The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 10: First Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Neifile, the day’s first narrator, hopes she can successfully introduce the theme of munificence (generosity). In Florence, after Messer Ruggieri de’ Figiovanni realizes that he can’t show off his bravery at home, he decides to serve King Alphonso of Spain. With an impressive collection of armor and horses and a large group of attendants, he moves to Spain, where he makes a reputation for valor and noble generosity.
The final day’s first tale situates itself at the nexus of social class and personal worth. The Decameron has argued that a person’s character is more important than their social class. Here, Neifile extends this argument even to the aristocracy: although he’s already a nobleman by title, Ruggieri wants to prove his merit through honorable actions, brave deeds, and generosity. 
Themes
Class and Character Theme Icon
Ruggieri de’ Figiovanni watches as King Alphonso confers land and titles on other knights with what he considers “very little discretion.” Eventually, feeling slighted that the king hasn’t confirmed his own status with such gifts, he asks for permission to go home. King Alphonso gives him a mule and allows him to leave, secretly dispatching a servant to join him for a day, hear what he has to say, and then bring him back. 
The leader of a group, like King Alphonso, used gifts to reward his followers and to cement the bonds of affection and partnership between them. And while Ruggieri feels that he has deserved recognition, he hasn’t been given any meaningful gifts from his adopted sovereign. The one gift he does receive, a mule, suggests that Alphonso doesn’t particularly respect him, since it's a relatively worthless pack animal. It’s a practical gift, but not something elegant or special.
Themes
Class and Character Theme Icon
After joining Ruggieri de’ Figiovanni, the servant engages him in conversation. They take a break, and all the animals relieve themselves, except for Ruggieri’s donkey, which waits until they’re watering the animals later in a river. Ruggieri grouches that “[it’s] just like the gentleman who presented [it]” to him, the only negative words about King Alphonso that pass his lips. 
However, despite his disappointment, Ruggieri proves himself the consummate gentleman and someone worthy of recognition. He refuses to complain about the king, even when given the opportunity by an apparent stranger. The closest he comes is a cryptic remark when his donkey chooses an inopportune moment to answer the call of nature.
Themes
Class and Character Theme Icon
The next morning, the servant delivers King Alphonso’s order to Ruggieri de’ Figiovanni, and he returns to court. To explain his comment about the donkey, he accuses the king of withholding gifts from the deserving and dispersing them in inappropriate places. King Alphonso replies that he recognizes Ruggieri’s worth, and that fortune prevents his reward. To prove it, he fills one chest with his crown, orb, scepter, and precious jewels and another identical chest with dirt. Ruggieri is commanded to pick one, and he takes the dirt-filled one, showing his ill fortune. But, because he merits better treatment than fortune affords, King Alphonso presents him with the treasure chest to take home to Florence with him.
King Alphonso blames fortune, and his experiment allegedly proves that Ruggieri is merely unlucky. Yet, his decision to contradict fortune’s assessment of the knight and give him generous gifts to take back to Italy suggests that fortune isn’t always all-powerful. However, in the tale’s exploration of merit and class, fortune provides the necessary opportunity for Ruggieri to show that his service was inspired by genuine personal honor, rather than just by a desire for material advancement.
Themes
Class and Character Theme Icon
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