The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 5: Third Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Elissa, eager to obey Fiammetta’s orders, begins her tale next. In Rome—lately turned from the head to the rump of the civilized world—a young gentleman named Pietro Boccamazza falls in love with Agnolella, the daughter of a common but well-respected man. Pietro wants to marry Agnolella, but his family refuses her because of her lowly status, so Pietro decides to defy them and elope with Agnolella.
The snarky comment about Rome being turned from the head of the world to its rump points towards the “Babylonian Captivity,” or the many decades where the Roman Catholic popes kept their court in Avignon (in France) rather than in Rome. Because the Roman Catholic Church was both a religious and a political power in the Middle Ages, the vacuum it left in Rome led to political and social upheaval. For Giovanni Boccaccio’s initial readers, the rough figures and danger encountered by Pietro and Agnolella in this tale would likely have felt like a realistic description of the contemporary situation. Pietro and Agnolella, like the protagonists of the preceding tale, are separated by a class barrier, although the respect that people seem to hold for Agnolella’s family indicates that the barrier can be breached.
Themes
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On the appointed day, the pair ride towards Anagni, where they hope to find shelter with friends. But when Pietro Boccamazza accidently choses the wrong fork of the road, they are quickly accosted by soldiers from a nearby castle. Agnolella spurs her horse in time to escape, but the soldiers capture Pietro. Since they belong to the political faction of his enemies, they decide to take his horse and hang him from a nearby tree.
Pietro’s choice of the wrong road seems to be the caprice of fortune, and the interruption of their plan to elope (at least on Day 5, when the audience knows to expect a happy ending) foreshadows an even happier ending, like their families agreeing to the marriage. In separating the lovers, though, fortune seems to have the assistance of love: Pietro is so smitten with Agnolella that he stops paying attention to where he’s going.
Themes
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But suddenly the soldiers’ enemies burst from the woods and Pietro Boccamazza seizes the opportunity to mount his horse and escape. Safe from the soldiers, he is nevertheless completely lost in the forest, and although he shouts and weeps, he cannot find Agnolella or anyone else. As night falls, he ties his horse to a tree, then climbs up into the branches to be safe from wild beasts. Heartbroken by the loss of Agnolella and afraid of falling, Pietro spends the night “groaning and cursing his misfortune.”
In this tale, fortune’s wheel spins very quickly, and over the course of mere minutes, Pietro’s luck goes from bad to good to worse. He’s right to bemoan his misfortune while sitting in the tree, since things do look especially bleak for him at this moment.
Themes
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Meanwhile, Agnolella is likewise lost. But as darkness falls, she happens upon a cottage where an Ancient Man and Ancient Woman live. They kindly offer to shelter her for the night. But while they can protect her from the elements, they can’t escape the lawless political situation, and they tell Agnolella she’s still at risk of being attacked by the bands of cut-throats that wander the forest.
In contrast to her lover, Agnolella finds a safe harbor in the woods (or at least a harbor that’s as safe as possible in the context of the political instability of the region). The threat of brigands in the woods emphasizes her female vulnerability—she’s even less safe than Pietro in his tree.
Themes
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In the small hours of the night, Agnolella hears brigands approaching. Just as she hides herself in a pile of hay, they force their way into the cottage, asking questions about her horse. Thinking quickly, the Ancient Man claims that it appeared, riderless, the previous evening. The thieves decide to take it, but they make and eat a meal before leaving. One thrusts his spear into the hay pile, where it grazes Agnolella’s chest, tearing her clothes. When the thieves have gone, the Ancient Man and Ancient Woman are relieved to see her emerge from the hay, and they take her to a nearby castle owned by Liello di Campo di Fiore and occupied by Liello’s Wife, who recognizes and welcomes Agnolella.
The fears of the ancient couple appear to be prophetic when brigands do indeed surprise them in the night. But because they’d warned Agnolella about the possibility, she thinks quickly and conceals herself. As when she and Pietro are first surprised on the road, her quick thinking saves her. Yet, the threat of rape and violence still hangs over the encounter, reminding the audience that Agnolella, by virtue of being a woman, is vulnerable to both.  
Themes
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Pietro Boccamazza sits overnight in the tree. His despair deepens around midnight when he watches wolves devour his only companion, his horse. Just before dawn, he sees a fire in the distance, and when day breaks, he climbs from the tree and heads in its direction. A group of shepherds eating breakfast offer him food and a chance to warm himself at the fire, and then they take him to Liello di Campo di Fiore’s castle. 
Although Pietro’s situation seems to parallel that of his unfortunate horse—surrounded by enemies and at risk of being devoured—fortune intervenes in the morning by leading him to a group of shepherds. Their kindness and generosity—like that of the ancient man and woman who shelter Agnolella—sharply contrast with the violence between the political factions in the area.
Themes
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Class and Character Theme Icon
Pietro Boccamazza is organizing a search party when Liello’s Wife summons him; in her room, he’s overjoyed to see Agnolella. He longs to embrace her but holds himself back out of a sense of propriety. At first, Liello’s Wife chastises him for trying to defy the wishes of his family, but when she sees the strength of his love, she decides that they deserve to be married since they both have noble characters and God miraculously preserved them for each other. She offers to throw their wedding celebration immediately and to make peace between their families over their marriage, after which Pietro and Agnolella live in peace and happiness.
Pietro demonstrates his steadfast love in trying to organize a search party, since going back into the woods to search for Agnolella would come at great personal risk with his family’s enemies at large in the forest. At first, Liello’s wife wants to interpret the couple’s misadventures as a punishment for trying to elope. But in her change of heart, she recognizes that they have equally honorable characters, despite their ostensible class difference. Her declaration for their marriage confirms the importance of personal character over wealth and status for which the tales, broadly speaking, argue.
Themes
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Class and Character Theme Icon