The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 6: Sixth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Panfilo’s story mentioned the Baronci, which inspires Fiammetta’s tale. In Florence, Michele Scalza is visiting some friends who argue about who is the most ancient and noble Florentine family. Michele declares that no one knows what they’re talking about and that the most ancient and noble family—not just in Florence, but in the whole world—is the Baronci, and he’s willing to wager supper for six on his ability to prove it.
The young men at the heart of this tale match wits on many topics, and Michele uses this as an opportunity to show off his special skills of wit and repartee—fitting in with the day’s theme. And, because it invokes the idea of well-established families and nobility, it seems that the tale will provide further commentary on the relationship between class and nobility of spirit. 
Themes
Class and Character Theme Icon
Neri Mannini takes the bet, with their host, Pietro di Fiorentino, acting as judge. Pietro listens first to Neri’s, then to Michele Scalza’s argument. Michele starts with the common understanding that a family is more noble the older it is. And he can easily prove that the Baronci line is the most ancient of all. When God made them, he was still “learning the rudiments of his craft,” so they came out ill-formed and ugly. Asking everyone to picture their excessive ugliness as proof, he rests his case. Everyone agrees, declaring Michele the winner. This is why Panfilo compared Forese da Rabatta’s appearance to the Baronci.
In making his joke at the expense of the Baronci (a historical family of Florentine merchants), Michele’s argument mocks the idea that physical appearance, wealth, and social status prove a person’s merit. The Baronci are ugly because their line is ancient, and neither their looks nor their well-established family name say anything, in this tale, about their virtue or character as a family. Michele’s joke about the Baronci can therefore be interpreted as an exaggeration that mocks standard measures of a person’s worth such as wealth, name, or appearance. Nevertheless, while his clever argument fits with the day’s theme, it is also startling in its unkindness towards a family who had living members in Florence in Giovanni Boccaccio’s day. It's also blasphemous in its suggestion that God (who is understood to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfect in Christian theology) had to practice to figure out how to make beautiful human forms, and for this reason, it was frequently skipped or heavily edited by The Decameron’s early editors and translators.
Themes
Class and Character Theme Icon