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A Reader's Guide to the Decameron Stories

King Agilulf snips a groom's hair in Pampinea's story Italien 63 (The Decameron), anonymous, BNF, XVc.

0/10 stories rated G.

0/10 stories rated PG.

10/10 stories rated R.

Day Three: Using wits to acquire something greatly prized or lost

As Sunday dawned, Neiphile, as queen, roused her companions they gathered all their goods and set off at a gentle pace to their new residence a couple of miles away. After restoring themselves with 'the most delicate of snacks and the choicest of wines', gathered in a walled garden surrounding a marble fountain, which they all found enchanting. Some retired for a nap, while the others gamed or rested in the garden. Finally, at three o'clock in the afternoon, 'everybody got up, splashed their faces with cold water, and crossed the lawn to the fountain as the queen required'.

III.1. Philostrato tells a long bawdy tale about Masetto, a brawny laborer learns that a nearby convent filled with young nuns is in need of a laborer. Figuring they would reject him for his youthfulness and good looks, he decides to feign being a deaf-mute. The ruse works and he is put straight to work. The task eventually proves too taxing, and he cannot hold his tongue. Masetto’s recovery is declared a miracle on account of the nuns’ prayers, and he ends up being named bursar. [R for sex] [6]

III.2. Pampinea tells a short story about King Agilulf of Lombardy, who had married Teudelinga, the widow of the previous king. An unnamed groom falls passionately in love with the queen, who was known as the wisest and most virtuous woman in the realm. Though being of the ‘lowest social condition’, he is smart enough to keep his thoughts to himself, satisfying himself with the privilege of caring for her horse. His passion only grows, and he decides to impersonate the king in hopes of visiting the queen. His ploy works, but he is nearly caught in the act; the king reasons it is best not to make much ado so as to not bring shame on his and the queen’s reputation. [R for adultery] [5]

III.3. Philomena recounts the ’true story about a trick played by a pretty woman on a stuffy old cleric’ whose names are withheld to protect the living. A woman of ‘beauty a breeding’ who chose to marry a wool-maker due to the size of his purse, she had never felt his lower class deserved a lady such as herself. She sets her sights on a ‘man of true quality’ who, she notices, is often in the company of a fat friar. The ‘well-bred’ lady confesses her chastity to the cleric and begs him to speak with his friend who, she reports, follows her everywhere to the point her reputation is at stake despite her being ‘blameless’, even dropping ‘a fistful of money in his palms’ to offer Masses for the friend. When the cleric relays the lady’s complaints to his friend, the ‘stalwart fellow, who was sharper than the friar’, understood the accusation as an invitation, and readily accepts. [R for adultery] [6]

III.4. Pamphilo tells the short tale of Puccio di Rinieri, a burgher of San Pancrazio in Florence who became a tertiary friar (layman not sworn to celibacy or poverty) by the name of Brother Puccio. His piety keeps his ‘fresh and chubby’ wife, Isabetta, ‘on a ‘diet far longer than she would have wished’. When a friar named Don Felice returns from Paris and begins frequenting their house, she longs for him to ‘fulfill her need’, but they must first find a way to get her husband to leave the house. Don Felice swears the man to silence before telling him of a secret way to heaven only known by the Pope and prelates which involves standing all night praying apart from female company. Brother Puccio believes his friend and leaves the door open for his wife’s tryst. Afterwards, Isabetta jokes to Don Felice that the penance imposed on her husband has sent the two of them ‘straight to heaven’. [R for adultery] [5]

III.5. Elissa tells the long story of Francesco, a knight of the Vergelleis family from Pistonia, who is clever and wise but also the ‘world’s worst miser’. When he is required to go to Milan to take up his duties as Podestá (governor) for six months, he has all his station requires except a suitable mount. There is also a young man of humble birth named Ricciardo who lives in Pistonia and has in his possession the finest thoroughbred in all Tuscany; known for always dresses very dapper, he is known far and wide by the nickname ‘Sunday-best’. Ricciardo has long pined for Francesco’s wife. He agrees to trade the horse for just ‘a word’ with the woman in plain view but out of earshot. Francesco reluctantly agrees, warning her not to speak, so Ricciardo does all the talking. He confesses his love then suggests a signal she can give to alert him of her willingness to accept his love when her husband departs. She thinks to herself, ‘Why shouldn’t I make hay while the sun shines?’ [R for adultery] [6]

III.6. Fiammetta gives the long tale of Catella, the prim and proper wife of Filippello Sighinolfo of Naples. There is also a young man of vast wealth named Ricciardo Minutolo, who, though married himself, makes no secret of his passionate desire for Catella. After being urged to abandon his ‘amorous quest’ due to the fact that his target is so doting on her husband, Ricciardo decides to pretend to transfer his affections to another lady. Once Catella’s guard is down, Ricciardo devilishly imparts a little false gossip that Filippello is trying to lure his own wife to a windowless room in a local bath-house for a tryst. Catella believes him and goes to catch her husband in the act. Ricciardo ‘tricks’ her into bed and threatens her reputation to buy her silence. [R for adultery] [7]

III.7. Emilia tells the long very long and sordid story of Tedaldo degli Elisei, a Florentine noble ‘passionately in love’ with Ermellina, the wife of Aldobrandino Palermini. When she suddenly ceases to ‘accommodate him’, Tedaldo decides to quit the social scene and, taking the pseudonym Filippo di San Lodeccio, relocates to Ancona where he transforms himself into a successful merchant. After 7 successful years, he decides to return to Florence in the guise of a pilgrim returning from the Holy Sepulchre. Arriving, he learns Aldobrandino has been arrested on suspicion of his death. When he visits Ermellina in disguise, he convinces her it is all because she sinned by ‘stealing’ from Tedaldo when she denied herself to him. Later, they ‘make peace’ and set out to free poor Aldobrandino, who, once free, invites the pilgrim to be a house guest. [R for adultery] [15]

III.8. Lauretta tells another long and sordid tale, this one set in remote abbey in Tuscany. The abbot there is a man of ‘supreme holiness in all matters save one—women’. He becomes friends with a rustic of ‘quite exceptional stupidity’ named Ferondo, who happens to gave a ‘most gorgeous wife’. The abbot encourages his friend to allow his wife to enjoy the delights of the monastery garden. When she goes to the abbot for confession, he propositions her, much to her astonishment. ‘Don’t be so surprised, sweetheart’ he responds, ‘holiness resides in the sprit’ and he’s only after ‘a sin of the flesh’. To get Ferondo out of the way, the abbot gives him a drug to make him appear dead, has him buried, then retrieves the body and locks him in a cell where he is held prisoner. Ferondo ask where he is. ‘Purgatory’ another monk responds before giving him a beating. For the next 10 months, the man is beaten and sermonized while the abbot enjoys his wife’s bed. It is not until she becomes pregnant that the abbot again drugs Ferondo, puts him back in his tomb, and declares a miracle when he returns from Purgatory . [R for adultery, mocking religion] [9]

III.9. Neiphile tells the long story of Beltram, Count of Roussillion in France, who, upon his father’s death, is sent to Paris as a ward of the crown. He is secretly loved by Giletta, the daughter of his father’s old physician. It so happens the King of France becomes ill and none of his physicians can cure him. Giletta, who has considerable knowledge of the healing arts, sees her chance. She makes the king agree to grant her choice of husbands if her treatment works. When it does, Beltram, unhappily concedes to marry Giletta. He immediately goes off to war while she returns to Roussillion and sets everything right. When she sends knights to ask him when he will return, his response is ‘when she wears this ring [one he never removes] on her finger and carries in her arms a child conceived of me’. Determined, she departs in the ‘guise of a poor pilgrim’ and visits the inn he is staying at. She learns of a local young woman who Beltram in infatuated with. She bargains with the woman and her mother to trick Beltram into giving the ring as a token and then his ‘passion’. In time, Giletta returns home with the ring and twin sons and wins her husband’s favor. [R for sexual innuendo] [9]

III.10. Dioneo gives his own sordid tale of Alibek, pretty daughter of a very rich man in the city of Gafsa on the Barbary coast. She, not being a Christian, curiously asks her neighbors simplest way of doing service of God. She is told the best service is to avoid things of the world like those who seek solitude in the Egyptian desert around Thebes. So, in youthful enthusiasm, she sets out in the direction of the Theban desert. Arriving days later, she finds a holy man standing in the door to his lone hut, obviously very surprised to see her. Seeing how ‘young and comely’ she was and fearing the devil’s snares, the hermit tells her there is another holy man not far away who can help her; the second hermit sends her along with the same words. Then she meets a young hermit named Rustico, who decides to ‘put his constancy to the test’. Temptation overwhelms him, so he teaches her ‘to put the devil back into hell’. [R for sex, mocking religion] [5]

Once again, 'the good ladies 'had been sent into fits of laughter' by Dineo's tale. Neiphile promptly removed her garland crown and placed it on Philostrato's head remarking how 'we shall see whether the wolf can lead the sheep any better than the sheep have led the wolves'. He set the next day's topic as 'people whose love has ended in tears'. They had tables set up and enjoyed an evening meal in the garden followed by their customary singing and dancing.

 

Next: The Decameron, Day Four

 


Reference:

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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