The plague is ravaging the city of Florence and people are dying
in great numbers. All social order, customs, and traditions are
undermined. Fear leads to a breakdown of social relations and to
the neglect of both the living and the dying. Ten young people (seven
ladies--Pampinea, Fiammetta, Filomena, Emilia, Lauretta, Neifile,
and Elissa-- and three gentlemen--Panfilo, Filostrato, and Dioneo)
flee from the city and seek refuge in a countryside estate where
they pass the time telling stories and enjoying each other's company.
They deliberately abstain from competitive games and choose instead
forms of entertainment which give pleasure to everyone (music, dance,
song, feasting, storytelling). Each member of the group tells one
story each day for ten days (hence the "decameron" or
First Day: First Story
The scoundrel Ser Cepperello manages to pass himself off as a virtuous
man during his last confession. After his death, he is remembered
as Saint Ciappelletto and people pray to him for favors and believe
him capable of performing miracles.
A scoundrel by the name of Berto della Massa moves to Venice and
becomes a friar, taking the name Brother Alberto. He manages to
fool everyone into believing that he is a very holy man. Brother
Alberto then sets out to seduce the vain and gullible Madonna Lisetta,
the wife of a wealthy merchant. Praising her beauty he leads her
to believe that the Archangel Gabriel is in love with her and wants
to pay her a visit in her bedroom. Brother Alberto tells her that
the angel will visit her by taking possession of his body. Madonna
Lisetta believes it all and receives numerous visits from the angel.
Eventually, due to Lisetta's boasting that the angel Gabriel is
her lover, the affair is discovered. Brother Alberto suffers public
humiliation and permanent confinement in his monastery.
Guillaume de Cabestanh has an affair with the wife of his friend
Guillaume de Roussillon. Roussillon ambushes and kills Cabestanh,
tears out his heart and has it cooked and served for dinner to his
wife. After she finds out what she's eaten, she jumps out a window
Fifth Day: Eighth
Wealthy Nastagio is in love with a lady of noble lineage who despises
him. Discouraged, Nastagio leaves town and, in the wilderness, witnesses
the frightening scene of a young woman being chased down and murdered
by a knight. The knight explains to Nastagio that they are both
souls in torment doomed to repeat the scene for a number of years.
The deed is part of their punishment for his having committed suicide
in despair at being rejected by the lady. The lady in turn is punished
for her pride and cruelty in rejecting the love of the knight. Nastagio
has the idea of making arrangements to have his beloved witness
the scene. When she sees it, she changes her mind about Nastagio
and agrees to be his wife.
Fifth Day: Ninth
A young gentleman by the name of Federigo falls in love with a beautiful
lady named Monna Giovanna. He spends large amounts of money trying
to gain her attention but she remains indifferent to his love. Eventually
he loses everything and is forced to live in poverty in a little
farm with only his beloved pet falcon for company. Meanwhile Monna
Giovanna's husband dies and her son falls very ill. The sick child
asks his mother to get him Federigo's falcon. She goes to visit
Federigo to ask for the falcon. As she arrives at Federigo's house,
he is very distressed to see her and not having any food in the
house to offer her. Not knowing the cause of her visit, Federigo
kills his falcon and makes it into a meal for his visitor. After
dinner Monna Giovanna reveals the reason for her visit. Federigo
is devastated that he cannot help her and she has to leave empty-handed.
Monna Giovanna's son dies. After a period of mourning, Monna Giovanna,
who is rich and still young and beautiful, rewards Federigo's loyalty
by marrying him.
Ninth Day: Sixth
Pinuccio, a Florentine gentleman, falls in love with Niccolosa,
the daughter of a humble countryman. With the help of his friend
Adriano, Pinuccio makes arrangements to stay overnight at the home
of Niccolosa and secretly sleeps with her. During the night, guests
and hosts move about in the dark, unwittingly ending in the wrong
bed and leading to Adriano making love to the countryman's wife
and to Pinuccio boasting of his conquest to his host. As things
are about to take a tragic turn, the host's wife smooths things
over by claiming she had been in bed with Niccolosa all night and
that Pinuccio was only dreaming. (Chaucer used this story as the
basis of his Reeve's Tale in the Canterbury Tales).
Tenth Day: Tenth
The nobleman Gualtieri marries Griselda, a peasant woman. At first
he treats her well but then decides to test her obedience. He speaks
to her abusively and takes away their two infant children, suggesting
to her that they are to be killed (in reality, they are taken to
Bologna and raised by friends). Griselda bears this with patience.
He then expresses his wish to divorce Griselda and sends her back
to her father's house. Pretending to be making arrangements for
his new wedding, Gualtieri calls back Griselda and orders her to
take care of all the preparations, including the welcoming of the
new bride and her little brother. Putting up with it all, Griselda
obeys and graciously receives the beautiful young woman. Gualtieri
then reveals the truth and announces that the supposed bride and
her brother are really their own children, now twelve and six years
old. Griselda is congratulated on her heroic patience and obedience
and welcomed back as the lady of the home.