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Summary of Decameron tales

This article contains summaries and commentaries of the 100 stories contained in Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron.

Each story of the Decameron begins with a short heading explaining the plot of the story. The 1903 J. M. Rigg English translation headings are used in many of these summaries. Commentary on the tale itself follows.

First day

Before beginning the story-telling sessions, the ten young Florentines, referred to as the Brigata , gather at the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella and together decide to escape Black Death by fleeing to the countryside. To pass the time they agree to each tell one story each day for ten days. The stories are told in the garden of the first villa that the company stays at, which (although fictional) is located a few miles outside the city.

Under the rule of Pampinea, the first day of story-telling is open topic. Although there is no assigned theme of the tales this first day, six deal with one person censuring another and four are satires of the Catholic church.

First Tale (I, 1)

Ser Ciappelletto, a notoriously wicked usurer, travels to a region he is unknown in and falls terminally ill. His slightly less evil companions bring a monk from a nearby convent to confess him and give him last rites. Ciappelletto proceeds to tell him the most ridiculous lies about his life and how holy he's been the whole time, while pretending to cringe over venal sins. He is completely believed by the friar, who preaches a sermon on his life and ends with everyone there believing him a genuine saint and attributing miracles to him.

Panfilo is the storyteller of the first tale of the entire collection, which is also the first tale ridiculing then-current practices of the Roman Catholic Church (in this case canonization by the people). The earliest source of this story is found in chapter 8 of Saint Sulpicius Severus's biography of Saint Martin of Tours. The biography dates from around 400 AD.

Second tale (I, 2)

Abraham, a Jew, at the instance of Jehannot de Chevigny, goes to the papal court of Rome, and having marked the evil life of the clergy, returns to Paris, and becomes a Christian.

Neifile tells both the second story of the book and the second anti-Catholic story. In this caustic story the Jew converts because he logically concludes that only a religion supported by God could prosper despite the corruption of its leadership. The earliest source of this tale is in Busone da Gubbio's "Avventuroso Ciciliano," written in Italian in 1311. This tale has also been told about Muslims, including Saladin.

Third tale (I, 3)

Melchizedek, a Jew, evades a trap set for him by Saladin by (re)telling him the story of three rings.

Filomea narrates this tale, which portrays the main character as wise and in a positive light. Unlike other medieval and Renaissance authors, Boccaccio treats Jews with a respect that makes even modern readers feel comfortable. Boccaccio may have had contact with Jews while living in Naples as a young man. The oldest source is found in a French work by Stephen of Bourbon called The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, a slightly younger (c. 1270-1294) French poem called Li dis dou vrai aniel was Boccaccio's probable source. This tale was especially popular in the Renaissance and can be found in many versions all over Europe.

Fourth tale (I, 4)

A monk lapses into seducing a young woman and is secretly observed by the abbot. However, he knows that he has been seen and so leaves, on pretense of finishing a task, and gives the key to the abbot, who then goes to see the "evidence" for himself, but HE then is seduced. The monk, who hid watching all of this, uses it to balk prosecution.

Dioneo, who has acquired the reputation of the most bawdy of the storytellers, narrates this tale. The earliest surviving source for this anti-clerical tale is found in Cento Novelle Antiche, an Italian compilation of short stories from the end of the thirteenth century. Boccaccio could have possibly also taken the tale from a French fabliau, "L'Evesque qui benit sa maitresse" ("Of the bishop and the priest").

Fifth Tale (I, 5)

The Marquess of Montferrat by a banquet of hens seasoned with wit checks the mad passion of the King of France.

Fiammetta tells this story, which originates from The Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Sixth Tale (I, 6)

A worthy man by an apt saying puts to shame the wicked hypocrisy of the religious.

Emilia narrates yet another anti-clerical tale, the fourth of the day so far. Some commentators have identified the inquisitor as Pietro della Aquila, the inquisitor of Florence in 1345. However, the reader must keep in mind that just because a character in a novella existed does not mean that the story is true.

Seventh tale (I, 7)

Bergamino, with a story of Primasso (probably Hugh Primas) and the Abbot of Cluny, finely censures a sudden access of avarice in Messer Can Grande della Scala.

Filostrato tells this tale about Dante's benefactor, whom he praises in Paradiso, xvii, 68.

Eighth tale (I, 8)

Guglielmo Borsiere by a neat retort sharply censures avarice in Messer Ermino de' Grimaldi.

Just like the previous three novellas, Lauretta's tale tells of one person censuring another in a clever way. There is no known source for this tale.

This tale also includes another Dante reference, this time to Inferno, xvi, 66. Dante's influence is everywhere seen in the Decameron, from its subtitle (a reference to Inferno, v) to its physical arrangement and careful attention to medieval numerology. Also Boccaccio often tells tales about the lives of people whose souls Dante had met in his epic journey through the afterlife.

Ninth tale (I, 9)

The censure of a Gascon lady converts the King of Cyprus from a churlish to an honourable temper.

Elissa narrates another tale of censure. Boccaccio took this story directly from Cento Novelle Antiche, in which the male character is also the King of Cyprus.

Tenth tale (I, 10)

Master Alberto da Bologna honorably puts to shame a lady who sought occasion to put him to shame in that he was in love with her.

Pampinea narrates the last tale of the day, another tale of censure (the sixth of the day).

Second day

Filomea reigns during the second day and she assigns a topic to each of the storytellers: Misadventures that suddenly end happily.

First tale (II, 1)

Martellino pretends to be a paralytic, and makes it appear as if he were cured by being placed upon the body of St. Arrigo. His trick is detected; he is beaten and arrested, and is in peril of hanging, but finally escapes.

Neifile narrates this tale, which, like I, 1, ridicules the Catholic tradition of discerning the Saints. Although there is no known earlier source for this tale, the part where Martellino's friends are carrying him in on a cot references Mark 2:2 and Luke 5:19.

Second tale (II, 2)

Rinaldo d'Asti is robbed, arrives at Castle Guglielmo, and is entertained by a widow lady; his property is restored to him, the robbers caught and hung, and he returns home safe and sound.

This story seems to originate in the Panchatantra, a work originally composed in Sanskrit, and was already 1500 years old by the time Boccaccio retold it. Filostrato tells this version of the tale.

Third tale (II, 3)

Three young men squander their substance and are reduced to poverty. Their nephew, returning home a desperate man, falls in with an abbot, in whom he discovers the daughter of the King of England. She marries him, and he retrieves the losses and reestablishes the fortune of his uncles.

Pampinea narrates this tale of which no earlier version is known.

Fourth tale (II, 4)

Landolfo Ruffolo is reduced to poverty, turns corsair, is captured by Genoese, is shipwrecked, escapes on a chest full of jewels, and, being cast ashore at Corfu, is hospitably entertained by a woman, and returns home wealthy.

Lauretta narrates.

Fifth tale (II, 5)

Andreuccio da Perugia comes to Naples to buy horses, meets with three serious adventures in one night, comes safe out of them all, and returns home with a ruby.

Fiammetta tells this story which is actually a combination of two earlier tales. The beginning of the tale is first recorded in about 1228 by Courtois d'Arrass in his "Boivin de Provins." The portion of Andreuccio being trapped in the tomb of the archbishop and how he escapes comes from the Ephesian Tale by Xenophon of Ephesus, which was written in about 150 AD. That portion of the tale is so memorable that it was still being told as a true story in the cities and countryside of Europe in the early twentieth century.

Sixth tale (II, 6)

Madam Beritola loses two sons, is found with two kids on an island, goes thence to Lunigiana, where one of her sons takes service with her master, and lies with his daughter, for which he is put in prison. Sicily rebels against King Charles, the son is recognised by the mother, marries the master's daughter, and, his brother being discovered, is reinstated in great honor.

Emilia tells this story. It resembles the story of Sir Isumbras, which dates from before 1320 and was very popular in medieval England.

Seventh tale (II, 7)

The Sultan of Babylon sends one of his daughters overseas, designing to marry her to the King of Algarve. By diverse adventures she comes in the space of four years into the hands of nine men in varied places. At last she is restored to her father, whom she quits again in the guise of a virgin, and, as was at first intended, is married to the King of Algarve.

This scandalous tale is told by Panfilo. There is no agreement on its origin, probably because of the very eclectic nature of the plot, which may have been pieced together from various sources by Boccaccio. Some suggest The Thousand and One Arabian Nights or the Ephesian Tale may have given some inspiration to the author for this tale, but not enough that either could definitely been called "a source."

Eighth tale (II, 8)

The Count of Antwerp, laboring under a false accusation, goes into exile. He leaves his two children in different places in England, and takes service in Ireland. Returning to England an unknown man, he finds his son and daughter prosperous. He serves as a groom in the army of the King of France; his innocence is established, and he is restored to his former honors.

Elissa narrates this story, which shares its theme of a woman's vengeance for being spurned with many ancient stories. However, a direct source may be the real-life story of Pierre de la Broce and Lady of Brabant. Dante writes about the soul of the former in Purgatorio, vi. A literary source may have been a Provençal romance written in 1318 by Arnaud Vidal de Castelnaudry called "Guillaume de la Barre." However, the theme is so common that pinning down one main source is very difficult.

Ninth tale (II, 9)

Bernabò of Genoa, deceived by Ambrogiuolo, loses his money and commands his innocent wife to be put to death. She escapes, habits herself as a man, and serves the Sultan. She discovers the deceiver, and brings Bernabò to Alexandria, where the deceiver is punished. She then resumes the garb of a woman, and with her husband returns wealthy to Genoa.

Filomea tells this story, which is best known to English readers through Shakespeare's Cymbeline. The oldest known version of this story is a French romance from the thirteenth century called "Roman de la Violette ou de Gerard de Nevers" by Gilbert de Montreuil.

Tenth tale (II, 10)

Paganino da Monaco carries off the wife of Messer Ricciardo di Chinzica, who, having learned where she is, goes to Paganino and in a friendly manner asks him to restore her. He consents, provided she be willing. She refuses to go back with her husband. Messer Ricciardo dies, and she marries Paganino.

In the last tale of the second day Dioneo begins his pattern of telling the last tale of the day, which he will continue until the end of the Decameron. The moral of the story--that a young woman should not marry an old man--is common in late medieval vernacular literature.

Third day

Neifile presides as queen during the third day. In these stories a person either has painfully acquired something or has lost it and then regained it.

First tale (III, 1)

Masetto da Lamporecchio feigns to be dumb, and obtains a gardener's place at a convent of women, who with one accord make haste to lie with him.

Filostrato's tale of a man's devices that he employs to enjoy the physical company of a convent of nuns was also in Cento Novelle Antiche from the thirteenth century.

Second tale (III, 2)

A groom lies with the wife of King Agilulf, who learns the fact, keeps his own counsel, finds out the groom and shears him. The shorn shears all his fellows, and so comes safe out of the scrape.

Pampinea's clever tale originates in either the Panchatantra, a Sanskrit story from the fourth century AD, or The Histories of Herodotus. However, Boccaccio's version is unique in that the husband in the tale preserves both his honor and that of his wife, and emphasis on "keeping up appearances" that is distinct of the Renaissance merchant class, to which Boccaccio belonged.

Third tale (III, 3)

Under cloak of confession and a most spotless conscience, a lady, enamoured of a young man, induces a dim-witted friar unwittingly to provide a means to the entire gratification of her passion.

Filomena narrates this story.

Fourth tale (III, 4)

Dom Felice instructs Friar Puccio how to attain blessedness by doing a penance. Friar Puccio does the penance, and meanwhile Dom Felice has a good time with Friar Puccio's wife.

Panfilo narrates.

