The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 8: Sixth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Filomena’s tale, inspired by Elissa’s, also concerns Calandrino, Bruno, and Buffalmacco. A small country farm made up part of the dowry of Calandrino’s wife (Tessa). Every year they’re entitled to a pig, which they slaughter and preserve. One year, when Tessa remains in Florence due to bad health, Bruno and Buffalmacco go to the farm after Calandrino. Meeting his friends as if by chance, Calandrino shows off his fine pig to them.
In pre-modern marriages, women from families with any wealth would bring a “dowry” or bride-price into their marriages from their families. The farm at the center of this tale thus technically belongs to Tessa, although its goods are shared between the couple. This implies that the hapless and gullible painter is supported by his wife’s wealth, subtly underlining his foolishness.
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Calandrino plans to have the pig salted, then bring it back to his family in Florence. Bruno suggests that they should instead sell it and use the money to party, then tell Tessa it was stolen. Calandrino refuses, since he doesn’t want to provoke his wife’s wrath. Bruno suggests to Buffalmacco that they get Calandrino drunk, then steal it. 
Bruno and Buffalmacco, in this tale, show themselves to be mooches who enrich themselves or at least underwrite their fun lifestyles by taking advantage of their gullible friends, like Calandrino. While this fits the day’s theme of pranks and trickery, and while it seems to point to the importance of intelligence and common sense (which would keep Calandrino from a lot of suffering), the tale doesn’t resolve the tension created by their belief that they deserve to share in Calandrino’s fortune.
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Quotes
When his friends take him out and pay for drinks, Calandrino gets very drunk, forgetting to close the door when he stumbles home. This allows Buffalmacco and Bruno to walk in and take the pig. Calandrino is upset to discover the theft in the morning. He complains, and his friends wink at him as if believing that he followed their plan (sell the pig and pretend it was stolen). They offer to help him find the perpetrator by using the folk-magic “bread and cheese test,” substituting ginger candies and Vernacia wine to avoid raising the perpetrator’s suspicions.
In addition to his gullibility, Calandrino also illustrates the dangers of immoderation when he gets blind drunk, allowing his friends to easily steal his valuable pig. The bread and cheese test reflects a popular medieval folk belief that a liar would find him- or herself unable to swallow a piece of bread and cheese over which a magical formula had been recited.
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Calandrino gives Bruno money for the supplies. In Florence, he buys a pound of regular ginger candies from an apothecary, along with two specially marked candies made from bitter dog ginger. He and Buffalmacco offer to say the spell over the candies and help Calandrino hand them out to his neighbors.
The suggested substitutions of ginger candy and wine—which, according to Bruno and Buffalmacco, would disguise the fact that Calandrino is implicitly accusing his neighbors of theft—actually allow Bruno and Buffalmacco to disguise the fact that they’re tricking Calandrino.
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Get the entire The Decameron LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Decameron PDF
The next morning, Bruno and Buffalmacco bring the wine and candies to Calandrino and his neighbors. Explaining that Calandrino’s pig was stolen and that they are going to find the perpetrator, Bruno explains the test: everyone will take an enchanted candy, and while the innocent will enjoy them, the guilty party will find his too bitter to swallow. They offer the perpetrator a final chance to confess before the trial, and when no one does, Bruno hands out the candies.
Bruno and Buffalmacco, by instigating the bread and cheese test, are getting out ahead of Calandrino, who was accusing his neighbors of the theft. If they can “prove” that Calandrino is himself guilty, they’ll be able to get away with their crime.
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As Bruno hands out the sweets, he gives the marked dog ginger one to Calandrino, who immediately spits it out. Suggesting that he may have spit it out accidentally, Bruno makes a great show of offering him another—which is also bitter, of course. To avoid embarrassment, Calandrino  tries to keep this one in his mouth, but it is too bitter, and he eventually spits it out. Bruno and Buffalmacco declare that he must have stolen his own pig, while neighbors scold him.
Bruno sells the trick by bringing everyone’s full attention onto Calandrino before offering him the second spiked candy.
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Calandrino protests his innocence to his companions, but Bruno claims that he’s heard that Calandrino has a country mistress to whom he sent the pig. He recalls the heliotrope incident and declares that Calandrino  can’t fool them anymore. He threatens to tell Tessa, unless Calandrino gives them some chickens. Hoping to avoid further trouble, Calandrino gives in, and after they’ve had the pig salted, Bruno and Buffalmacco carry it and the chickens home. 
Bruno and Buffalmacco demonstrate their superior intelligence by tricking Calandrino into giving them some fat chickens in addition to the pig they’ve already stolen. Their threat to tell Tessa about a made-up affair gets Calandrino to shut up because he doesn’t want to get in trouble with his wife. But their willingness to cause her emotional distress indicates a callous disregard for Tessa, a woman, even after she was the collateral victim of their earlier heliotrope prank.
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