The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 10: Sixth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Claiming that she wants to focus on entertainment and avoid debates like the ones her predecessors have been engaging in, Fiammetta abandons her initial story for a less ambiguous one. After King Charles has defeated King Manfred and his allies (including the Ghibelline political faction), one of the Ghibelline lords, Neri degli Uberti, leaves Florence with his family and settles near the resort town of Castellammare di Stabia. He buys a home amid the olive and nut-trees and sets about constructing a splendid garden, with a well-stocked fishpond at its center.
Despite Fiammetta’s stated desire to avoid conflict, this story has political undertones—which references the heated political factionalism between Guelphs and Ghibellines that roiled Florence during the late 13th century and led to the exile of Dante Alighieri, one of Giovanni Boccaccio’s important literary influences. Neri’s beautiful garden is key to the tale; as sites of aristocratic entertainment and display—as well as places conducive to love—gardens appear in The Decameron’s final tales with increasing frequency.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
The lovely garden attracts King Charles’s attention when he vacations in Castellammare. He decides to visit informally because he and Neri degli Uberti are political rivals. Neri entertains the king (and four companions including Guy de Montfort) as lavishly as he can. After a tour of the garden, he serves them “dainty dishes” and excellent wines. During supper, two very beautiful teenaged girls (later identified as Neri’s daughters Ginevra and Isotta), scantily clad in sheer white linen dresses and carrying fishing nets and cooking implements, enter the garden. They curtsey to the king, then wade into the pool and catch many fish, which are immediately cooked and served as delicacies.
Neri’s garden is his remaining link to his former wealth and status. It is a place somewhat removed from the day-to-day affairs of life, so the king can set aside political factionalism for a time. Visiting informally protects the king from appearing soft on his enemies and allows Neri to cultivate some favor through generous entertaining despite his reduced status as an exile. The tale initially seems to focus on Neri’s generosity, but the entrance of the alluring and scantily clad Ginevra and Isotta pulls the tale’s center toward the power of love (and sex) over men’s actions.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
After King Charles has eaten the fish, Ginevra and Isotta exit the pool, their wet dresses revealing their shapely forms. This makes a strong impression on the king, who admires their loveliness with rapt attention and develops “a burning desire to pleasure them.” Neri degli Uberti introduces his twin daughters to the king, and King Charles encourages him to marry them off soon and well. However, exile and lowered political clout mean Neri can’t do so. After dessert, the girls sing sweet songs, further enamoring the king.
Like many another lover in the tales and beyond (for just one example, recall Calandrino’s experience with Niccolosa in IX, 5), love invades King Charles’s consciousness through his eyes. The alluring vision of the scantily clad girls impresses itself on his mind in such a way that it begins to generate obsession and lust. Unfortunately, the girls’ sexual potential is likely to remain untapped, since their father’s low political fortunes mean that they have neither the connections to make good matches nor the dowries they would need to bring to their husbands. 
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
After leaving Neri degli Uberti’s garden, King Charles can think of almost nothing except Ginevra and her sister. He becomes so enflamed by passion that he wants to kidnap them. But when he shares his plan with Guy de Montfort, Guy chides him. Such unrestrained love is the folly of a youth, not a mature king. And, as a recent conqueror, he should focus on consolidating his new political power. Finally, kidnapping the daughters of such a gracious host (despite his impoverished state) better suits a “werewolf” than a king. As glorious as King Charles’s martial victories have been, Guy maintains that conquering his own desires would be far more glorious.
The power of love asserts itself over King Charles, burning Ginevra’s image into his mind despite his age. And, like other lovers in the tales, he becomes prone to risky ideas, such as kidnapping the girls for his own pleasure. Guy de Montfort plays the role of his conscience, pointing out all the reasons why he should reign in his excessive love and behave moderately. Yet, love hasn’t yet appeared to listen to reason very much. At this point, the tale begins to depart somewhat from the day’s theme of generosity to pick up on questions of moderation and self-control in affairs of the heart that have been raised by the preceding three tales.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
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Chastened by Guy de Montfort’s words, King Charles resolves to conquer his own desires in a soldierly manner, despite the pain and effort it will cost. To keep himself on this virtuous path, he immediately arranges marriages for Ginevra (to Maffeo da Palizzi) and Isotta (to Guiglielmo dell Magna), generously providing their dowries as wedding gifts. By “constant effort” he turns to “mortif[ying] his ardent longings” and finally shatters the chains of Love. And so, Fiammetta points out, though the provision of dowries and husbands is a trifle for a king, a king in love, who kept himself from enjoying any “leaf, flower, or fruit” of his passion, is generous indeed.
King Charles is the only example in The Decameron of a lover successfully resisting love’s power. And he only does this through extreme effort on his own part, suggesting that it’s only the rarest of men who can assert this level of self-control. His generosity includes monetary contributions to the girls’ dowries, but this is easy for a wealthy king. What’s more impressive is his renunciation of any claim on them by arranging their marriages to other men. In this way, he demonstrates generosity of a kind with Gentile de’ Carisendi’s return of Catalina to her husband in X, 4 and Ansaldo’s disavowal of Dianora in X, 5.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon