Lauretta speaks next, noting that no one could describe a greater distance for fortune to raise someone than from poverty to kingship, as it did Alessandro. Although her tale won’t relate such a change, its protagonist will be subject to even greater misfortunes. The incredibly wealthy Landolfo Rufolo lives on the Amalfi Coast. Not content with his wealth, he fills a ship with goods for Cyprus, intending to double his riches by their sale. But when he arrives, other ships with identical goods are already in the port, forcing him to sell his goods at a loss.
Day II’s theme of fortune instigates a friendly competition among the storytellers, who each try to top each other’s tales with a greater reversal of fortune. This same competitive spirit can be seen on Day 10, where they try to outdo each other in tales of generosity. Landolfo Rufolo brings on his own misfortune by greediness to increase his fortune, thus demonstrating immoderation. But, since these are tales with happy endings, we already know that he will end up rewarded for his greed in the end. Fortune can bless or punish the good as well as the bad. Landolfo is also, despite his wealth, clearly a merchant—a working man, not a noble. He is one of many merchants that populate the tales and who emphasize the importance of trade for Giovanni Boccaccio’s Florentine audience and patrons.
To recoup his losses, Landolfo turns to piracy, and his raids of Turkish vessels make him twice as rich as when he was as a merchant. Content with this, he turns homeward, but when a storm forces him to anchor his vessel behind an island, he is surprised and overpowered by two Genoese merchant ships. The Genoese merchants imprison Landolfo—stripped to his underwear—aboard one of their ships. They’re soon caught in another gale that wrecks the ships. Landolfo, who had been praying for death instead of captivity, rediscovers his will to live and clings to a bit of the mast.
Piracy was a problem in the medieval Mediterranean Sea, and while Landolfo is the first of the tales’ pirates, he won’t be the last. Because he’s the hero of this tale, though, it is important that he raids Turkish ships—in other words, he’s stealing from Muslims, not from his fellow Christians. The Genoese had a reputation for excessive greediness (see Ermino de’ Grimaldi in Lauretta’s previous tale, I, 1) and for piracy. When Landolfo is shipwrecked, his fortunes are about as low as they can be without death: he’s got nothing left but his body, his underwear, and his will to live.
While Landolfo and his mast drift through the night, a particular chest keeps floating past him. Because he is afraid it will break his mast, he pushes it away when it comes too close. Ultimately, however, a surprise wave crashes the chest and mast together, destroying the mast. Landolfo, too exhausted to swim, clings to the chest for the next day and night. On the second day, as waterlogged as a sponge, he arrives at the island of Corfu, where a peasant woman spies him and drags him ashore.
The chest taunts Landolfo as he drifts on the sea and reminds readers of what they know but he can’t—that his story will feature a reversal of fortune for his benefit. Thus, Lauretta gleefully ratchets up the tale’s tension by describing his attempts to literally push away his good fortune. The peasant woman, who kindly takes care of Landolfo despite being something of a country bumpkin, illustrates the distinction between character and social status.
The peasant and her daughter take Landolfo and his chest home and nurse him back to life. When he forces the chest open, he discovers precious jewels, which cheer him up considerably. Afraid that fortune may reverse this latest stroke of good luck, he cautiously puts the jewels into a sack and heads home. On the way, he runs into some cloth merchants who, hearing his sorry tale, give him a gift of new clothes and a horse.
Landolfo’s experiences have taught him that fortune is capricious, and his former excessive greed is replaced with prudent caution. He waits to celebrate until he gets home, and he preserves his newfound wealth by accepting the charitable gifts made to him by other merchants rather than spending it. The other merchants likely recognize the inherent instability of their trade and their own vulnerability to fortune in Landolfo’s tale.
When Landolfo finally arrives at his home, he sells his gems, sends a gift to the peasant woman, and repays the merchants who provided his clothes. Swearing off the risks of commerce, he lives grandly on the remaining money for the rest of his life.
Landolfo sends a gift—which symbolizes the ties of generosity between them—to the peasant woman to thank her for her role in reversing his fortunes. And, because he has learned not to tempt fate, he lives in splendid but not excessive style for the rest of his life.