The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 5: First Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Panfilo addresses the ladies, saying that his tale not only shows the fate of happy lovers—the day’s theme—but also offers an important lesson about the ennobling nature of love.
The ennobling nature of love which Panfilo’s tale explores is what sets fin’amors (refined loving) apart from other ideas about love. Although other tales have shown how love either recognizes or enhances the stature of true lovers, this tale will present a more literalized example of love’s power.
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In Cyprus, a rich, noble gentleman named Aristippus is cursed with a son who is as unintelligent as he is handsome. Despite the efforts of his father and tutors, Galesus can’t remember his lessons or his manners. Thus, everyone thinks of him more as an animal than a person, and he’s called “Cimon,” or “simpleton.” Aristippus eventually sends him to live in the country, where his lack of education and boorish manners will be less evident, and Cimon is happy there, attending to his father’s estates.
Cimon brilliantly illustrates the idea that class status, wealth, and appearance are poor indicators of a person’s worth: although he has all three, he is a barely educated, uncouth bumpkin. The fact that he can’t be educated or civilized but that he can be trusted with some of his father’s business suggests that he’s unwilling—not unable—to learn his lessons or behave appropriately. And while Cimon demonstrates that rich people can be yokels, too, the tale can’t resist the classist assumption that country people tend to be less intelligent and accomplished than others, making Cimon feel right at home.
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One May morning, Cimon stumbles on a lovely young woman and her attendants, sleeping beside a cool fountain in a beautiful wood. The vision of this scantily clad beauty wakes a “certain feeling” in the “uncouth breast” that had been so resistant to education and improvement. Cimon thinks this woman (later identified as Iphigenia) is the “loveliest object that any mortal being had ever seen.” He thinks about rousing her, but he’s afraid that she might be a goddess and doesn’t want to incur her wrath.
Cimon has stumbled into a typical romance setup, with its springtime date, idyllic setting, and water feature, and it’s worth noting that his journey towards excellence begins in the same kind of place where the brigata are telling their tales. Other features of typical medieval romances in this meeting are Iphigenia’s extreme, almost other-worldly beauty and Cimon’s love at first sight.
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Quotes
Waking to discover a man staring at her, an astonished Iphigenia recognizes Cimon. His reputation precedes him, and his staring makes her worry that he might attack her. She wakes her servants and tries to “bid [him] good day,” but Cimon insists on escorting her home. Cimon then goes back to his father’s house, declaring that he no longer wishes to live in the country.
Iphigenia fears that Cimon will rape her, a reaction based in part on feminine vulnerability and in part on his wild and uncivilized reputation. He discredits her fears when he walks her safely home, but he also disregards them. In this story, then, Iphigenia is less an individual in her own right than a tool for love to accomplish its ennobling of Cimon. Notably, her attempts to dismiss him are the only time she speaks for herself in the tale.
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Cimon’s previously impenetrable heart, having been pierced by Love’s arrows, is so roused by Iphigenia’s beauty that he undergoes a complete transformation. He starts wearing nice clothes, associating with other young gentlemen, improving his manners, and applying himself to study zealously enough to become a “paragon of intelligence and wit.” Over four years, Cimon is transformed and the “lofty virtues” which were his birthright—but which fortune had locked away in his heart—were released by love’s power.
While the ways in which love ennobles its disciples in medieval romances are generally more subtle, in this tale, love literally becomes Cimon’s teacher and he becomes as superlatively intelligent as a nobleman as he was exceptionally uncouth as a  bumpkin. His education also brings his internal disposition in line with his wealth and class status, showing that while these accidents of fortune don’t guarantee a person’s worth, they can greatly augment the value of a man with a noble spirit. His story also argues that, between love and fortune, love is the stronger power, in what might be a gentle rebuke to Filostrato’s insistence on hearing about unfortunate lovers on the previous day.
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Aristippus, pleased with the transformation of his “ass” son “into a man,” encourages Cimon to “taste Love’s pleasures to the full.” But Cimon refuses to approach Iphigenia dishonorably, instead repeatedly asking her father for permission to marry her. But her family has arranged her marriage to Pasimondas, a gentleman from Rhodes. When it's time for Iphigenia’s wedding, Cimon knows he must prove his devotion and use the manly virtues Iphigenia awakened in him. He enlists a group of men to carry off Iphigenia while she sails to Rhodes.
Cimon’s insistence that he will only have an honorable relationship with Iphigenia demonstrates the totality of his transformation and proves that his love is the true and enduring kind, although it also offers a subtle reminder of women’s dependence on their lovers being this honorable. Yet when his father raises the possibility of having her by force, it reminds the audience of women’s vulnerability to the men around them. Her arranged marriage to another man instigates the next phase of Cimon’s education, in which he will have to show his military prowess to win her back from a rival in a distant land.
