Neifile’s tale will show how sometimes a bad man’s cunning can defeat a good man’s wisdom. In Siena, Cecco Angiulieri and Cecco Fortarrigo, although very different in character, bond over their mutual hatred of their fathers. When Angiulieri tires of living on his meager allowance, he hopes to live more grandly on the generosity of a certain cardinal. He arranges to receive six months’ allowance in advance to buy new clothes and a good horse so that he can present himself looking “reasonably respectable.”
Neifile’s tale of the two Ceccos illustrates the dangers of immoderation and offers a continuation of Day 8’s theme of tricks and pranks. As a nobleman, Angiulieri has the option of throwing himself on the generosity of the cardinal, since courtiers could expect generous gifts from their patrons (tale I, 7 illustrates this dynamic). But he must first look the part, which requires begging extra money from his father. The tale’s language emphasizes his moderation: he asks for as much money as necessary to look respectable, but not excessively fine or wealthy.
Cecco Fortarrigo wants to go with Cecco Angiulieri and offers to serve as his valet in exchange for room and board. Because Fortarrigo is an immoderate gambler, Angiulieri initially refuses, but Fortarrigo promises, begs, and pleads until he gives in. The first time they stop, however, while Angiulieri has a siesta, Fortarrigo visits a tavern, gets drunk, and starts gambling. After he loses all his money and his clothes, he steals Angiulieri’s money from his purse. When Angiulieri wakes up and discovers Fortarrigo missing, he guesses correctly that he’s drinking and gambling and decides to leave him behind.
In contrast, Fortarrigo’s primary traits seem to be impatience and excess: when he doesn’t initially get what he wants, he presses and presses until Angiulieri gives in. This foreshadows trouble to come, especially when it’s revealed that Fortarrigo has a problem with excessive drinking and excessive gambling. And true to form, he rapidly manages to lose not only his own money but also his friend’s.
But discovering that his money is missing, Cecco Angiulieri is delayed and is still at the inn when Cecco Fortarrigo, in just his undergarments, comes back with the intention of gambling Angiulieri’s clothes as well. He begs Angiulieri to stay and retrieve a doublet that Fortarrigo pawned for 35 shillings. When a passerby helpfully informs Fortarrigo exactly how much he lost, Angiulieri realizes that he took the money. Fortarrigo ignores Angiulieri’s anger, focused entirely on trying to redeem his doublet.
Fortarrigo’s gambling is so excessive that he’s lost not only his and Angiulieri’s money but also his clothes. His begging for the money to get his coat back is an almost parodic repetition of Angiulieri’s requests to his father for the money to get a suitable outfit to present himself to the cardinal. And he continues with the tactic that has been successful for him in the past: a refusal to back down, instead repeating his requests until he gets what he wants.
Eventually, Cecco Angiulieri becomes so distraught that he rides out of the town. Cecco Fortarrigo jogs behind him, continuing to ask for help retrieving his doublet. After a few miles, Fortarrigo sees some farmers and begins to yell for help. The farmers, assuming that the well-dressed rider robbed the naked man, instead of the other way around, detain Angiulieri. They won’t accept his version of the story, and they help Fortarrigo take his horse and clothing. Fortarrigo returns to Siena, claiming that he won Angiulieri’s belongings in a wager.
Although Angiulieri has done everything right (except take on Fortarrigo, a known gambler and drinker, as his valet), he is still vulnerable to Fortarrigo. Fortarrigo demonstrates cleverness—in the service of lies and cheating—when he realizes that he can use the optics of the situation to his advantage. And furthermore, he brags about his exploits on returning home, since his excessive nature renders him incapable of moderation or empathy.
So, instead of presenting himself as a rich gentleman to the cardinal, Cecco Angiulieri slinks away in his undershirt and stays with relatives until his father comes to his financial assistance. Although Cecco Fortarrigo wasn’t punished immediately, Angiulieri eventually got revenge, although that is another story.
Neifile’s story inverts the pranks and tricks from Day 8, almost all of which were justified by the behavior of a prank’s target. Although she asserts that Fortarrigo eventually got what was coming to him, she doesn’t share that part of the story, leaving the audience stuck with the unfairness of this tale, in which his malicious actions seem to be rewarded. In connection with Fortarrigo’s excessive nature, leaving the wrong he did to Angiulieri un-righted suggests that the idealized, moderate society represented by the brigata is perilously subject to failure in real life. But The Decameron won’t allow this view of the world as destabilized to stand, and several tales over the rest of the day will push back on it with examples of imbalances and excesses being corrected and evened out.