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A Reader's Guide to the Decameron Stories

Illustration from The Decameron (detail), anonymous, XV century.

0/10 stories rated G.

2/10 stories rated PG.

8/10 stories rated R.

Day Two: Ill Fortune Comes to an Unexpected Happy Ending

After an 'alfresco meal followed by a little dancing' and a siesta, the company once again came together at three o'clock in the afternoon and sat in a circle to continue their story-telling. Under the reign of Philomena, all of the stories were to 'show how a person who had been thwarted by ill fortune comes to a happy ending that defies his expectations':

II.1. Neiphile tells a short story about three Florentine entertainers who found themselves in Treviso where a saint had just died. One of the men, Martellino, decided to feign paralysis to skip the crowded line. It worked until they let the truth slip and trouble ensued. [PG for cursing] [4 pages]

II.2. Philostrato spins a longer tale of a merchant named Rinaldo d’Este who found himself in the company of brigands, plotting to rob him at first chance. Left half-naked and and afoot in the snow, he manages to find his way to Castel Guglielmo after dark and no way to enter. Fortune smiles on him when the Marquis’s mistress hears his weeping and allows him inside for a bath and warm night. [R for sex] [6]

II.3. Pampinea tells a long story of three brothers whose lavish lifestyle quickly exhausted their inheritance. Not wanting to lose their reputations, they sold what little remained and departed for England where they slowly re-made their fortunes, but, returning to Italy, are soon bankrupted again and imprisoned. As luck would have it, their nephew, Alessandro, happens to find himself in the traveling company of a princess, and their subsequent marriage solves the family’s ills. [R for sex] [7]

II.4. Lauretta tells the short story of Landolfo Rufolo, a rich merchant who turned to brigandage when his fortunes are brought low. After a year of seizing Turkish vessels, he decides to return home a rich man. He, himself, falls victim to pirates and is left adrift. Fortune smiles on him when he clings to a chest later found to contain a fortune in gems. The merchant-turned-brigand retires in dignity. [PG for piracy] [5]

II.5. Fiammetta tells a long tale of a young horse-trader named Andreuccio di Pietro who, despite never leaving his hometown of Perugia, decides to try his luck at far-off horse fair. He suffers several misadventures from swindling prostitutes to back-stabbing gravediggers. In the end, Fortune smiles on him and he returns home with a valuable ring instead of horses. [R for sex] [11]

II.6. Emilia tells a very long story centered around a noble Neapolitan lady, Beritola Caracciola, whose family suffered greatly when King Charles I of Anjou came to power. Her husband, Arrighetto Capece, was imprisoned, and she fled, pregnant and penniless, along with her young son, Giusfredi. She was eventually separated from her children for many years before Fortune eventually brings them back together and restores their rank and privilege. [R for sex] [12]

II.7. Pamphilo recounts the extremely long and sordid tale of Alatiel, a daughter of Beminadab, Sultan of Babylon, and regarded as the most beautiful woman on earth. As the Sultan owed a debt to the King of Africa, he consents to giving Alatiel’s hand in marriage. Her ship breaks up in a storm and she finds herself virtually alone on a foreign shore. Over the next 4 years, 8 men fall ‘passionately in love’ with her, resulting in her being treated ‘like merchandise’. [R for sex] [20]

II.8. Elissa tells the very long story of Walter, Count of Antwerp, who is appointed by the King of France to act as regent while the king and his son were off to war, entrusting him with the realm, queen, and the prince’s young wife. When’ Love’s enticements’ cause the princess to woo noble Walter, a widower, he rebukes her advancements; spurned, she accuses him of rape, forcing him to flee to Calais then England with his young children. After 18 years of exile, he is finally restored. [R for charges of rape] [14]

II.9. Philomenia tells a very long story that begins with group of Italian merchants in Paris discussing their wives’ likely infidelities back home, save for Bernabó Lomellin who was certain of his honorable lady’s chastity. One of the merchants, Ambrogiuolo argues ‘the only chaste woman is the one who’s never been chased’ and eventually 5,000 florins are wagered that he could seduce the wife of Bernabó. Ambrogiuolo succeeds in convincing Bernabó that he has won the bet, causing the man to order his wife killed. She escapes, learns the truth, and, through Fortune, has her reputation restored and Ambrogiuolo executed. [R for sex] [11]

II.10. Dineo tell a long, bawdy tale of a judge named Ricciardo di Chinzica judge, who was smart but not very ‘brawny’. He weds a young wife, Bartolomea, who he tries to teach her the ‘abstinence’ of the fast days of his calendar, though she longs for the ‘ferias’. While the couple is on a fishing trip, the notorious pirate Paganino da Mare captures Bartolomea, who enjoys the fact that the pirate ‘lost track of his calendar’.Ricciardo finally catches up to the pirate, who claims to have no idea she was any man’s wife; he agrees to return her if the young lady acknowledges the bond. Bartolomea feigns being strangers, and Ricciardo thus loses his wife on account of his ‘scrawniness’. [R for heavy innuendo] [7]

With the last story complete, they were all laughing so hard 'there was not one whose jaw did not ache.'The queen removed her garland and placed it on Neiphile's head' The new regent explained that the following day would be Friday, 'the day on which the One who died for our salvation underwent His passion', which would warrant a day of prayer rather than story-telling. The day after, Saturday, would be when 'women as a rule wash their hair and scrub away all the dust and dirt' accumulated over the week; she also pointed out that they will have been there for four days and suggested they change residences to avoid strangers calling on them. When they convene on Sunday, the queen selected as a topic the hand of Fate in the 'way a person uses his wits to acquire something greatly prized or to recover someting lost'.


Next: The Decameron, Day Three



Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron, translated by Guido Waldman. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Miniatures taken from The Decameron by Master Jean Mansel (1430-1450) and copyist Guillebert de Mets, Parigi, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, 5070.

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