Filomena’s tale has reminded Pampinea of another one about Geri Spina. It shows that, while nature sometimes gives bad characters to noble people, fortune often gives noble characters to lowly people. One example is Cisti, a common baker but still a “man of exceedingly lofty spirit.” After some remarks about why fortune might put noble spirits in bourgeoise men—because burying treasures often protects them from theft—Pampinea begins.
The Decameron’s ongoing argument about the inherent nature of worth—saying that a person’s merit is based on their character rather than external factors—intersects with fortune like this frequently. Class and wealth are accidents of fortune, and it’s just as possible for a commoner like Cisti to act nobly as it is for a nobleman to act distastefully, Pampinea’s comments about the rivalry between nature and fortune intersect with the tale of Cimon (V, 1), whose nobility, granted to him by nature, was for a time constrained and hidden by fortune.
When the Pope sends a delegation of emissaries to Florence to make peace between warring factions, Geri Spina is their host. Each day, they pass Cisti’s bakery while conducting their business. Cisti is of humble origins, but his bakery has made him rich, and he has an excellent wine cellar. He wants to offer hospitality to Geri and his eminent guests, without directly inviting them to his humble home.
Although he’s not a nobleman, and therefore wouldn’t be an appropriate host for these important diplomats, Cimon’s wealth and good taste mean that he has what it would take to properly entertain them: good wine and a hospitable attitude. But because it would be rude to cross class lines in this way, he must resort to tempting the men into asking to join him rather than just directly inviting them.
Instead, Cisti sits outside when they pass, drinking wine from a sparkling glass with evident delight. On the third morning of this show, Geri Spina asks if the wine is good, and Cisti offers him a taste. Seating his guests on a bench, he washes four glasses and serves his best vintage. The emissaries and Geri say it’s the best they’ve ever tasted, and they begin to stop by daily.
Cisti demonstrates wit and cleverness in setting up such a tempting display with which to lure Geri Spina and the delegates to join him. Their approval, both of his wine and of his qualities as a host, cements a rapport between them, even if their class prevents them from being friends, which would imply equality.
Before the emissaries leave, Geri Spina hosts a final banquet. He invites Cisti, who declines. Wanting to impress his guests, Geri sends a servant to ask for some of Cisti’s wine. Because the servant takes a giant flask, Cisti tells him to get his wine from the Arno River instead. This retort shows Geri how greedy the servant seems, so he scolds the servant and sends him back with a smaller vessel.
Geri Spina is so impressed with Cisti that he is willing to cross class lines to invite the baker to his party—and doing so demonstrates his noble generosity of spirit. But because Cisti is unfailingly virtuous, he declines to play the part of a social climber. Cisti’s retort, which implies that the nature of Cisti’s request is excessive, offers gentle correction without implicating Geri, his social superior, with greediness. Fortunately, the mismatch arises from the servant’s rudeness and greed rather than any deficiency of character in Geri Spina himself.
Cisti happily sends wine to the banquet and brings the last of the vintage to Geri Spina later that day. Impressed by Cisti’s generosity and noble spirit, Geri holds him in esteem as a friend for the rest of his life.
Cisti’s generosity shows him to be a gentleman by character, if not by birth, since unstinting generosity is an idealized characteristic of the nobility.