand your list of important books to read, don’t hesitate.
While there is relatively new (2012) edition with new translation and extensive introduction available, you can, especially if you are a bit adventurous, get a copy for free simply by downloading it from Archive.org. Reading the stories in one hundred years old English can probably only add to book’s charm.
There are more than 70 stories belonging to wide range of genres in this book, initially published in two volumes (some scholars assume the second one was not entirely written by the same author), and organized in a frame narrative format, similar to Boccaccio’s Decameron, where group of people isolated from the rest of the world entertain each other by telling stories, jokes and solving riddles. You can find folk tales and novellas, shorter and longer pieces, writings in dialect and ‘higher’ literary language, … so all in all expect a good mix of surprises.
Straparola is a controversial author with very unclear biography. His publisher mentioned he was born in Caravaggio, but there is no evidence for this claim. We don’t know the date of his birth, it’s only clear he was probably more than 50 years old, when The Nights were first published and he died only two years later, so he didn’t enjoy much of the commercial success of his literary work. It is also not clear how much of his writing was actually his, because he clearly shamelessly borrowed from ancient and contemporary (16th century) writers and added many elements from folklore.
Does that make him a plagiarist or a predecessor of folklorists? Was he an author who lacked originality or an anthologist with too much freedom? Being this or that or all at once, he is definitely the man, who had written one of the most important books in human history. Why? According to some scholars he invented very important literary plot, which helped to build foundations of our society and still shapes our civilization.
This plot is academically named ‘a rise tale’ but among mere mortals more known as ‘rags to riches’. It is, of course, one of the most popular plots in fairy tales and Straparola very likely deserves the title of the grand father of the fairy tale as a specific literary genre, which, at least in his case, was aiming strictly to adult audience. Before 1550, when first versions of Golden Goose, The Pig King and especially Puss in Boots were published, there were simply no stories where the main character started as a poor man or woman who achieve higher social status by the help of magic. Well, some disagree with this theory and give an example of some tales by old Greeks, but we don’t want to dig to deep into this inevitably unsolvable debate.
Let us just conclude we are dealing with an extremely influential book, where many authors and collectors, like Charles Perrault or brother Grimm got tons of inspiration for their books which in different versions entertain and educate our children for centuries. If you want to get an insight in the book, by which so many things ‘started’, and learn few tidbits, useful for entertaining a bit more educated audience, Straparola’s The Facetious Nights is undoubtedly worth of your time. You can start reading right here:
I highly recommend it.