Fifth tale (III, 5)

Zima gives a palfrey to Messer Francesco Vergellesi, who in return suffers him to speak with his wife. She keeping silence, he answers in her stead, and the sequel is in accordance with his answer.

This tale is originally found in Hitopadesha, a Sanskrit collection of tales. Boccaccio, though, may have directly taken the tale from The Seven Wise Masters, which, although oriental in origin, was widely circulating in Latin at the time the Decameron was written. Elissa narrates.

Sixth tale (III, 6)

Ricciardo Minutolo loves the wife of Filippello Fighinolfi, and knowing her to be jealous, makes her believe that his own wife is to meet Filippello at a Turkish bath house on the ensuing day; whereby she is induced to go thither, where, thinking to have been with her husband, she discovers that she has tarried with Ricciardo.

Fiammetta tells this tale, which like the previous one, was taken from The Seven Wise Masters.

Seventh tale (III, 7)

Tedaldo, being in disfavour with his lady, departs from Florence. He returns thither after a while in the guise of a pilgrim, has speech of his lady, and makes her sensible of her fault. Her husband, convicted of slaying him, he delivers from peril of death, reconciles him with his brothers, and thereafter discreetly enjoys his lady.

Emilia narrates this tale, which has no known previous version.

Eighth tale (III, 8)

Ferondo, having taken a certain powder, is interred for dead; is disinterred by the abbot, who enjoys his wife; is put in prison and taught to believe that he is in purgatory; is then resuscitated, and rears as his own a boy begotten by the abbot upon his wife.

Lauretta's tale of the elaborate ruses that an abbot undertakes to enjoy Ferondo's wife was probably taken by Boccaccio from a French fabliau by Jean de Boves called Le Vilain de Bailleul. Boccaccio not only capitalizes on the tale to poke fun at the clerics of his day, but also at the simple-mindedness of some of his countrymen.

Ninth tale (III, 9)

Gillette of Narbonne cures the King of France of a fistula, craves for spouse Bertrand de Roussillon, who marries her against his will, and hies him in despite to Florence, where, as he courts a young woman, Gillette lies with him in her stead, and has two sons by him; for which cause he afterwards takes her into favour and entreats her as his wife.

Neifile narrates this tale, which was written first by the Sanskrit dramatist and poet Kalidasa in his The Recognition of Sakuntala. The time of Kalidasa's life is uncertain, but some scholars think that he lived in the fifth century. Boccaccio may have taken the tale from an eleventh century French version.

Tenth tale (III, 10)

Alibech turns hermit, and is taught by Rustico, a monk, how the Devil is put in hell. She is afterwards conveyed thence, and becomes the wife of Neerbale.

Dioneo narrates what is by far the most obscene and bawdy tale in the Decameron. Alibech, a naive young woman, wanders into the forest in an attempt to become closer to God. She happens upon the monk Rustico, and he seduces her under the pretense of teaching her how to better please God. Because of its graphic nature, this tale has at times been translated incompletely, as in John Payne's translation, where Alibech's sexual awakening is left untranslated and is accompanied with this footnote: "The translators regret that the disuse into which magic has fallen, makes it impossible to render the technicalities of that mysterious art into tolerable English; they have therefore found it necessary to insert several passages in the original Italian." No known earlier versions of it exist.

Fourth day

Boccaccio begins this day with a defense of his work as it is thus far completed. Although he says that portions of the earlier days were circulating among the literate citizens of Tuscany while the work was in progress, this is doubtful. Instead, Boccaccio is probably just shooting down potential detractors. The reader must remember that vernacular fictional prose was not a respected genre in fourteenth century Italy and some of the criticisms Boccaccio combats in the introduction to the fourth day were common attitudes towards the genre. Others, however, were specific to the Decameron itself.

One of latter criticisms is that it was not healthy for a man of Boccaccio's age--approximately 38--to associate with young ladies, to whom the work is supposedly written. To defend this criticism (which would never really enter into the thoughts of a real critic of the day) Boccaccio tells a story explaining how natural it is for a man to enjoy a woman's company. In this story Filipo Balducci is a hermit living with his son on Mount Asinaio after the death of his wife and travels occasionally to Florence for supplies. One day his son--now eighteen and having never before left the mountain--accompanies him because Filipo is too infirm to make the journey alone. While there the son becomes fascinated with women, even though he had never seen one before and Filipo regrets ever bringing his son to Florence.

This is commonly referred to as the 101st story of the Decameron. The story originates in the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic from before the time of Christ. The tale was quite common during the medieval era, appearing in Barlaam and Josaphat (written in the eighth century), an exemplum of Jacques de Vitry (thirteenth century) and Cento Novelle Antiche (also thirteenth century), The Seven Wise Masters, and Italian collection of fables called "Fiori di Virtu" (fourteenth century), Odo of Shirton's "De heremita iuvene" (twelfth century), and a French fabliau (thirteenth century). The last two are the most probable sources for Boccaccio because in them the father refers to the women as "geese," whereas in the earlier versions he calls them "demons" who tempt the souls of men.

Filostrato reigns during the fourth day, in which the storytellers tell tales of lovers whose relationship ends in disaster. This is the first day a male storyteller reigns.

First tale (IV, 1)

Tancredi, Prince of Salerno and father of Ghismonda, slays his daughter's lover, Guiscardo, and sends her his heart in a golden cup: she pours upon it a poisonous distillation, which she drinks and dies.

Fiammetta narrates this tale, whose earliest source is a French manuscript written by a man named Thomas. However, it is referred to in the early twelfth century of Tristan and Iseult.

Second tale (IV, 2)

Friar Alberto gives a lady to understand that she is beloved of the Angel Gabriel, in whose shape he lies with her sundry times; afterward, for fear of her kinsmen, he flings himself forth of her house, and finds shelter in the house of a poor man, who on the morrow leads him in the guise of a wild man into the piazza, where, being recognized, he is apprehended by his brethren and imprisoned.

