The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 5: Fifth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It takes a long time after Filostrato’s tale ends for the laughter to die down, and Fiammetta declares that he’s atoned for yesterday’s sorrows before asking Neifile to tell the next story.
The temporary imbalance and sadness introduced by Filostrato’s theme on Day 4 (lovers whose affairs ended in tragedy or misfortune) is balanced on a large scale by the theme of Day 5 (lovers who overcome difficulties and bad luck to find a happy ending). It’s also balanced on a small scale when Filostrato repents for his excessively tragic story on Day 4 (IV, 9, Roussillon’s wife eating her lover’s heart) with an exceptionally hilarious one.
Themes
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
In Fano, aged Lombard knight Guidotto da Cremona bequeaths his wealth (which includes a generous dowry for the girl’s eventual marriage) and his adopted daughter (later identified as Agnesa) to his friend Giacomino da Pavia. Giacomino takes Agnesa to Faenza. He lived there until it was torn apart by war, and now that peace has returned, he does too. He loves Agnesa and treats her as a daughter while she grows into a lovely and virtuous young woman.
As in Elissa’s recent story (V, 3), real political upheavals from the decades around when Giovanni Boccaccio composed The Decameron (in this case, the capture and plunder of Faenza by enemy forces) provide realistic details to create the backdrop to the tales.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Agnesa attracts the romantic attention of two young men, Giannole di Severino and Minghino di Mingole. Neither family will consent to a marriage, however, given the girl’s unknown parentage. Both young men resolve independently to “seize possession of her” by any means. Giannole cultivates Giacomino da Pavia’s servant Crivello, who can tell him when the master is out and Agnesa is at home undefended. Minghino secures the help of a maid, who carries his messages to Agnesa and encourages her to return the young man’s affections. One night when they both know that Giacomino will be out, they each make plans to allow their respective gentleman to see Agnesa. On the appointed evening, Giannole, Minghino, and their friends approach the house.
Because Agnesa is a foundling (a child found after being abandoned by its parents), her class status is unknown. Thus, although she’s raised by a wealthy knight who has saved enough money for a generous dowry, her marriage prospects are limited, since no one in the nobility wants to marry their sons to a girl of uncertain class (this is like Jeannette’s situation in II, 8). This doesn’t seem to bother either of her two suitors, although their desire to seize her by any means points to her vulnerability to rape and violence. Of the two, Minghino distinguishes himself slightly. While Giannole ingratiates himself with a servant who can give him access to the home (acting more like a burglar), Minghino sends messages through the maid to Agnesa (acting like a lover). This foreshadows which of the two will ultimately be successful.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Crivello lets Giannole di Severino in first and he immediately seizes Agnesa. But when she struggles and screams, Minghino di Mingole hears the commotion from the street and rushes in. Minghino’s men attack Giannole’s, and the chaos draws the attention of the whole neighborhood. Minghino manages to snatch Agnesa from Giannole and put her back in the house before the young men are arrested. When Giacomino da Pavia returns home, all is quiet, but he nevertheless plans to marry Agnesa off as soon as possible to prevent a reprise of the night’s events.
Minghino demonstrates his superiority as a lover when he not only rescues Agnesa from Giannole’s clutches but puts her back in the house for safekeeping instead of carrying her off for himself. She’s vulnerable to their violence and she becomes an object over which they fight, but Minghino’s humane treatment of her foreshadows a happy love to come.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
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In the morning, the families of the young men visit Giacomino da Pavia hoping to soften his desire for retribution against their sons. Giacomino responds that they haven’t wronged him, but rather one of their own, since his friend rescued Agnesa from Faenza. When the worthy men ask how Agnesa came to be in his care, he tells them that his friend, Guidotto da Cremona, found a two-year-old child while plundering houses in the city during the last war. Taking pity on the abandoned girl, he rescued her and brought her to Fano—along with the plunder, which he planned to use as her dowry. In the crowd, Guiglielmino da Medicina (who was with Guidotto at the time) asks another listener, Bernabuccio, if the story sounds familiar, since Bernabuccio lost a daughter around that time, who might be Agnesa.
Agnesa’s personal class status may be unclear, but she is under the protection of a powerful man, so the violent and predatory actions of Giannole and Minghino expose them to legal risk. This also provides an opportunity for him to finally share Agnesa’s backstory, which lays the groundwork for her identity to be revealed. The image of the kindly knight rescuing the abandoned child from her plundered home also contrasts with the previous night’s scene, where at least one man (Giannole) attempted to take her from her home for dishonorable reasons.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Guiglielmino da Medicina asks Bernabuccio if his daughter had any distinguishing birthmarks or scars; she had a cross-shaped scar above her left ear. Giacomino da Pavia gives him permission to examine Agnesa for this scar, which he finds. He tenderly embraces the surprised girl and then reveals that Agnesa is the daughter he thought had died in the earlier violent period. It turns out that Giannole di Severino is Agnesa’s brother. The magistrate frees him and brokers a peace between him and Minghino di Mingole. Soon afterwards, Agnesa and Minghino are married, subsequently living comfortable and peaceful lives.
The discovery that Agnesa is Guiglielmino’s long-lost daughter settles both the issue of her class (she’s a noble!) and her husband—since Giannole is her brother and thus can’t marry her, she goes to Minghino. While the tale set up his superiority as a suitor earlier, it is notable that the audience has no insight into Agnesa’s thoughts or desires in this tale. Thus, although the ending is ostensibly a happy one, she never rises above a quasi-human, objectified status. In other words, she’s more important as the possession over which two young men fight than as a human being in her own right.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon