The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 8: Eighth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
While the ladies consider Elena’s punishment grievous, their compassion is restrained by “the knowledge that she had partially brought [it] upon herself,” even if  Rinieri was “excessively severe and relentless, not to say downright cruel.” Fiammetta’s tale will show how lesser actions can avenge a wrong equally, rather than “out of all proportion to the original offense.”
The brigata acknowledges that Rinieri’s punishment of Elena was not, as he claimed, exactly equal to her crime. Yet, their distress over his cruelty is tempered by a feeling that Elena was to some extent to blame. This undercuts the ongoing claims that The Decameron is meant for the ladies’ delight, and the tale feels like a warning to the brigata’s women and to its female audience that they should be careful to stick to their assigned gender niche. To restore balance to the world of the brigata, the next tale will show a pure example of tit-for-tat, where the punishment and the crime are exactly equal.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
In Siena, Spinelloccio Tavena and Zeppa di Mino are best friends who live next door to each other. Spinelloccio is often at Zeppa’s house, allowing him and Zeppa’s Wife to become lovers. One day, when Zeppa is at home (unbeknownst to his wife), he watches them lock themselves into his bedroom. Despite his horror, he understands that making their affair public in any way will harm his reputation. He decides to take revenge that will satisfy his pride without scandal.
Zeppa’s decision to hold his tongue is based in part in the complex ties between female honor and the honor of the men around her: to publicly denounce his wife’s affair is to publicly declare himself to be a cuckold. So, he demonstrates moderation and self-control, wisely holding his tongue and using wit and intelligence to come up with a more appropriate—and private—response.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
After Spinelloccio Tavena leaves, Zeppa di Mino confronts Zeppa’s Wife, who confesses the affair. Promising to forgive her and not to harm Spinelloccio if she helps him with his plan, he asks her to invite him over the following day, then hide him in a chest in the bedroom. The next morning, when Zeppa and Spinelloccio are out and about, Spinelloccio invents a reason to excuse himself and goes to Zeppa’s wife. No sooner has he arrived than Zeppa himself returns, and Spinelloccio hides in the chest.
In confessing the affair, Zeppa’s wife not only does what’s right but also rehabilitates herself as a wife. Her former disobedience (sleeping around) can be corrected and forgiven if she helps her husband settle the score.
Themes
Men and Women Theme Icon
Zeppa di Mino asks Zeppa’s Wife to invite Spinelloccio’s Wife to breakfast. Upon her arrival, he sends his own wife to the kitchen, then takes her to the bedroom. He tells Zeppa’s wife that he discovered her husband with his wife the day before. Because he loves his friend, the only revenge he wants is exact justice: “he…possessed my wife, and I intend to possess you.” She declares herself willing to “bear the brunt of [his] revenge” if he preserves her relationship with Zeppa’s wife. After he agrees, they have sex on the chest where Spinelloccio Tavena is hiding. At first, he is enraged and wishes to scold his wife. But by the time they’re done, he feels that Zeppa’s justified revenge has been “civil and comradely.”
Spinelloccio’s wife shows remarkably little resistance to participating in Zeppa’s revenge plot—although his intent to possess her carries a latent threat that he will do so either with her cooperation (in which case, she also gets to pay her husband back for his infidelity) or by force—demonstrating her limited capacity for action in the context of the plans of the men around her. Another way in which the vulnerability of women—whose sexual chastity is a proxy for their husbands’ honor—is in play here is the fact that the original sin was committed by her husband and her friend, yet she is the one paying a price for it now. The wives, in this “revenge” tale, become objects of civil and friendly exchange between their husbands.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Get the entire The Decameron LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Decameron PDF
When Zeppa di Mino and Spinelloccio’s Wife are done, Zeppa’s Wife comes into the bedroom and acknowledges that her husband has paid her back in her own coin. Zeppa asks her to open the chest, and Spinelloccio Tavena climbs out. Now that he and Zeppa are even, he proposes that they share their wives between them, just as they have “always shared everything [else] in common.” All four live in perfect friendship, without arguments or disputes over this arrangement, from that day forth.
Now that the score is settled, in a scrupulously even way, the four members of this little interpersonal drama all formally declare that the upheaval is past. In this way, the tale comments on the excessive punishment enacted by Rinieri on Elena in the preceding tale (VIII, 7). It also opens the door for a non-traditional sexual arrangement that suggests the interchangeability of women.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon