The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 1: Tenth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Pampinea sums up one of the day’s major themes—wit—which greatly embellishes pleasant conversation.  Unfortunately, modern women care more about pretty clothes and makeup than using their wit. Nowadays women are easily bested in arguments because they don’t guard what they say.
Pampinea’s praise of feminine wit is tempered by the antifeminist sentiment she expresses—although a witty woman is wonderful, modern women care more about looking pretty than speaking smartly. This is an example of antifeminist ideas being voiced by the book’s female characters, a circumstance that recurs throughout the tales.
Themes
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Quotes
Master Alberto, a brilliant but elderly physician, is so consumed by passion for a young widow named Malgherida de’ Ghisolieri that he behaves like a love-struck youth. He parades in front of her house at all hours, and once Malgherida and her ladies realize that he’s in love, they begin to mock him. They invite him into their splendid garden and ask him why he loves Malgherida, who has more appropriate suitors.
Master Alberto is an example of the medieval “senex amans” or “old lover” stereotype. In this instance, Alberto’s infatuation demonstrates the overpowering nature of love, which makes him act in ways that look foolish despite his education and respectable status. Senex amans lovers are usually mocked—just like Malgherida and her women mock Alberto. They take him into the garden—a place that represents a break from the everyday world of suffering and toil—and it’s here that he will turn the tables on them. 
Themes
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Alberto answers that although older men may lack the sexual prowess of the youth, they have a better understanding of who deserves love. And anyway, he often sees women eating the green leaves of leeks rather than their delicious white bulbs, so how was he to know that Malgherida wouldn’t have as strange a taste in lovers as some women do in vegetables? Malgherida is abashed and impressed; she offers him her love, but he declines. Although she thought she could mock an old man, in the end, she was bested.
Alberto’s answer, like many of the other retorts from Day I’s tales, rebukes the women for their mockery indirectly. His comment about the leeks is an involved joke about sexual prowess and experience: the leek’s green leaves are like young men, while its white bulb and roots represent the white hair of an old man. Because people usually consume the white parts of the leek rather than its tough green leaves, Alberto’s metaphor allows him to imagine a world in which it’s more natural for women to prefer older and more experienced lovers, rather than younger, stronger men. Instead, he lives in a world where women prefer the look of youth (the green leaves) rather than a good taste (the bulb and roots). And, true to the world he imagines, Malgherida is indeed impressed by his wisdom and offers to take him as her lover. His repudiation can be interpreted as punishment for her earlier coldness—she comes to realize his value too late.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon