The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 2: Fifth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Fiammetta remarks that Landolfo’s jewels have reminded her of a tale with as much adventure as Lauretta’s—but which is more exciting because it happened in the space of one night.  Her protagonist is a young Perugian gentleman named Andreuccio di Pietro, a horse dealer by trade. Hearing that there are good horses in Naples, he stuffs his purse with money and sets off for the city. Once there, he makes several offers. He can’t seal any deals, even though he keeps showing off his fat purse.
Fiammetta’s tale, like Lauretta’s, attempts to one-up its predecessor. Several days later, Dioneo will tell a tale with a very similar setting, setup, and cast of characters (VIII, 10). Andreuccio, like Landolfo in the preceding story, is a merchant looking to increase his wealth quickly. However, he’s distinguished from Landolfo (whose greed was excessive) by his youth and inexperience. While Landolfo hid his chest of priceless jewels, Andreuccio flaunts his fat wallet without thinking about the consequences.
Themes
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While Andreuccio naively flashes his cash, he catches the attention of a beautiful young Sicilian Woman. She would love his money, but for the moment she walks on. The old woman she’s with, however, runs up and embraces Andreuccio, who recognizes her and makes her promise to visit him. She later tells the Sicilian Woman how she served Andreuccio’s father in Sicily and Perugia. She knows many details about Andreuccio and his family, which she reveals to the Sicilian Woman, who hatches a plan to steal his money.
The Sicilian Woman demonstrates that wit and wisdom—those virtues praised earlier by Pampinea in women (I, 10)—are by themselves neutral and can be used for good or ill. She is as careful and crafty as Andreuccio is careless and inexperienced.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
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After preventing the old woman from keeping her appointment, the Sicilian Woman sends a servant to convey Andreuccio to her home. When the servant tells Andreuccio that a Neapolitan gentlewoman wants to see him, he concludes she must have fallen in love with him—as if he were the only handsome young man in the city. He agrees to follow the servant immediately.
In addition to his inexperience and thoughtlessness, Andreuccio has the arrogant self-assurance of youth, and he believes that the Sicilian Woman is in love with him. This increases the tension in the story—since the tale necessarily involves his misfortune before his happy ending, the audience knows that his arrogance is about to be thwarted.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
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The maid brings Andreuccio to a part of town called “Evil Hole” on account of its bad reputation. Not knowing any better, he thinks it’s a perfectly respectable part of town. When he arrives at the Sicilian Woman’s home, her beauty and rich clothing impress him. He’s taken aback when she warmly embraces him, but he willingly follows her into her bedroom. Her fancy bed and expensive decorations further confirm his belief that she’s a wealthy aristocrat.
Andreuccio betrays his inexperience—or obliviousness—when he passes through what is obviously a redlight district without recognizing it for what it is. However, he is also taken in by the opulent setting and rich adornments of the conwoman and her home. His inability to properly assess her or her decor suggests that he may have money, but he doesn’t have class.
Themes
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The Sicilian Woman finally explains her strange behavior. She claims that she’s Andreuccio’s half-sister and that her mother—a widowed gentlewoman of Palermo—fell in love with Andreuccio’s father. When he returned to Perugia, she says he abandoned her and her mother. When she grew up, she married a wealthy nobleman, but the couple got caught up in political intrigues and fled to Naples with just the clothes on their backs. Fortunately, the Neapolitan king generously welcomed them and provided them with riches and property.
The conwoman’s tale within a tale is a mini lesson on fortune’s reversals as she’s alternately cast down and elevated. It’s also believable enough to draw Andreuccio in—and indeed, the decades just prior to and during Giovanni Boccaccio’s life were filled with political upheavals and intrigues throughout the Italian peninsula. Casting herself as Andreuccio’s long-lost half-sister functions to create trust between the two of them that is stronger than her sex appeal alone.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Andreuccio believes the Sicilian Woman’s story, both because she speaks with assurance and because her tale matches what he knows about his father’s business history and about young men in love. He tells her that he feels surprised and delighted to meet his sister, although he wonders how she knew that he was there. She tells him that they share a mutual acquaintance in the old woman, who told her Andreuccio was in town earlier that day. And to further convince him, she asks after all of his relatives by name.
Andreuccio may be a credulous and gullible innocent, but the conwoman is also an intelligent liar and credible storyteller. This is one of several moments throughout The Decameron that point—either seriously or tongue-in-cheek—to the power of a well-told story, which would obviously have been a concern to a writer such as Giovanni Boccaccio.
Themes
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When Andreuccio prepares to return to the inn for supper, the Sicilian Woman feigns hurt and insists that he show his love for her by staying for supper. So he won’t look ungrateful to his hosts, she offers to send a messenger to the inn with his excuse. After they eat, she offers him a place to sleep, saying that the messenger she pretended to send told the innkeepers not to expect him back that night.
Having ingratiated herself with Andreuccio, the Sicilian Woman sets the hook for her theft by convincing him to stay in her home rather than return to the relative safety of the inn.
Themes
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After undressing for bed, Andreuccio needs to relieve himself, but on his way into the privy, he dislodges a loose board and falls into the muck below. Cursing his bad luck, he shouts loudly for help. Meanwhile, the Sicilian Woman locks the doors to the house and takes the contents of his purse. 
The toilet in which Andreuccio attempted to relieve himself is suspended above an alley between two buildings, where the waste would pile up. Thus, at this moment, Andreuccio is literally and metaphorically buried in a mountain of excrement.
Themes
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Quotes
Finally beginning to understand that he has been hoodwinked, Andreuccio climbs out of the cesspit and begins to pound on the Sicilian Woman’s door. The servant, barely able to contain her laugher, pretends to not know him. Now completely beside himself with rage, Andreuccio tries to smash the door with a rock. This wakes the neighbors, as well as a gruff man (later identified as Butch Belchface) inside the house who threatens to beat him up if he doesn’t leave quickly. Scared by the man’s alarming appearance and the neighbors’ warnings, Andreuccio gives up and wanders in the direction of his inn.
It takes falling into the toilet and finding himself locked out of the house for Andreuccio to suspect that he may have been tricked. But his naiveté and disadvantage as an out-of-towner mean that he has no recourse. If the Sicilian Woman’s appearance misled Andreuccio, Butch Belchface’s threatening demeanor removes any doubts about the nature of the people Andreuccio has trusted, or the rough part of town he’s found himself in.
Themes
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Because he smells so bad from falling into the cesspit, Andreuccio makes a detour towards the ocean for a bath. Before he gets there, he encounters two men carrying iron tools through the darkness. When he tells them his story, they recognize Butch Belchface’s description and assure Andreuccio that he has been lucky: if he had fallen asleep in the house he would surely have been murdered as well as robbed. They themselves are Tomb Robbers on their way to loot the tomb of the recently deceased archbishop. They offer to share the profits with him if he will help.
The Tomb Robbers help Andreuccio understand that misfortune isn’t always what it seems—falling into the toilet, as humiliating and disgusting as it was, likely saved him from death. This insight should remind Andreuccio to question what looks like good luck at the moment—encountering two helpful men who dangle the opportunity to recoup his lost wealth. But it doesn’t, and he foolishly joins them.
Themes
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On the way to the cathedral, the trio stops at a well for Andreuccio to bathe (since he still stinks). When two night watchmen appear looking for a cool drink, the Tomb Robbers run away briefly, but they come back for Andreuccio. When the trio arrives at the cathedral, they pry the lid off the tomb and argue about who will go inside to collect the bishop’s valuables. Andreuccio resists volunteering until the Tomb Robbers threaten to kill him.
Andreuccio bathing in a well that others use for drinking water is a vivid, if brief, reminder of a time before urban sanitation schemes. A proper bath could symbolize Andreuccio’s luck improving, but that’s not what he gets. He should see a warning in the willingness of his “friends” to ditch him, but instead of abandoning the project he instead tries to outsmart them.
Themes
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Andreuccio fears that the Tomb Robbers will find a way to deprive him of his loot, so he slips the bishop’s ruby ring on his own finger and pretends he can’t find it. They grow impatient with his bumbling and drop the lid back on the tomb, trapping Andreuccio. He tries to escape and then bursts into tears over his impending death. Just as he’s about to lose hope, he hears voices. Another band of robbers has come to loot the archbishop’s riches, and they are also arguing about who will climb into the tomb. Finally, a priest reminds the group that the dead “don’t eat the living,” and starts to climb in.
Given his previous interactions with the criminal elements of Sicilian society, Andreuccio shouldn’t be surprised when his attempts to outsmart the Tomb Robbers fail. His pattern of lucky and unlucky breaks mirrors the tale the Sicilian Woman told him about herself. The priests coming to rob the tomb of the bishop is a criticism of clerical greed, which respects neither the living nor the dead.
Themes
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Andreuccio grabs the priest’s ankle. He shrieks, scrabbles out, and the second group of robbers flee, leaving the lid ajar. Andreuccio escapes and wanders through town until he stumbles on his inn. On hearing the tale of his misadventures, his innkeeper advises him to leave Naples as quickly as possible. So instead of investing in Neapolitan horses, Andreuccio “invested” his money in a valuable ring.
In the final turn of fortune’s wheel, Andreuccio finds himself on top once more, and he wisely leaves Naples before he can experience another reversal. Despite his foolishness and inexperience, he comes out of this adventure relatively unscathed, with his wealth intact. This shows one of the ways in which fortune operates blindly: despite his poor choices, he still came out on top in the end.
Themes
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