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A Reader's Guide to the Decameron Stories

Rouissillon invites Cabestaing to dinner in Philostrato's story Italien 63 (The Decameron), anonymous, BNF, XVc.

0/10 stories rated G.

1/10 stories rated PG.

9/10 stories rated R.

Day Four: Those whose love has ended in tears

The author dedicates a few pages to telling the story of Filippo Balducci,whose wife dies leaving him bereft with a 2-year-old son. He decides to dedicate his life and his son to God's service. He raises the boy without ever teaching anything temporal, only spiritual, until at last, he takes him along as a young man to Florence. There, the boy is 'bowled over' by the many buildings and monuments, constantly asking: 'what are they? What are they called?'The father regrets his decision to allow his son to come along when the boy sees a group of beautiful young women. The father tells his son they are 'geese' and he cannot have one. The author then pauses his story to return to the current one.

Philostrato roused everyone from their beds and they enjoyed themselves in the garden until it was time to eat. Then, when the sun reached its zenith after a siesta, the king had Fiammetta begin.

IV.1. Fiammetta tells the long and tragic tale of Ghismonda, only daughter of Tancredi, Prince of Selerno. Tancredi was so doting on his daughter that he waited many years before finally bestowing her upon a son of the Duke of Capua; however, she is widowed shortly thereafter. With her father having no mind to find her another husband, she sets her eyes on a young page named Guiscardo. They meet secretly by means of a long-forgotten entrance to the palace. When her father learns of their secret, he imprisons Guiscardo and confronts Ghismonda over her ‘shameless conduct’. She replies that he ‘begot a daughter of flesh and blood, not of stone or iron’ and refuses to beg or apologize. Guiscardo is strangled and his heart put in a golden chalice, which is sent to Ghismonda. She takes her own life and is buried in a single tomb with her lover. [R for sex] [9]

IV.2. Pampinea tells a long sordid story about Berto della Massa of Imola, a wicked and corrupt man from Imola, decides to turn his life around by joining the Friars Minor in Venice. Thereafter, he is known as Brother Alberto of Imola. Formerly a ‘thief, pimp, forger, and murderer’, he becomes a preacher, but never gives up on his former vices when he can get away with it in secret. He builds quite a reputation for sanctity. When Lisetta da ca’ Quirino, the wife of an important merchant who has left for Flanders, goes to confession, Brother Alberto asks her if she has a lover. Her vain response shows the monk he is dealing with an idiot ‘and he fell in love with her on the spot’. After some convincing and swearing Lisetta to secrecy, Brother Alberto visits her in the night disguised as the angel Gabriel. Gossip of the ongoing angelic visitations eventually reaches the family of her husband, and Brother Alberto is publicly pilloried. [R for adultery, mocking religion] [8]

IV.3. Lauretta tells a long story of ‘three young men and as many young ladies whose love went badly sour thanks to a fit of feminine pique’. Arnald Civada was a wealthy merchant from Marseilles. His has several children, including twin girls, Ninetta and Maddalena, aged 15; and a third daughter, Bertella, aged 14. The family decides to marry them off when Arnald returns from a trading trip to Spain. Restagnone, a young man of good birth but no means, had fallen in love with Ninetta. Her sisters were in love with a pair of friends, Folco and Ughetto, who were extremely well off after the death of their father. Ninetta tells her beau how they might profit from her sisters’ rich lovers. Restagnone convinced the other two lads to pool their wealth and give him a share, and, for his part, he would convince the three ladies to run away with them to Crete, bringing along a good portion of their father’s riches, where they will live the good life. Paradise does not last long as the lovers soon turn on one another and calamity overtakes them. [R for sex and murder] [6]

IV.4. Elissa tells the short but sad tale of Gerbino, grandson of Guglielmo II, King of Sicily. He is a knight with a name for gallantry and chivalry. His reputation is heard by the daughter of the King of Tunis. Equally, her ‘renown for beauty and excellence’ reached the ears of Gerbino. The two exchange gifts with one another through couriers, and they pledged to take the first opportunity ‘to see and touch one another’. Unfortunately, Fate has the King of Tunis agrees to marry his daughter to the King of Granada. Gerbino outfits two ships for combat and sets sail to intercept his beloved en route. He intercepts the Saracens and engages in a desperate fight. When Gerbino begins to gain the upper hand, the Tunisians bring the princess out on deck and, ‘butcher her in front of his eyes’. Gerbino slaughters them and plunders the ship. The King of Tunis demands justice and the King of Sicily, feeling he has no other choice, executes his grandson. [R for strong violence] [4]

IV.5. Philomena tells another short but sad tale set in Messina where three young brothers, ply their trade as merchants, possessed of great wealth from their late father, a man from San Gimignano. Their younger sister, Lisabetta, is a pretty girl who has not yet married. In one of their warehouses there is a young Pisan named Lorenzo, who practically runs their business. He and Lisabetta begin an intimate relation. The eldest brother discovers their secret but maintains discretion to avoid damaging their reputation. The brothers invite Lorenzo along on a country outing where they murder him and bury his body. Lorenzo appears to Lisabetta in a dream where he reveals his fate and the location of his corpse. She travels there, digs him up, and, being unable to transport the entire body, returns home with his head which she plants in an urn. She eventually dies weeping. [R for sex and murder] [4]

IV.6. Pamphilo tells the long tale of Negro da Ponte Carraro, a gentleman from Brescia who had several children including a pretty young daughter named Adreuola. She was in love with a charming young man called Gibriotto. They consorted together in her father’s garden for a time before finally marrying in secret. Adreuola has a terrible dream of Gibriotto’s death, but the lad scoffs at it and tells her of his own nightmare; moments later, he dies. Adreuola and her maid are caught by the city guards while moving the body. The Podestá attempts to violate her while she is in his custody, but she fights him off. He then tries to get her father to give her as his wife. Adreuola and her maid chose to instead enter a convent. [R for sex, attempted rape] [6]

IV.7. Emelia gives a short but tragic tale about Simona, a very pretty girl from Florence who is of humble means, forced to earn her bread by the spinning wheel. She finds love in a young lad named Pasquino whose task is to bring wool to her from his master, a wool-merchant. They eventually pursue ‘their mutual pleasure from day to day’, until Pasquino suggests they meet in a garden for ‘greater leisure and less risk’ from her father. When the lad plucks a leaf from a giant sage-bush which he uses to clean his teeth, he drops dead. A friend of Pasquino accuses her of being a witch and poisoning her lover. Taken before the Podestá, she gives her account and is escorted to where the body still lay. Desperate to defend herself, she imitates Pasquino, rubbing a leaf on her teeth, and suffers the same fate. [R for sex] [4]

IV.8. Neiphile tells another short but tragic story centering around the family of Leonardo Sighieri, a very important and wealthy merchant, whose wife gave him a son called Girolamo. Leonardo dies while his son is still young, and the Girolamo’s mother and guardians take charge of his affairs, raising him with the other neighborhood children. One such child was Salvestra, the daughter of a tailor. The two youths came to love each other, despite Girolamo’s mother chiding him that his fortune earns him ‘a place with peacocks, not sparrows’. His guardians send him to Paris for two years, feigning to give him a ‘hand in the business’. Returning, he finds Salvestra married to a young tent-maker. Girolamo steals into her bedroom one night, but dies from sorrow upon her rejection. She visits his corpse in the church and tragically dies herself. [PG] [5]

IV.9. Philostrato tells a short tale of two noble knights, Guillaume de Cabestaing and Guillaume de Roussillon, the closest of friends who attend every joust and tournament using the same blazon. Roussillon is married to the most beautiful woman, and, despite their bond of friendship, Cabestaing falls in love with her. She began ‘to reciprocate his feelings’ and they held ‘one tryst after another’. When Roussillon learns of the betrayal, he determines to murder his former friend, inviting him to join him at a tournament. He and his loyal retinue lay an ambush, where he skewers the unarmed Cabestaing with a lance before cutting out his heart. His wife is excited by the news of her lover joining them for dinner; Roussillon sends the heart to the cook telling him it belongs to a boar. He reveals the truth after she dines, and she leaps to her death from an upper window. [R for adultery and murder] [3]

IV.10. Dioneo tells a long twisted tale of a surgeon from Salerno named Mazzeo della Montagna who was well advanced in years by the time he married his ‘well-born beauty’. He treats better than any other woman in the city, except for the fact that she suffers from a ‘permanent chill’ as he ‘neglects to cover her adequately in bed’. She sets her sights on Ruggieri d’Ajeroli, a man of high birth but pernicious style of living. After they have taken ‘their pleasure together’, she asks him to turn over a new leaf and offers him financial support. When he pays her a visit while the surgeon is out, he mistakenly drinks a sedative and falls into a deep sleep. Fearing he has died, the lady and her maid dump the body in a chest across the street, which is then stolen by some men. Ruggieri awakens in their home, causes a clamor, is arrested, and almost swings from the gallows before his lady contrives a way to set him free. [R for adultery] [8]

Once Dioneo concluded his tale, the king apologized to the ladies for having them tell stories on such an unfortunate topic. Standing, he removed his crown and placed it atop Fiammetta, commending her to ensure that 'tomorrow makes up fro the gloom of today'. She accepted the laurel and announced the topic would be of 'lovers who have suffered the most grievous misfortunes by achieve happiness in the end'. They reassembled around the fountain for dinner followed by song and dance.

 

Next: The Decameron, Day Five [UNDER CONSTRUCTION]

 


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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