The ladies of the company, “on tenterhooks” while waiting to hear the lovers’ fate, rejoiced and thanked God for their release. The queen commands Lauretta to tell the next tale, and she cheerfully begins. In Sicily during the reign of King William the Second, a nobleman named Amerigo Abate lives in Trapani with his many children.
The ladies’ reaction to the suspense of the story—even though the day’s theme means it had to have a happy ending—is a description of “narrative catharsis,” the purification or purgation of negative emotions through experiencing a work of art, specifically a play or a story. The brigata left Florence to escape the horrors of the plague, and they tell stories to pass the time and as a pleasant form of entertainment. Thus, their reaction to the preceding story in this moment allows Giovanni Boccaccio to dramatize (in a story) the very work of emotional rebalancing that (good, emotionally powerful) stories can accomplish in their audiences.
Needing servants to care for his estate and family, Amerigo Abate buys some children, “believing them to be Turkish,” who were captured by Genoese pirates along the Armenian Coast. One, named Teodoro, stands out from the rest of the “rustic … stock” due to his good looks and well-bred manners. He grows up more under the direction of his “innate good breeding” than the “accident of his menial status,” becoming so poised and agreeable that Amerigo grants his freedom, sponsors his conversion, and baptizes him as “Pietro.”
Medieval Christian social norms and laws disallowed owning other Christians as slaves (although they could be servants). Thus Amerigo purchases “Turkish,” or Muslim children. However, the fact that they were captured along the Armenian coast should have made him cautious; the Kingdom of Armenia practiced Christianity and had become a strong ally of European kingdoms in the Crusades. Teodoro’s differences from the other children, in both looks and manners, strongly suggest that he is a Christian Armenian at the very least, and likely a member of the nobility as well—all factors that should protect him from being enslaved. And he earns Amerigo’s trust through the power of his innate good character, despite the accidents of fortune that have led to his enslavement (like Guisfredi and the Outcast in III, 6).
Teodoro (Pietro) and Violante (one of Amerigo Abate’s daughters) fall in love. Given his menial status, they cannot express their feelings publicly. One hot day, Amerigo’s Wife and a company of ladies and servants (including Violante and Teodoro) are in the country when a storm approaches. As they hurry home, Violante and Teodoro find themselves separated from the group, and when hail starts to fall, they shelter in a crumbling farm cottage. Huddled together under the insufficient scrap of roof, they move from declaring their love to hand-holding to kissing to sex.
Teodoro and Violante’s love recognizes Teodoro’s inherent character as more important than the menial social status he has as a servant and former slave. Their apparent social mismatch also demonstrates the power of love, which will bring together whoever it wishes without regard for social considerations like class status. The shenanigans Teodoro and Violante get up to while sheltering from the storm show why young women weren’t generally allowed out without chaperones, since their virtue needed strenuous protections. The other women in the party, especially the mother, are supervising the young woman, although fortune brings the storm at just the right moment to give the lovers the privacy they need to declare and act on their feelings. The storm also alludes to the story of Dido and Aeneas in Virgil’s Iliad, who are also trapped by a storm in a cave, with similar consequences to Violante and Teodoro.
After that day, they meet at the cottage regularly until Violante becomes pregnant. When she’s unable to abort the pregnancy, Teodoro (Pietro) plans to flee, sure that she will be forgiven but that he will be executed for taking advantage of Amerigo Abate’s daughter. Violante convinces him to stay by promising to keep his name out of her scandal. When she confesses to Amerigo’s Wife, she’s taken to the country to have the baby secretly. But Amerigo happens to be passing by when Violante is in labor. Hearing the commotion, he bursts into the room and threatens to kill Violante until she confesses that Teodoro fathered her son.
The discussion between Violante and Teodoro about how to handle the pregnancy illustrates the unequal risks they face, based on their distinct gender and class identities. The damage to Violante’s reputation is inevitable since her pregnancy will soon visibly declare her lost virtue to the world. The damage to Teodoro is less inevitable, since he will only come to harm if he is revealed to be the baby’s father. Yet, both assume that Teodoro would be more vulnerable to punishment for the affair than Violante, who is a noblewoman and Amerigo’s daughter. Still, this plan hinges on Violante’s ability to hold her tongue, even in the face of the murderous rage her father expresses when he learns about the illegitimate pregnancy.
Amerigo Abate has Teodoro (Pietro) arrested, and the local magistrate, Messer Currado, sentences him to be publicly whipped, then hanged. This isn’t enough to quench Amerigo’s rage, and on the day of the execution, he orders Violante to kill herself by poison or dagger, after which a servant will kill her baby. But going to the gallows, Teodoro passes some Armenian noblemen, passing through town on their way to Rome. One of them, Phineas, notices Teodoro’s strawberry birthmark and is reminded of his son, who was kidnapped years before by pirates.
Unfortunately for the lovers, Amerigo falls victim to excessive rage over their transgressions, which recalls the overreactions of other fathers and lovers in Day 4’s tales, specifically Tancredi (IV, 1) and Guillaume de Roussillon (IV, 9). It also emphasizes the vulnerability of Violante, as a woman, to both his rage and his parental authority. And the audience’s sense that his rage is somehow inappropriate is increased with the sudden suggestion that Teodoro may not be a lowly servant after all, but an eligible nobleman who could honorably marry Violante (as Ricciardo Manardi and Catrina quickly married in V, 4). The recognition also reminds readers of the power of fortune, which evidently allowed Teodoro to be kidnapped in his childhood, but which intervenes now to save his life and reunite him with his father.
In the Armenian language, Phineas asks Teodoro about his past and Teodoro answers that his Armenian father’s name was Phineas. Phineas pushes through the crowd, tearfully embraces Teodoro, and drapes his silk cloak over the young man. He then hurries to Messer Currado, informing him that Teodoro is not a slave but a freeborn man willing to make his relationship with Violante right by marrying her. Cursing the waywardness of fortune, Currado stays the execution and calls for Amerigo Abate who, having stopped Violante’s forced suicide (which was held up by her indecision between the poison and the dagger), apologizes profusely for everything and declares his delight at the prospect of having Teodoro as a son-in-law.
Teodoro has consistently demonstrated his noble character despite the caprices of fortune. Now, when Phineas wraps him in a fine cloak, it is a visual confirmation of his noble class status. It’s also a touching moment that makes literal and visible a father’s love and protection for his child—in contrast to Amerigo, who enslaved other men’s children illegitimately and now is trying to get his own daughter to kill herself rather than protecting her. Currado may curse fortune, but it’s also thanks to fortune that Teodoro’s identity was recovered by a father that happened to be passing through town at the right minute and that Amerigo’s attempt to erase all evidence of the couple’s transgressions from existence was foiled by Violante’s indecision.
On hearing that Violante will marry him if he wishes, Teodoro (Pietro) has “the sensation of passing from Hell into Heaven at a single bound.” She is likewise relieved to learn that Teodoro is alive and ready to marry her. Their engagement is announced, Violante puts her son out to a wetnurse and recovers from her delivery, and after her confinement she presents herself to Phineas. After their wedding, Teodoro and Violante take their son and go to Armenia.
Teodoro feels his change in fortunes as a literal rise from heaven into hell, providing a nice emotional description of fortune’s wheel. And, while Teodoro and Violante do get their “happily ever after” moment, it doesn’t happen until the tale has described the necessary arrangements. Giovanni Boccaccio demonstrates his mastery of realistic detail in describing a delay for Violante to recover from childbirth and to find a wetnurse before the wedding. A wetnurse is a lactating woman who feeds another woman’s baby for her; until the 20th-century invention of infant formula, wealthy and aristocratic women frequently employed wetnurses (often low-class or common women, frequently slaves) to spare them the time and effort of feeding their own children.