As the laughter over Friar Cipolla’s relics dies down, Elissa places the crown on Dioneo’s head. Claiming that the kings on a chessboard are worthier than he is, he promises to do his best. Recalling Liscia’s claims about women’s tricks, he proposes that the next day’s tales will focus on the tricks women play on their husbands, whether they get away with it or not. The ladies protest that it is an inappropriate subject, but Dioneo replies that the chaos of the current age—during the Plague—gives people more license. And anyway, refusal to talk about women’s “little peccadilloes” suggests that they have guilty consciences. After this, they agree.
Dioneo’s self-deprecating remarks (suggesting his inability to exercise authority over the brigata) stand in contrast to the easy self-assurance he usually displays in telling humorous, often vulgar stories. The theme he suggests connects to the argument among the servants in the morning, but it also immediately suggests the fabliaux genre, which tells humorous and often vulgar stories about women pulling one over on their husbands. The conversation about whether this is an appropriate theme raises the idea of excess and moderation that runs throughout the book, and Dioneo’s retort echoes its larger argument that moral rectitude (such as that shown by the brigata) tames nearly all kinds of excess.
Because the sun is still high in the sky, the men fall into a game of dice while Elissa takes the ladies to the nearby Valley of the Ladies. It can only be entered by a narrow path. Its floor is a perfect circle surrounded by six hills, each topped with a castle. The hillsides flow down in terraces to the valley floor; the south-facing ones are covered by fruit trees, and the north-facing ones by hardwoods. The valley floor is filled with cypress, bay-trees, firs, and pines, which shade the soft grass floor and the little flowers that dot it.
Of all the loci amoeni (“pleasant places”) which Giovanni Boccaccio provides for his narrators to tell their tales, the Valley of the Ladies receives the greatest attention. This valley immediately suggests the peace and safety that the brigata seek in the countryside, since it’s only accessible through one well-hidden pathway. Moreover, it is a vision of a beautiful natural setting on which human ingenuity has imposed a sense of moderation, balance, and order. In this way, more than any of the other gardens, it symbolizes the power and goodness of moderation as a force in society, and as a personal virtue.
A stream cascades down between two of the hills, filling the valley with its soothing sound. It flows through a channel to a central lake. This lake is also perfectly circular, and not very deep; its waters are crystal clear, and it’s filled with fish. Since they’re alone and it is hot, the ladies undress to swim, and the water doesn’t obscure their lovely bodies. They try to catch the fish by hand. After they exit the water, dress, and return to the men, Pampinea describes the Valley to Dioneo, Panfilo, and Filostrato.
Although the men of the brigata are safely behind in the old garden, and the ladies are in the valley alone, the hints about their lovely nude bodies make the book’s audience into leering voyeurs. The contrast between their supposed privacy and their actual vulnerability to the readers’ gaze suggests the vulnerability of women to objectification and control by men and their society that is on display throughout The Decameron. And it’s another moment where Boccaccio’s claims to love and respect the ladies in theory seem to fall apart in practice—although he doesn’t describe their lovely bodies in detail, he clearly states that he could see them in full through the clear water.
After supper, Dioneo, Panfilo, and Filostrato travel to see the Valley of the Ladies for themselves. They return to find the ladies dancing, and after discussing the Valley’s beauty, they all decide to hold their storytelling there the next day. Panfilo begins the first dance at Dioneo’s request, and Elissa sings.
The men are just as charmed by the Valley of the Ladies’ marriage of nature and rational order as the women were, so they decide to spend the following day there. Thus will the most chaotic theme (suggesting the subversion of gender norms that place men in authority over women and the subversion of the marital vows that bind people together) be tamed somewhat by taking place in the most moderate and balanced setting.
Elissa’s song causes some puzzlement. In it, a young woman who thought love was peaceful discovers that it’s vicious and violent. She feels ambushed and abused. Love took her prisoner and has made her suffer and pine so much that her beauty has faded. She prays either for death or restoration.
Elissa’s song engages in the themes and metaphors of fin’amors (refined loving). Ahead of Day 7, which will focus on tales of lust and trickery, she describes being tricked by Love, which tempted her with sweet affections but then turned around and imprisoned her in the painful suffering of unrequited love. The song’s narrator has lost her beauty, which both suggests the power of love and also hints at the fleeting nature of love and youth.