Not to be outdone on his own theme, Filostrato prepares to tell a tale that will arouse more pity than Neifile’s, since its subjects are fine aristocrats and their fate is crueler.
Filostrato’s tale takes aim at Neifile’s tale and Emilia’s, both of which claimed that the lowly are as subject to the power of love as the mighty. But in contrast to the main argument about class and character in the book (that personal integrity is a better sign of worth than wealth or status), Filostrato openly claims that aristocratic lovers are more important (and their tragic affairs have more pathos) than their social inferiors.
In Provence, there are two grand knights who are the best of friends: Guillaume de Roussillon and Guillaume de Cabestanh. Cabestanh happens to fall hopelessly in love with Roussillon’s Wife; flattered by the attentions of such a noble man, she reciprocates and the two become passionate lovers. But one day, Roussillon spies them in the act, turning his great love for Cabestanh and his wife to hatred.
Good fortune or bad, the affair between Cabestanh and his best friend’s wife shows that everyone is powerless to resist the pull of love. In this case, the fact that the two knights are barely distinguishable, including having the same name, makes love’s power feel especially random: although Roussillon’s wife is flattered by Cabestanh’s attentions, there’s nothing to indicate that she is unhappy with her husband or that her lover is in any way a better lover or more noble knight.
Roussillon invites Cabestanh to his home to discuss travel arrangements for an upcoming tournament, but he lies in wait to ambush and murder him. Then Roussillon cuts out Cabestanh’s heart.
Although Roussillon’s anger at his wife and best friend makes sense, his ambush of Cabestanh, because it deprives the other man of the chance to defend himself, is dishonorable. Thus, while his wife’s affair hurt his pride, it is giving in to his excessive, murderous rage that compromises his honor.
Roussillon’s Wife, anticipating Cabestanh’s visit, is perturbed when her husband returns home alone. Roussillon gives the heart—claiming it’s from a boar—to the cook and asks him to make it into a particularly fine dish for supper. He serves the heart to his wife, who finds it so delicious that she eats every last morsel. Roussillon tells her that he’s not surprised she likes the cooked heart since she enjoyed it so much when it was alive.
Feeding his wife her lover’s heart mirrors the “gift” Tancredi sends to his daughter, which is actually her lover’s heart (VI, 1). The cannibalistic elements in this tale come from Greek mythology, specifically the story of Thyestes, who was unknowingly served his own sons to eat in an act of revenge by his lover’s husband. But they also literalize metaphors used to describe love, including the idea of lovers exchanging hearts and love’s all-consuming nature.
After a heavy silence, Roussillon’s Wife asks what Roussillon has given to her to eat. He confesses it was the heart of Cabestanh. Despite her anguish, she maintains her composure. She admonishes Roussillon for his cruelty towards his friend, saying that she ought to have been punished instead since she freely gave the man her love. Swearing that no other food will ever pass her lips, she throws herself out a window. Because of its height, she’s not only killed by the fall but horribly disfigured. Panicked and repentant, Roussillon flees, and when the sordid affair becomes common knowledge, the people prepare one tomb for Cabestanh and Roussillon’s Wife, recording their story on the tombstone.
Roussillon’s wife, despite her husband’s chilling words, maintains her composure instead of giving into womanly emotion. In contrast, Roussillon’s excessive act of revenge, because it involved murdering his friend, has marked him as a criminal and forces him to flee. In addition,by leading to his wife’s death, it brings him more shame by revealing the affair publicly.