It would seem natural for Dioneo to tell a tale about a wife’s trick on her husband, since he picked the theme and because it fits with his previous stories. But he claims his special privilege again, telling a tale on his own theme, because someone else already told the one he planned on. Anyway, the theme of wives’ tricks has been admirably covered. He will tell a tale about the incredible simplicity and gullibility of the Sienese, already mentioned in Elissa’s tale.
Although Dioneo doesn’t tell a tale about a wife’s trick, his tale is tied to the day’s theme through its relationship with Elissa’s earlier story of Friar Rinaldo and his godchild’s mother.
In Siena, Tingoccio Mini and Meuccio di Tura are inseparable friends. From attending mass and hearing sermons, they become afraid of the life to come, so they make a pact that whoever dies first will come back and share as much information about the afterlife as possible. Not long afterward, Tingoccio becomes godfather to the son of Ambruogio Anselmini and Monna Mita. Soon, he has fallen secretly in love with Monna Mita, as has Meuccio, although neither admits their feelings to the other.
The apparently honest piety of Tingoccio and Meuccio is contrasted with the hypocrisy and legalism of the church. When Tingoccio falls in love with Monna Mita, his desires are not only adulterous (because she is married) but they are technically incestuous (since godparents were treated as blood relatives to a child’s family by medieval standards of relationship). Thus, between the two, Meuccio is in a better position to act on his love from a moral standpoint, while Tingoccio has more access to the lovely Mita. The fact that either is in love with her demonstrates the overpowering nature of love over human moral codes and behavior.
Because Tingoccio Mini has more reason to be in Monna Mita’s house, he successfully woos her, much to Meuccio di Tura’s dismay. But Tingoccio digs so much in Monna Mita’s rich garden that he falls ill and dies. And after a few days, as agreed, he appears to Meuccio in a dream with news of the afterlife.
Tingoccio’s love for Mita exceeds the bounds of propriety—since it is technically incestuous—and of health, since he has so much sex with her that he depletes his vital energy and dies. This tale uses the garden as a euphemism for Mita’s lady bits and equates sex with other forms of productive labor—which also appeared in Dioneo’s earlier tale of Ricciardo di Chinzica and Bartolomea (II, 10).
Meuccio di Tura tactfully tries to ask whether Tingoccio Mini is in Hell and learns that he’s in Purgatory. He gives Meuccio detailed information about what punishments various sins earn and confirms that, as they’ve been taught, giving alms and arranging for masses and prayers to be recited aids the souls of the dead. At the last minute, Meuccio remembers Monna Mita and asks about the punishment for making love to his godchild’s mother.
The idea of Purgatory—a place where those who are safe from the eternal torments of hell but who have sins left to atone for after death before they can get into heaven—developed across the 13th century and was still relatively new at the time that Giovanni Boccaccio composed The Decameron. Thus, some confusion and questions about sins and punishments is understandable, but Meuccio’s questions also display a distrust in the institution of the Roman Catholic Church and its laws. This tale aligns with the book’s larger argument about the primacy of faith over legalistic observance in its endorsement of charitable behavior, even while it gleefully disregards the church’s more legalistic stance on extramarital and incestuous sex.
Tingoccio Mini answers that he found himself among a large company of sinners, and when he remembered that specific sin, he was afraid that he would suffer much worse for it. Noticing his trembling, a fellow sinner asked what he was afraid of, then declared, “There’s nothing special down here about the mother of a godchild.” Meuccio di Tura hears this with relief, laughing at his stupidity for avoiding the mothers of his own godchildren in the past. And, Dioneo declares, if Friar Rinaldo only knew this much, he wouldn’t have had to work so hard to convince Madonna Agnesa to sleep with him.
The ending of this tale clearly disdains the narrow legalistic prohibitions of the medieval church. In this view, the church is no better able to know which sins are mortal (deserving eternal damnation) or not than a normal person. Similarly, by excusing a relationship both adulterous and incestuous in the eyes of the conventional church, it doesn’t just describe the irresistible power of love over human behavior, it celebrates it. This attitude of sexual free-for-all, where anything short of homosexual behavior (condemned in other tales) goes, demonstrates the work’s blossoming humanism, which centers human beings rather than legalistic moral codes.