Pampinea tells the second tale of the day, which is a very ancient tale. Supposedly it comes from an episode in the life of Alexander the Great. Other notable previous recordings of it include Josephus's Jewish Antiquities, the Pantschantantra, and the Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Third tale (IV, 3)

Three young men love three sisters, and flee with them to Crete. The eldest of the sisters slays her lover for jealousy. The second saves the life of the first by yielding herself to the Duke of Crete. Her lover slays her, and makes off with the first: the third sister and her lover are charged with the murder, are arrested and confess the crime. They escape death by bribing the guards, flee destitute to Rhodes, and there in destitution die.

Lauretta narrates.

Fourth tale (IV, 4)

Gerbino, in breach of the plighted faith of his grandfather, King William, attacks a ship of the King of Tunis to rescue thence his daughter. She being slain by those aboard the ship, he slays them, and afterwards he is beheaded.

There is no known source for Elissa's tale.

Fifth tale (IV, 5)

Lisabetta's brothers slay her lover: he appears to her in a dream, and shows her where he is buried: she privily disinters the head, and sets it in a pot of basil, whereon she daily weeps a great while. The pot being taken from her by her brothers, she dies not long after.

Filomena tells this story, one of the most famous in the Decameron, and the basis of John Keats' narrative poem Isabella, or the Pot of Basil.

Sixth tale (IV, 6)

Andreuola loves Gabriotto: she tells him a dream that she has had; he tells her a dream of his own, and dies suddenly in her arms. While she and her maidservant are carrying his corpse to his house, they are taken by the Signory. She tells how the matter stands, is threatened with violence by the podestà, but will not brook it. Her father hears how she is bested; and, her innocence being established, causes her to be set at large; but she, being minded to tarry no longer in the world, becomes a nun.

Panfilo, the first male storyteller of the day to narrate, tells this tale.

Seventh tale (IV, 7)

Simona loves Pasquino; they are together in a garden; Pasquino rubs a leaf of sage against his teeth, and dies; Simona is arrested, and, with intent to show the judge how Pasquino died, rubs one of the leaves of the same plant against her teeth, and likewise dies.

Emilia narrates.

Eighth tale (IV, 8)

Girolamo loves Salvestra: yielding to his mother's prayers he goes to Paris; he returns to find Salvestra married; he enters her house by stealth, lays himself by her side, and dies; he is borne to the church, where Salvestra lays herself by his side, and dies.

Neifile narrates.

Ninth tale (IV, 9)

Sieur Guillaume de Roussillon slays his wife's paramour, Sieur Guillaume de Cabestaing, and gives her his heart to eat. She, coming to wit thereof, throws herself from a high window to the ground, and dies, and is buried with her lover.

Filostrato tells this story, which has so many similarities with tale IV, 1 that both tales could have shared sources.

Tenth tale (IV, 10)

The wife of a leech, deeming her lover, who has taken an opiate, to be dead, puts him in a chest, which, with him therein, two usurers carry off to their house. He comes to himself, and is taken for a thief; but, the lady's maid giving the Signory to understand that she had put him in the chest which the usurers stole, he escapes the gallows, and the usurers are fined for the theft of the chest.

Dioneo, whose stories are exempt from being governed by the theme of each day, tells this tale of Buddhist origin.

Fifth day

During the fifth day Fiammetta sets the theme of tales where lovers pass through disasters before having their love end in good fortune.

First tale (V, 1)

Cimon, by loving, waxes wise, wins his wife Iphigenia by capture on the high seas, and is imprisoned at Rhodes. He is delivered by Lysimachus; and the twain capture Cassandra and recapture Iphigenia in the hour of their marriage. They flee with their ladies to Crete, and having there married them, are brought back to their homes.

Like the tale in the introduction to the fourth day, Panfilo's tale seems to derive from the story of Barlaam and Josaphat.

Second tale (V, 2)

Gostanza loves Martuccio Gomito, and hearing that he is dead, gives way to despair, and hies her alone aboard a boat, which is wafted by the wind to Susa. She finds him alive in Tunis, and makes herself known to him, who, having by his counsel gained high place in the king's favour, marries her, and returns with her wealthy to Lipari.

Emilia narrates this tale, one part of which (the motif of using extra fine bow strings) supposedly is based on a real event, according to a chronicle by Giovanni Villani. In Villani's story's Emperor Kassan of the Tartars thus defeated the Sultan of Egypt in 1299.

Third tale (V, 3)

Pietro Boccamazza runs away with Agnolella, and encounters a gang of robbers: the girl takes refuge in a wood, and is guided to a castle. Pietro is taken, but escapes out of the hands of the robbers, and after some adventures arrives at the castle where Agnolella is, marries her, and returns with her to Rome.

Elissa tells this tale.

Fourth tale (V, 4)

Ricciardo Manardi is found by Messer Lizio da Valbona with his daughter, whom he marries, and remains at peace with her father.

Filostrato narrates this tale, which some claim bears a resemblance to "Lai du Laustic" by the famed late twelfth century poet Marie de France. However, the resemblance isn't strong and the story may be of either Boccaccio's invention or may come from oral tradition.

Fifth tale (V, 5)

Guidotto da Cremona dies leaving a girl to Giacomino da Pavia. She has two lovers in Faenza, to wit, Giannole di Severino and Minghino di Mingole, who fight about her. She is discovered to be Giannole's sister, and is given to Minghino to wife.

Neifile tells this story which has no previous literary recording.

Sixth tale (V, 6)

Gianni di Procida, being found with a damsel that he loves, and who had been given to King Frederick, is bound with her to a stake, so to be burned. He is recognized by Ruggieri dell'Oria, is delivered, and marries her.

Pampinea narrates this tale.

Seventh tale (V, 7)

Teodoro, being enamoured of Violante, daughter of Messer Amerigo, his lord, gets her with child, and is sentenced to the gallows; but while he is being scourged thither, he is recognized by his father, and being set at large, takes Violante to wife.

Lauretta narrates.

Eighth tale (V, 8)

Nastagio degli Onesti, loving a damsel of the Traversari family, by lavish expenditure gains not her love. At the instance of his kinsfolk he hies him to Chiassi, where he sees a knight hunt a damsel and slay her and cause her to be devoured by two dogs. He bids his kinsfolk and the lady that he loves to breakfast. During the meal the said damsel is torn in pieces before the eyes of the lady, who, fearing a like fate, takes Nastagio to husband.

Filomena's tale may originate from the early thirteenth century Chronicle of Helinandus. However, the tale was a widespread one and Boccaccio could have taken it from any number of sources or even oral tradition.

Ninth tale (V, 9)

Federigo degli Alberighi loves and is not loved in return: he wastes his substance by lavishness until nought is left but a single falcon, which, his lady being come to see him at his house, he gives her to eat: she, knowing his case, changes her mind, takes him to husband and makes him rich.

Dioneo's tale during the reign of Fiammetta is also told about the legendary Hatim Tai, who lived in the sixth century and sacrificed his favorite horse to provide a meal for the ambassador of the Greek Emperor. This earliest version of the tale is of Persian origin.

Tenth tale (V, 10)

Pietro di Vinciolo goes from home to sup: his wife brings a boy into the house to bear her company: Pietro returns, and she hides her gallant under a hen-coop: Pietro explains that in the house of Ercolano, with whom he was to have supped, there was discovered a young man bestowed there by Ercolano's wife: the lady thereupon censures Ercolano's wife: but unluckily an ass treads on the fingers of the boy that is hidden under the hen-coop, so that he cries for pain: Pietro runs to the place, sees him, and apprehends the trick played on him by his wife, which nevertheless he finally condones, for that he is not himself free from blame.

As is custom among the ten storytellers, Dioneo tells the last and most bawdy tale of the day. This story is taken from Lucius Apuleius's second century The Golden Ass.

Sixth day

During the sixth day of storytelling, Elissa is queen of the brigata and chooses for the theme stories in which a character avoids attack or embarrassment through a clever remark.

Many stories in the sixth day do not have previous versions. Boccaccio may have invented many of them himself. He certainly was clever enough to have created the situations and the retorts.

First tale (VI, 1)

A knight offers to carry Madonna Oretta a horseback with a story, but tells it so ill that she prays him to dismount her.

Filomena narrates this tale, which many see as revealing Boccaccio's opinion of what makes a good or bad storyteller, just as portions of Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream contain Shakespeare's opinion of what makes a good or bad actor.

Second tale (VI, 2)

Cisti, a baker, by an apt speech gives Messer Geri Spina to know that he has by inadvertence asked that of him which he should not.

Pampinea narrates.

Third tale (VI, 3)

Monna Nonna de' Pulci by a ready retort silences the scarce seemly jesting of the Bishop of Florence.

Lauretta narrates.

Fourth tale (VI, 4)

Chichibio, cook to Currado Gianfigliazzi, owes his safety to a ready answer, whereby he converts Currado's wrath into laughter, and evades the evil fate with which Currado had threatened him.

Neifile narrates.

Fifth tale (VI, 5)

Messer Forese da Rabatta and Master Giotto, the painter, journeying together from Mugello, deride one another's scurvy appearance.

Panfilo narrates.

Sixth tale (VI, 6)

Michele Scalza proves to certain young men that the Baronci are the best gentlemen in the world and the Maremma, and wins a supper.

Fiammetta narrates.

Seventh tale (VI, 7)

Madonna Filippa, being found by her husband with her lover, is cited before the court, and by a ready and clever answer acquits herself, and brings about an alteration of the statute.

Filostrato narrates this tale which modern readers and their ideas of gender equity can appreciate.

Eighth tale (VI, 8)

Fresco admonishes his niece not to look at herself in the glass, if it is, as she says, grievous to her to see nasty folk.

Emilia narrates. Admonitions against the sin of vanity were common in the medieval era.

Ninth tale (VI, 9)

Guido Cavalcanti by a quip meetly rebukes certain Florentine gentlemen who had taken him at a disadvantage.

Elissa narrates.

Tenth tale (VI, 10)

Friar Cipolla promises to show certain country-folk a feather of the Angel Gabriel, in lieu of which he finds coals, which he avers to be of those with which Saint Lawrence was roasted.

Dioneo narrates this story which pokes fun at the worship of relics. The story originates in the Sanskrit collection of stories called Canthamanchari. This story--a classic from the collection--takes place in Certaldo, Boccaccio's hometown (and the location where he would later die). Friar Cipolla's name means "Brother Onion," and Certaldo was famous in that era for its onions. In the story one can sense a certain love on Boccaccio's part for the people of Certaldo, even while he is simultaneuosly mocking them.

Seventh day

During the seventh day Dioneo serves as king of the brigata and sets the theme for the stories: tales in which wives play tricks on their husbands.

Stories of this type are typical of the misogynistic sentiment of the Medieval era. However, in many of the stories the wives are portrayed as more intelligent and clever than their husbands. Though Boccaccio portrays many of the women of these stories in a positive light, most of the men in the stories are stereotypical medieval/Renaissance cuckolds.

First tale (VII, 1)

Gianni Lotteringhi hears a knocking at his door at night: he awakens his wife, who persuades him that it is a werewolf, which they fall to exorcising with a prayer; whereupon the knocking ceases.

Emilia tells the first tale of the day. In it Boccaccio states that he heard it from an old woman who claimed it was a true story and heard it as a child. Although we will never know if Boccaccio really did hear the story from an old woman or not (it is possible), the story is certainly not true. It resembles an earlier French fabliau by Pierre Anfons called "Le revenant." Also, the English description of the creature as a "werewolf" is improper. The Italian word, fantasima describes a supernatural cat monkey creature or quite simply a ghost!

Second tale (VII, 2)

Her husband returning home, Peronella bestows her lover in a tub; which, being sold by her husband, she avers to have been already sold by herself to one that is inside examining it to see if it be sound. Whereupon the lover jumps out, and causes the husband to scour the tub for him, and afterwards to carry it to his house.

Filostrato narrates this tale, which Boccaccio certainly took from Apuleius's The Golden Ass, the same source as tale V, 10.

Third tale (VII, 3)

Friar Rinaldo lies with his godchild's mother: her husband finds him in the room with her; and they make him believe that he was curing his godson of worms by a charm.

Elissa tells this tale, which has so many similar versions in French, Italian, and Latin, that it is impossible to identify one as a potential source for this one. The relationship between a child's godparent and biological parent was considered so sacred at the time that intercourse between them was considered incest. This belief is ridiculed by Boccaccio in a later tale (VII, 10).

Fourth tale (VII, 4)

Tofano one night locks his wife out of the house: she, finding that by no entreaties may she prevail upon him to let her in, feigns to throw herself into a well, throwing therein a great stone. Tofano comes out of the house, and runs to the spot: she goes into the house, and locks him out, and hurls abuse at him from within.

Lauretta is the narrator of this very old tale. The earliest form of it is found in the Sanskrit Sukasaptati (The Parrot's Seventy Tales, which was compiled in the 6th century AD. A later version from the eleventh century is found in Disciplina Clericalis, which was written in Latin by Petrus Alphonsus, a Jewish convert to Christianity. The tale was very popular and appears in many vernacular languages of the era.

Fifth tale (VII, 5)

A jealous husband disguises himself as a priest, and hears his own wife's confession: she tells him that she loves a priest, who comes to her every night. The husband posts himself at the door to watch for the priest, and meanwhile the lady brings her lover in by the roof, and tarries with him.

Fiammetta's tale most likely originates from a French fabliau or a possibly Provençal romance, both of which were recorded not too long before the Decameron was written.

Sixth tale (VII, 6)

Madonna Isabella has with her Leonetto, her accepted lover, when she is surprised by Messer Lambertuccio, by whom she is beloved: her husband coming home about the same time, she sends Messer Lambertuccio forth of the house drawn sword in hand, and the husband afterwards escorts Leonetto home.

Pampinea narrates this version of a common medieval tale which originates from the Hitopadesa of India. Later versions pass the tale into Persian, French, Latin (in The Seven Wise Masters), and Hebrew.

Seventh tale (VII, 7)

Lodovico discovers to Madonna Beatrice the love that he bears her: she sends Egano, her husband, into a garden disguised as herself, and lies with Lodovico; who thereafter, being risen, hies him to the garden and cudgels Egano.

Filomena's humorous tale probably derives from an earlier French fabliau.

Eighth tale (VII, 8)

A husband grows jealous of his wife, and discovers that she has warning of her lover's approach by a piece of pack-thread, which she ties to her great toe a nights. While he is pursuing her lover, she puts another woman in bed in her place. The husband, finding her there, beats her, and cuts off her hair. He then goes and calls his wife's brothers, who, holding his accusation to be false, give him a beating.

Neifile tells this tale. It comes originally from the Pantschatantra and later forms part of other tale collections in Sanskrit, Arabic, French, and Persian. Boccaccio probably used a French version of the tale.

Ninth tale (VII, 9)

Lydia, wife of Nicostratus, loves Pyrrhus, who to assure himself thereof, asks three things of her, all of which she does, and therewithal enjoys him in presence of Nicostratus, and makes Nicostratus believe that what he saw was not real.

Panfilo narrates. Boccaccio combined two earlier folk tales into one to create this story. The test of fidelity is previously recorded in French (a fabliau) and Latin (Lidia, an elegiac comedy), but comes originally from India or Persia. The story of the pear tree, best known to English speaking readers from The Canterbury Tales, also originates from Persia in the Bahar-Danush, in which the husband climbs a date tree instead of a pear tree. The story could have arrived in Europe through The Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Tenth tale (VII, 10)

Two Sienese men love a lady, one of them being her child's godfather: the godfather dies, having promised his comrade to return to him from the other world; which he does, and tells him what sort of life is led there.

As usual, Dioneo narrates the last tale of the day. See the commentary for VII, 3 for information about the relation between a child's parent and godparent.

Eighth day

Lauretta reigns during the eighth day of storytelling. During this day the members of the group tell stories of tricks women play on men or that men play on women.

First tale (VIII, 1)

Gulfardo borrows moneys of Guasparruolo, which he has agreed to give Guasparruolo's wife, that he may lie with her. He gives them to her, and in her presence tells Guasparruolo that he has done so, and she acknowledges that it is true.

Neifile narrates. This tale (and the next one) comes from a thirteen century French fabliau by Eustache d'Amiens. English speakers know it best from Chaucer's "The Shipman's Tale". Chaucer borrowed from the same fabliau as Boccaccio did.

Second tale (VIII, 2)

The priest of Varlungo lies with Monna Belcolore: he leaves with her his cloak by way of pledge, and receives from her a mortar. He returns the mortar, and demands of her the cloak that he had left in pledge, which the good lady returns him with a gibe.

Panfilo tells this story, which can be considered a variation of VIII, 1.

Third story (VIII, 3)

Calandrino, Bruno and Buffalmacco go in quest of the heliotrope beside the Mugnone. Thinking to have found it, Calandrino gets him home laden with stones. His wife chides him: whereat he waxes wroth, beats her, and tells his comrades what they know better than he.

Elissa narrates this tale, the first in which Bruno and Buffalmacco appear. The two were early Renaissance Italian painters. However both are known far better for their love of practical jokes than for their artistic work. Boccaccio probably invented this tale himself, though, and used well known jokers as characters.

Fourth tale (VIII, 4)

The rector of Fiesole loves a widow lady, by whom he is not loved, and thinking to lie with her, lies with her maid, with whom the lady's brothers cause him to be found by his Bishop.

Emilia's tale originates from the fabliau "Le Prestre et Alison" by Guillaume Le Normand.

Fifth tale (VIII, 5)

Three young men pull down the breeches of a judge from the Marches, while he is administering justice on the bench.

Filostrato narrates.

Sixth tale (VIII, 6)

Bruno and Buffalmacco steal a pig from Calandrino, and induce him to deduce its recovery by means of pills of ginger and Vernaccia wine. Of the said pills they give him two, one after the other, made of dog-ginger compounded with aloes; and it then appearing as if he had had the pig himself, they constrain him to buy them off, if he would not have them tell his wife.

Filomena narrates. Just like Bruno and Buffalmacco, Calandrino was also in reality a fourteenth century Italian Renaissance painter. However, Calandrino was known as a simpleton by his contemporaries. It is possible that this tale may be true and Boccaccio recorded it first. The test that Bruno and Buffalmacco submit Calandrino to was really a medieval lie detector test and the tale is consistent with what we know about the characters of the three painters.

Seventh tale (VIII, 7)

A scholar loves a widow lady, who, being enamoured of another, causes him to spend a winter's night awaiting her in the snow. He afterwards by a stratagem causes her to stand for a whole day in July, naked upon a tower, exposed to the flies, the gadflies, and the sun.

Pampinea tells this story of revenge over spurned love, which has many common analogues in many languages in antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and early modern periods.

Eighth tale (VIII, 8)

Two men keep with one another: the one lies with the other's wife: the other, being aware of it, manages with the aid of his wife to have the one locked in a chest, upon which he then lies with the wife of him that is locked therein.

Fiammetta narrates this tale. Like many of the eighth day it has a theme in common with many tales from the ancient and medieval era and it is not possible to point to one source that served as Boccaccio's inspiration.

Ninth tale (VIII, 9)

Bruno and Buffalmacco prevail upon Master Simone, a physician, to betake him by night to a certain place, there to be enrolled in a company that go the course. Buffalmacco throws him into a foul ditch, and there they leave him.

Lauretta narrates another tale about Bruno and Buffalmacco and their practical jokes. This story is probably just a vehicle for Boccaccio's ability to coin word play, just as tale VI, 10 did.

Tenth tale (VIII, 10)

A Sicilian woman cunningly conveys from a merchant that which he has brought to Palermo; he, making a show of being come back with far greater store of goods than before, borrows money of her, and leaves her in lieu thereof water and tow.

Dioneo tells that this story is found in Alphonsus's Disciplina Clericalis and the Gesta Romanorum, both of which are written in Latin.

Ninth day

Emilia is queen of the brigata for the ninth day. For the second time there is no prescribed theme for the stories of the day (the only other time was during the first day).

First tale (IX, 1)

Madonna Francesca, having two lovers, the one Rinuccio, the other Alessandro, by name, and loving neither of them, induces the one to simulate a corpse in a tomb, and the other to enter the tomb to fetch him out: whereby, neither satisfying her demands, she artfully rids herself of both.

Filomena narrates.

Second tale (IX, 2)

An abbess rises in haste and in the dark, with intent to surprise an accused nun in bed with her lover: thinking to put on her veil, she puts on instead the breeches of a priest that she has with her. The nun, after pointing out her abbess's head covering, is acquitted, and thenceforth finds it easier to meet with her lover.

Elissa is the narrator of this tale which was either taken from a fabliau by Jean de Condé written between 1313 and 1337, or from a story about Saint Jerome in The Golden Legend, written about 1260. The former was the more likely source for Boccaccio.

Third tale (IX, 3)

Master Simone, at the instance of Bruno and Buffalmacco and Nello, makes Calandrino believe that he is pregnant. Calandrino, accordingly, gives them capons and money for medicines, and is cured without being delivered.

Filostrato narrates this humorous story.

Fourth tale (IX, 4)

Cecco, son of Messer Fortarrigo, loses his all at play at Buonconvento, besides the money of Cecco, son of Messer Angiulieri; whom, running after him in his shirt and crying out that he has robbed him, he causes to be taken by peasants: he then puts on his clothes, mounts his palfrey, and leaves him to follow in his shirt.

Niefile is the narrator of this tale.

Fifth tale (IX, 5)

Calandrino being enamoured of a damsel, Bruno gives him a scroll, averring that, if he but touch her therewith, she will go with him: he is found with her by his wife, who subjects him to a most severe and vexatious examination.

Fiammetta tells this story, the only one in which Bruno appears, but not Buffalmacco.

Sixth tale (IX, 6)

Two young men lodge at an inn, of whom the one lies with the host's daughter, his wife accidentally lying with the other. He that lay with the daughter afterwards gets into her father's bed and tells him all, taking him to be his comrade. They exchange words: whereupon the good woman, apprehending the circumstances, gets her to bed with her daughter, and by divers apt words re-establishes perfect accord.

Panfilo's tale comes from Jean de Boves's fabliau "Gombert et des deux clercs." Chaucer used the same source in The Reeve's Tale.

Seventh tale (IX, 7)

Talano di Molese dreams that a wolf tears and rends all the neck and face of his wife: he gives her warning thereof, which she heeds not, and the dream comes true.

Pampinea narrates this tale, for which no known earlier source exists.

Eighth tale (IX, 8)

Biondello gulls Ciacco in the matter of a breakfast: for which prank Ciacco is cunningly avenged on Biondello, causing him to be shamefully beaten.

Lauretta acts as the narrator of this novella.

Ninth tale (IX, 9)

Two young men ask counsel of Solomon; the one, how he is to make himself beloved, the other, how he is to reduce an unruly wife to order. The King bids the one to love, and the other to go to the Bridge of Geese.

Emilia narrates this tale, which probably originated in Asia.

