The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 10: Seventh Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Everyone—except one Ghibelline lady—commends King Charles’s generosity; to balance the political scales, Pampinea offers a tale about a king on the Ghibelline side. A wealthy but bourgeois Florentine apothecary named Bernardo Puccini lives in Palermo at the time the French are driven from Sicily, with his wife and his daughter, Lisa. King Peter of Aragon, having conquered the island, holds a tournament. When she watches him joust, Lisa falls in love with him. Her feelings are “lofty and splendid,” but the situation is hopeless; her low status guarantees he will never notice her. She hides her love until it makes her melancholy, then ill with a wasting sickness.
As on Day 4, when she balanced out the excessively traumatic story of Ghismonda and Guiscardo with Friar Alberto’s humorous impersonation of an angel, Pampinea reads the room and restores balance and peace to the brigata by telling a story weighted towards the Ghibellines. This story also reverses the typical love scenario in the tales, for in this case it is a woman who falls into hopelessly unrequited love. Her love is good in that it participates in the ennobling nature of fin’amors (refined loving). But her impossible desires also cause her to fall into a classic case of lovesickness (similar to that of Jacques Lamiens in II, 8).
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Lisa’s parents, greatly distressed, nurse her and call physicians, but no one can cure her. Before she dies of despair, Lisa wants to tell King Peter her lofty feelings. So, she asks for renowned musician Minuccio d’Arezzo. His songs, offered to comfort her, instead add fuel to the fire of her passion. But when he’s done, she speaks with him privately and tells him all about her unfortunate situation. She asks him to tell the king of her love and her intention to die of it. Minuccio, amazed by her noble sentiments and resolve, promises to carry her message to King Peter.
The physicians are powerless to help Lisa, of course, because the only cure for her ailment is King Peter’s attentions. Lisa’s clever strategy to tell the king how she feels demonstrates the strength of her affection as well as her social skills, since she broaches the subject in an appropriately circumspect way that doesn’t dishonor either party. For a long time, it was thought that Giovanni Boccaccio invented the character of Minuccio the musician, but a singer by that name has been discovered in the historical record. This points to the level of detail and realism Boccaccio sought to inject into The Decameron.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Quotes
Minuccio d’Arezzo leaves Lisa and asks Mico da Siena to compose a song about her love, which he sings to King Peter and his court. Then, in private, he tells the king Lisa’s story. Her fortitude and nobility of spirit impress King Peter, and his compassion inspires him to relieve her suffering. He plans to visit her that very night, and when Minuccio tells this to Lisa, her health begins to improve. That evening, the king calls (as if unexpectedly) on Bernardo Puccini in his garden. When he mentions the apothecary’s daughter, Bernardo says she’s not yet betrothed to anyone, in part because she has been ill. 
Love has power over everyone, including mighty kings—the previous story has already made this claim. But in this case, it’s the nobility of Lisa’s soul that truly moves King Peter, more than her affection. Although he can’t return her love, he is moved with compassion and generosity to try to save her life. In another parallel to the previous story, he visits her family unannounced and is entertained in the garden. And once again, the garden suggests a magical space between the realm of stories and the harsh realities of the world, where the king can find a way to cure Lisa honorably.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
In her bedroom, King Peter holds Lisa’s hand as he asks her to “cheer up, for our sake, so that you may quickly recover.” Being touched by the object of her affections feels to Lisa like being in Paradise. She circumspectly replies that her sadness comes from trying to carry a burden that is too heavy for her. Her lovesickness and prudence raise her in his esteem, and King Peter curses fortune for condemning such a noble character to a bourgeoise life.
King Peter can’t return Lisa’s love, but since her love renders her pliant to his commands, his order to recover and cheer up has the intended effect. Like many other (usually male) lovers earlier in the book, Lisa’s extremely noble spirit belies her middle-class status. Her love contributes to the book’s argument that merit is earned through disposition rather than external factors like wealth and title. The depth of her devotion to the king and her elegant way of expressing herself show her merit, even if her father is just an apothecary (a merchant selling medicines and medicinal ingredients). 
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Get the entire The Decameron LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Decameron PDF
As Lisa’s health improves, King Peter consults with his queen about appropriately rewarding her love. They return with a great retinue to Bernardo Puccini’s garden, where they summon Lisa. To honor her noble behavior, King Peter offers to give her a suitable husband and to consider himself her knight; all he asks in return is one kiss. Speaking quietly so only he can hear, Lisa thanks him for his attention despite her lowly status. Her great love for him means that she is prepared to do his bidding, and she will love the husband he chooses for his sake. She only worries that she is unworthy of the kiss.
King Peter completes Lisa’s healing when he satisfies her love, even in the smallest way, by offering her a chaste kiss and declaring himself to be her knight—taking the fin’amors (refined loving) lover’s subservient position relative to his lady. This takes place in the garden, which represents both an arena for talk of love and the space where reality can be suspended or modified. Lisa’s obedience to King Peter models the proper behavior of a citizen, of a lover, and of a woman. It feels less dehumanizing because King Peter treats her so courteously. But her reliance on his good will and graciousness is nevertheless a result of gendered constraints on women’s freedom and autonomy.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Lisa’s answer pleases both King Peter and the queen because it demonstrates her wisdom. With Bernardo Puccini’s permission, King Peter elects a noble but poor young nobleman to be Lisa’s husband, then presides over their immediate wedding. Among the many gifts he lavishes on the newlyweds, he includes two lucrative estates to serve as Lisa’s dowry. Finally, holding her head in his hands, he kisses Lisa’s forehead. For the rest of his life, he rides as her knight, always wearing her favor in tournaments. 
By happy coincidence, Lisa has wealth but lacks status, and King Peter marries her to a man who lacks wealth but has status. Now, because of her nobility of soul and the extremely classy way she handled her infatuation with the king, Lisa’s station in life conforms with her personal merit, proving that character is a better sign of a person’s worth than wealth or title. The royal gifts further confirm and enhance her status. But, in closing on the kiss and King Peter’s choice to call himself Lisa’s knight, the story emphasizes the primacy of love as the director of human behavior.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon