While Emilia agrees that Gentile de’ Carisendi’s generosity was great, her story will show that it is possible for a man to be even more generous with a lady. Gilberto and his wife Madonna Dianora live in Udine, in the cold northern mountains of Italy. Ansaldo Gradense has fallen in love with Dianora but hasn’t won her heart despite his noble manners and martial prowess.
Emilia suggests that Gentile, in giving up something that never truly belonged to him, was not as generous as Lauretta claimed. Thus, when readers are introduced to Gilberto, his wife Dianora, and Dianora’s admirer, they are primed to expect that the men’s control or ownership over Dianora’s sexuality will be in play.
Madonna Dianora, tired of Ansaldo Gradense’s attention, decides to rid herself of him with an impossible task. She tells his messenger that she will “love him and do his bidding” if he proves his love by making her a garden in the middle of January. If he can’t, and he continues to provoke her, she will tell her husband and relatives and they will make him stop. Although Ansaldo realizes that she’s trying to frustrate his desire, he persists until he finds a Magician who can create the garden—for a large fee.
Dianora, like several other ladies in the tale, simply isn’t interested in Ansaldo. Her rejection threatens the assumption that a man’s love and honor alone were supposed to be sufficient to earn (or demand) a woman’s affections. Because of these assumptions, women in her position must be careful and clever to successfully dismiss such unwanted lovers, and Dianora attempts, like Monna Piccarda (VIII, 4) and Francesca de’ Lazzari (IX, 1), to impose an impossible task on him. It’s fitting that she asks for a garden, both because gardens are symbolically places of love, but also because they are places where reality is suspended. Thus, Dianora is suggesting that she’ll have sex with Ansaldo when January turns into May—in other words, never. Yet, Ansaldo is willing to cheat. On the one hand, this suggests his steadfast love and the power of love to dictate his actions. But on the other, it calls into question whether he is truly as honorable as he asserts himself to be.
In the exact middle of January, the Magician conjures a beautiful garden, and Ansaldo Gradense presents its fruits and flowers to Madonna Dianora, both to show her how deeply he loves her and to remind her of her promise. Dianora can’t hide her anguish from Gilberto, and she explains the rash promise she made to Ansaldo. Gilberto chides her foolishness, first for listening to Ansaldo, then for bartering with him. But, because it was an honest mistake on her part and because he’s afraid that Ansaldo will have the Magician harm them if she breaks her word, he commands her to go to Ansaldo. If she can’t convince him to release her from her promise, without “loss of honor,” she should “give him her body.”
Gilberto’s motivations for forcing Dianora to make good on her rash promise are mixed. His worry that Ansaldo might have the magician harm them suggests that Ansaldo’s deed, supposedly done as Dianora’s faithful servant, is actually a piece of sexual blackmail; chiding his wife for listening to Ansaldo suggests that she is responsible for leading Ansaldo on, despite the contrary evidence of her dislike for him; and his concern for her keeping her word suggests the extent to which his own honor is bound up in his wife’s virtue. In the logic of the tale, which means to showcase generosity (the day’s theme), Gilberto sending his wife to his rival is meant to show his own generosity, since he’s willing to share her with another man. But in effect, this merely emphasizes the chattel position of women, who can be shared among men at will. In this way, it recalls the husband in VI, 3, who pimped out his wife to a Spanish diplomat to make some quick money.
Madonna Dianora doesn’t want to do this, but she ultimately obeys Gilberto’s command. She catches Ansaldo Gradense by surprise when she knocks on his door the next day. He calls the Magician to witness the fruits of his charm, then asks Dianora why she’s come to him alone. She says her Gilberto sent her because he pays “more regard to the labors of your unruly love than to his own or his wife’s reputation.” Only by her husband’s command is she willing to submit to her admirer’s pleasures.
Unfortunately for Dianora, no matter how much she wishes to resist, she must ultimately obey her husband. The tales have already demonstrated the harms that come to disobedient wives and obstinate women: they are exposed and burned (VIII, 7), mauled by wild animals (IX, 7) or beaten mercilessly by their husbands (IX, 9). So at first, she is the object of exchange between the two men and Ansaldo receives her as the precious object he’s bought through the magician’s expensive services. Yet, Dianora is correct when she criticizes his unruly (therefore excessive) love, since he cheated to fulfil her request by resorting to magic.
Deeply moved by “Gilberto’s liberality,” Ansaldo Gradense’s desire turns to compassion. He promises to treat Madonna Dianora as a sister if she takes his thanks for the “immense courtesy he has shown me” to Gilberto. After the delighted Dianora tells her husband what happened, he and Ansaldo become best friends. Inspired by Gilberto’s offer of his wife’s sexual favors to Ansaldo and Ansaldo’s generous release of Dianora, the Magician waives his fee.
Unmoved by Dianora’s complaints (because she is treated as an object to possess, not a person to respect), Ansaldo is, however, deeply moved by the generosity Gilberto showed by willingly giving up his sexual claim over his wife. It is his fellow man, rather than the woman he allegedly loved, on whom Ansaldo ultimately has compassion. Madonna Dianora has become, in effect, the gift that Gilberto and Ansaldo exchange to confirm their friendship.
Emilia, like Lauretta, challenges her audience to decide who is the more generous lover: Gentile de’ Carisendi, for returning a lover he found nearly dead, or Ansaldo Gradense, for giving up a lady who was ready to throw herself into his very arms? In her opinion, Ansaldo is the clear winner.
Emilia’s closing comments confirm Dianora’s position as an object for trade between men. She is the token of Gilberto’s generosity towards Ansaldo when he makes her keep her foolish promise, and she is the token of Ansaldo’s generosity when he renounces his claim and sends her back to her husband unsullied.