Tenth tale (IX, 10)

Dom Gianni at the instance of his gossip Pietro uses an enchantment to transform Pietro's wife into a mare; but, when he comes to attach the tail, Gossip Pietro, by saying that he will have none of the tail, makes the enchantment of no effect.

Dioneo's bawdy story from a French fabliau, "De la demoiselle qui vouloit voler en l'air."

Tenth day

Panfilo is the king of the last day of storytelling and he orders the company to tell stories about deeds of munificence. These tales seem to escalate in their degrees of munificence until the end, where the day (and the entire Decameron) reaches an apex in the story of patient Griselda.

First tale (X, 1)

A knight in the service of the King of Spain deems himself ill requited. Wherefore the King, by most cogent proof, shows him that the blame rests not with him, but with the knight's own evil fortune; after which, he bestows upon him a noble gift.

Neifile's story is one of the most widely diffused ones in the entire collection. Its origins come from two different stories. The first part (the comparison of the king to a mule) comes from Busone de'Raffaelli da Gubbio's "Fortunatus Siculus," written about 1333 in Italian. The second part (concerning the caskets, known to English speakers from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice) originates from about 800 AD from Joannes Damascensus's account of Barlaam and Josaphat and was written in Greek. Boccaccio most likely was inspired, though, by the Gesta Romanorum.

Second tale (X, 2)

Ghino di Tacco captures the Abbot of Cluny, cures him of a disorder of the stomach, and releases him. The abbot, on his return to the court of Rome, reconciles Ghino with Pope Boniface, and makes him prior of the Hospital.

Elissa narrates. Ghino di Tacco is the Italian equivalent of the English Robin Hood, with the difference that di Tacco was a real person whose deeds as a chief of a band of robbers passed into legend. He lived in the latter half of the thirteenth century. Boccaccio's tale, though, is one of many legends that grew up around him.

Third tale (X, 3)

Mitridanes, holding Nathan in despite by reason of his courtesy, journeys with intent to kill him, and falling in with him unawares, is advised by him how to compass his end. Following his advice, he finds him in a copse, and recognizing him, is shame-stricken, and becomes his friend.

Filostrato tells this tale.

Fourth tale (X, 4)

Messer Gentile de' Carisendi, from Modena, disinters a lady that he loves, who has been buried for dead. She, being reanimated, gives birth to a male child; and Messer Gentile restores her, with her son, to Niccoluccio Caccianimico, her husband.

Lauretta gives this story, for which there is no clear surviving source.

Fifth tale (X, 5)

Madonna Dianora craves of Messer Ansaldo a garden that shall be as fair in January as in May. Messer Ansaldo binds himself to a necromancer, and thereby gives her the garden. Her husband gives her leave to do Messer Ansaldo's pleasure: he, being apprised of her husband's liberality, releases her from her promise; and the necromancer releases Messer Ansaldo from his bond, and will take nought of his.

Emilia narrates. This tale is found in later manuscripts of the Sukasaptati. It is found in several story collections from Asia and in many languages.

Sixth tale (X, 6)

King Charles the Old, being conqueror, falls in love with a young maiden, and afterward growing ashamed of his folly bestows her and her sister honourably in marriage.

Fiammetta narrates.

Seventh tale (X, 7)

King Pedro, being apprised of the fervent love borne him by Lisa, who thereof is sick, comforts her, and forthwith gives her in marriage to a young gentleman, and having kissed her on the brow, ever after professes himself her knight.

Pampinea tells this tale. No earlier versions are known.

Eighth tale (X, 8)

Sophronia, albeit she deems herself wife to Gisippus, is wife to Titus Zuintius Fulvus, and goes with him to Rome, where Gisippus arrives in indigence, and deeming himself scorned by Titus, to compass his own death, avers that he has slain a man. Titus recognizes him, and to save his life, alleges that 'twas he that slew the man: whereof he that did the deed being witness, he discovers himself as the murderer. Whereby it comes to pass that they are all three liberated by Octavianus; and Titus gives Gisippus his sister to wife, and shares with him all his substance.

Filomena narrates this story, which Boccaccio may have taken from Alphonsus's "Disciplina clericalis." However, its ultimate source is from the East, although there are disputes as to exactly where or when.

Ninth tale (X, 9)

Saladin, the Sultan, in guise of a merchant, is honourably entreated by Messer Torello. The Crusade ensuing, Messer Torello appoints a date, after which his wife may marry again: he is taken prisoner by Saladin, and by training hawks comes under Saladin's notice. Saladin recognizes him, makes himself known to him, and entreats him with all honor. Messer Torello falls sick, and by magic arts is transported in a single night to Pavia, where his wife's second marriage is then to be solemnized, and being present thereat, is recognized by her, and returns with her to his house.

Panfilo is the narrator of this tale.

Tenth tale (X, 10)

The Marquis of Saluzzo, overborne by the entreaties of his vassals, consents to take a wife, but, being minded to please himself in the choice of her, takes a husbandman's daughter. He has two children by her, both of whom he makes her believe that he has put to death. Afterward, feigning to be tired of her, and to have taken another wife, he turns her out of doors in her shift, and brings his daughter into the house in guise of his bride; but, finding her patient under it all, he brings her home again, and shows her her children, now grown up, and honours her, and causes her to be honoured, as Marchioness.

Dioneo tells the final (and possibly most retold) story of the Decameron. Although Boccaccio was the first to record the story, he almost certainly did not invent it. Petrarch mentions having heard it many years before, but not from Boccaccio. Therefore, it was probably already circulating in oral tradition when the Decameron was written. Petrarch later retold the story in Latin, which is probably the biggest factor that contributed to its huge popularity in subsequent centuries.

Conclusion

The work concludes rather abruptly. Boccaccio, like he does in the introduction of the fourth day, defends his work against detractors. However, this time he does it in a humorous and sacrilegious way.

Sources

  • Brown University's Decameron Web
  • Lee, A. C., The Decameron: Its Sources and Analogues, 1903

See also

References

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