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Cimon and his men overtake Iphigenia’s ship, and Love inspires him to act with vigor and bravery. The sailors soon surrender, turning Iphigenia over when Cimon explains that she is all he wants. Despite his avowals that his “constant love” gives him “more right to possess” her than Pasimondas, Iphigenia is distressed by this turn of events. Cimon steers his ship towards Crete, but fortune intervenes to turn his “boundless joy” into “sad and bitter weeping.”
From Cimon’s perspective—and the main perspective of the tale—his love for Iphigenia gives him a more legitimate claim on her than the man whom she is going to marry. While the tale shows us her tears, it doesn’t indicate whether her distress is a response to the sudden turn of events and the violent takeover of the ship or a sign that she doesn’t want to be with Cimon. But since she is just the inspiration for Cimon’s improvement, her desires are unimportant and therefore unconsidered in the tale. Although Day 5’s lovers are eventually successful, the day’s theme still calls for an exploration of fortune, the caprice of which is on full display in the quick turn of Cimon’s luck from bad to good and back to bad.
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Within a few hours, a violent storm blows the ship off course. Iphigenia blames Cimon, believing it’s divine punishment for kidnapping or for trying to marry her against the gods’ will. When hope is almost lost, an island appears. Unaware that it’s Rhodes, the company safely shelters their ship in the exact same bay as Iphigenia’s ship. With the light of dawn, they realize the precarity of their situation and try to sail away but are run aground. As Cimon and his company try to steal into the woods, they’re recognized, seized by a mob of Rhodians, and carried to the magistrate, Lysimachus.
Fortune continues to play with Cimon and his crew throughout the night, compressing an entire quest’s worth of changing luck into just a few hours. It’s also notable that fortune doesn’t pick sides: Cimon has been ennobled by his love, but this hasn’t exempted him from the caprice of fortune.  
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Cimon is imprisoned while the Rhodian noblewomen comfort Iphigenia and prepare for her wedding. Pasimondas wants Cimon to be executed, but he receives a life sentence instead, since he hadn’t killed any of the Rhodian ship’s crew. This allows fortune to lay the groundwork for freeing him. Lysimachus loves Cassandra, fiancée of Ormisdas, Pasimondas’s brother. Their wedding has been postponed several times, but now arrangements are made for a double wedding and Lysimachus plans to abduct Cassandra first.
The fact that Iphigenia needs to be comforted yet again suggests that she doesn’t want Cimon’s love, but since the tale focuses on his improved character and she is just a means to accomplish that, her desires remain unexamined. Likewise, the tale clearly describes Lysimachus’s love for Cassandra, but doesn’t provide any insight into her desires. In contrast to the lustful and dishonest judges seen in Day 4’s tales, Lysimachus is upright and fair, so the fact that his own frustrated love parallels Cimon’s serves to reinforce Cimon’s claim on Iphigenia.
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Reasoning that Cimon would be a loyal accomplice, Lysimachus sends him a message complimenting his love-inspired evolution from “insensate beast” to an extraordinarily brave and noble man, laying out the similarity of their situations regarding Iphigenia and Cassandra, and promising Cimon the restoration of his liberty and his lady in exchange for his help. Cimon readily agrees. Lysimachus proposes that they enter the house on the night of the wedding feast, kidnap the ladies in plain sight, and sail away quickly.
Lysimachus flatters Cimon in part to gain a co-conspirator. But his approval for the change in Cimon also reiterates the importance of internal character in establishing a person’s worth and reasserts the importance and power of love as a force in human affairs.
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On the appointed day, Lysimachus frees Cimon. Then, executing their plan with military precision, they enter the brothers’ house and carry off Iphigenia and Cassandra (crying and screaming), and murder Pasimondas and Ormisdas. Leaving the house full of “blood, tumult, and tears,” they run to the ship, “carrying their spoils before them,” and then they sail to a joyous welcome from friends and relatives in Crete. They marry their ladies in a splendid ceremony, and after a period of exile, each returns home to live “happily ever after.”
This tale, while celebrating the ennobling force of love, also graphically depicts the affinity between love and violence. Ultimately, neither man is punished or held accountable for what amounts to premeditated, cold-blooded murder because it was done in the name of love. Yet the desires of Iphigenia and Cassandra still remain beyond the knowledge of the audience, emphasizing their role as prizes for male possession rather than their humanity.
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Quotes