The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 5: Sixth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Pampinea, noting the power of love to induce people to face risks and endure great hardships, begins her tale next. On Ischia, Restituta—daughter of Marin Bòlgaro—and Gianni are in love. Gianni frequently swims the channel between his island and hers at night just to catch a glimpse of the walls of her home.
Restituta’s name literally means “something stolen or lost having been returned to its rightful owner,” so even before the story truly begins, readers are primed to expect that she will be lost, then recovered, by Gianni. His swimming across the channel at night recalls the Greek myth of Hero (a virginal priestess of Aphrodite, the goddess of love) and Leander, who would swim across the river to woo her. Their love ended tragically, but on Day 5 of The Decameron, the audience can expect a better fate for Restituta and Gianni.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
One day, Restituta is surprised and kidnapped by a band of Sicilian pirates. When they argue about who gets to keep her, they decide to present her as a gift to King Frederick of Sicily, a man “much addicted to pretty things of that sort.” He likes this gift, but as he’s currently feeling somewhat unwell, he puts her in a villa inside his garden for safekeeping until he can enjoy her. Learning about the abduction, Gianni hires a frigate and sets off to find Restituta. When he learns that she was given to King Frederick in Sicily, the power of his love narrowly keeps him from despair.
Although Restituta’s abduction is bad luck, her fortunes improve somewhat when the pirates’ argument prevents them from raping her themselves and when King Frederick’s illness prevents her from immediately becoming his concubine. The pirates and the king, all men, consider Restituta not as a human being but as a pretty “thing,” which highlights her vulnerability and reduces her to an object rather than a human being. The pirates attempt to leverage the power of gifts when they offer something so pretty to King Frederick, which can only enhance their reputation in the eyes of their sovereign. And until he can enjoy his new toy, the king stores Restituta in a walled garden. This both forms her prison and suggests the amorous plans he has for her in the future, since gardens are places for love in The Decameron. Gianni proves his worthiness as a lover when he immediately sets out after Restituta, and when the strength of his love keeps him from losing all hope.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
In Sicily, Gianni catches sight of Restituta when he’s walking past the garden one day. She shows him how he can enter the garden and climb through her window. In the past, she had “treated him rather cruelly” because she wanted to preserve her chastity. But now, knowing what to expect from King Frederick, she feels that it’s lost anyway. Between this and her gratitude towards Gianni for coming after her, she decides to “gratify his every desire.” But in the middle of the night, a recovered King Frederick remembers her existence. When he enters the room preceded by a “blazing torch,” he discovers her entangled in Gianni’s arms.
In the paradigm of fin’amors (refined loving), there are very few reasons to say “no” to a worthy lover, so Restituta’s earlier refusal to have sex with Gianni is interpreted in this tale as “cruelty,” or inhumane behavior. Yet, the tale clearly states that Restituta’s refusal was based in her desire to preserve her virginity, an important consideration in a patriarchal culture that valued women according to their sexual chastity. This moment shows the conflict between cultural and social pressures that constrained women’s sexual freedom and codes of love that governed ideally consensual, well-matched amorous partners. It points to double standards between men and women, since Gianni would face few consequences (if any) for the loss of his virginity. And, since Restituta’s reasonable self-interest is interpreted through a male perspective, it is seen as selfish cruelty. But all considerations of female chastity and the lover’s claims fall aside, of course, when Restituta finds herself in a position where King Frederick is about to irredeemably ruin the value of her virginity. The king’s entrance, with a “blazing torch” in his hands, recalls the way King Agilulf visited his wife in an earlier tale (III, 2).
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Speechless with horror and rage, King Frederick nearly kills Restituta and Gianni right then. But feeling that killing sleeping victims is a coward’s act, he decides to burn them at the stake publicly instead. The lovers are arrested and tied back-to-back (still naked) to a stake to await their execution. Everyone in the city hurries to gawk at them. While they hang their heads in shame and curse their misfortune, the public admires her beauty and his good figure. Among the crowd is Ruggieri de Loria, who recognizes Gianni. Gianni explains that he’s there because of his love for Restituta and the wrath of the King. He asks Ruggieri to beg one last favor for him: that he and Restituta be allowed to face each other as they die.
King Frederick’s rage and thirst for vengeance are based in his sense that Restituta belongs rightfully to him, and an understanding that a woman’s value lies in her sexuality. Now that Restituta isn’t a virgin, she is much less valuable. His sense of ownership is complicated by the fact that she was kidnapped (stolen) and given to him by pirates, not to mention the fact that she is an autonomous human individual and that she and Gianni were in love, but this episode still speaks to the vulnerable status of women, who were dependent on the protection of men and whose value was judged by their sexuality above all else. Whatever King Frederick’s stated reasons for declining to murder the lovers privately, his public punishment also suits his vengeful mood. Displaying Restituta naked in public underscores his feeling that he has more of a right to control her body than she does; since she didn’t keep her body virginal for him, he now denies her the right to keep it private at all.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
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The Decameron PDF
Ruggieri de Loria, at that time Admiral of the Royal Fleet, uses his clout to stay the execution while he talks to King Frederick. Acknowledging the wrong that the King has endured, Ruggieri nevertheless urges clemency towards Restituta and Gianni, since their families are politically important to the King. Moreover, they “sinned” under the power of love, not out of disrespect. Horrified, King Frederick repents the sentence and orders the immediate release of the lovers. Dressing them in fine clothes, he holds their wedding in Sicily and gives them magnificent gifts before sending them home to live happily.
While Ruggieri de Loria can talk King Frederick into clemency towards the lovers, he must do so in constrained terms. Pointing to the lovers’ families and their political importance implies that they wouldn’t have been freed for the sake of their love alone. Nevertheless, this tale does demonstrate the overwhelming power of love, which far exceeds the constraint of earthly powers, such as royal property rights and even fear of death. It’s also far more humiliating for nobles to have been publicly exposed than common folk, and the king makes up for this by dressing them in clothes that not only cover their nakedness but reassert their high class status. The gifts King Frederick gives the lovers also neatly turn the tables on the tale’s beginning; at first, Restituta was an illegitimate gift, but now that her fortunes have improved, she receives impressive gifts herself.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon