The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 6: Fifth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In his tale, Filostrato proposes to expand on Pampinea’s claim that fortune sometimes hides wit in humble men with proof that it also hides it in ugly people. In Florence, Forese da Rabatta is a brilliant lawyer despite an appearance so “deformed” it would make the Baronci look beautiful. Giotto is an artist of such “outstanding genius” that his realistic works make a “shining monument to the glory of Florence,” but who is at least as ugly as Forese.
In addition to providing narratives of retort and response, the narrators also use their tales to talk to and debate with each other as Filostrato expands on Pampinea’s earlier claims. Both of the men named in his tale were important and well-regarded Florentines. Although Giotto died while Giovanni Boccaccio was still a child, Filostrato isn’t exaggerating his importance to Italian art—and European art in general—so it’s unsurprising that Giovanni Boccaccio would know of and respect him deeply. In addition to being a lawyer, Forese was a powerful figure in Florentine politics throughout Boccaccio’s lifetime. Their physical ugliness contrasts sharply with their intellectual and artistic achievements in the tale, and offers a pointed reminder that internal rectitude and character are better indicators of a person’s worth than their physical appearance (or wealth, or class status).
Themes
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Quotes
Both Forese da Rabatta and Giotto own property just outside Florence, and one day they meet each other riding back to the city. Each is on an old, slow, and ugly horse. It starts to rain, so the venerable men take shelter, but when it shows no sign of letting up, they borrow some shabby old capes and hats from a peasant for protection and resume their ride. Within a few miles, these are soaked and mud-spattered.
The tale emphasizes the ugliness of Forese and Giotto by drenching them with rainwater and clothing them in ratty clothing. By the end of their ride, they both look totally ridiculous and bedraggled.
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Forese da Rabatta and Giotto strike up a conversation, and after a while, Forese turns towards his companion. Giotto’s “unkempt and disreputable” appearance makes him laugh, and he says that, if they meet a stranger who doesn’t already know him, the stranger will never believe that Giotto is a famous painter. Giotto replies that the stranger would believe this if he could give Forese credit for knowing the alphabet. Thus, Giotto strikes Forese with his own weapon.
Forese offers the first barb in this tale, but he’s met with an exactly equal retort from Giotto. Rather than the insults diminishing either man, their mutual wittiness is a credit to their character.
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