The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 9: Sixth Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Niccolosa in Fiammetta’s tale has reminded Panfilo of a story about another woman by the same name. North of Florence in the Mugnone valley, a poor man makes his living selling food and drink to travelers. This Host lives with the Host’s Wife, their infant, and their teenage daughter, Miss Niccolosa.
Panfilo’s tale connects to the previous story through the similarly named Niccolosas, but it also recalls the theme of trickster wives and celebration of sexual conquest from Day 7. This tale is Giovanni Boccaccio’s adaptation of a classic French fabliau, from which Geoffrey Chaucer derived one of his Canterbury Tales as well (The Reeve’s Tale).
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Miss Niccolosa and a Florentine gentleman named Pinuccio have fallen in love but have not yet found a way to sleep together. Sometimes, the Host will offer overnight shelter to travelers he trusts. So Pinuccio and his friend Adriano load horses with fake merchandise and stop at the host’s home as if they’re returning from a trip. When they claim they can’t make it back by dark, the host invites them to stay. Pinuccio and Adriano provide the ingredients for a hearty supper that they share with the host and his family.
For Niccolosa, with her poor parents, Pinuccio is an upwardly mobile catch. The lengths to which Pinuccio goes to bed Niccolosa illustrates the power of love and enables him to prove his worth as a lover, since he has to overcome the challenge of getting through her father’s surveillance.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
The Host has one bedroom which holds three beds and a crib. He settles Pinuccio and Adriano in the “least uncomfortable” bed first. After he thinks they’re asleep, he puts Miss Niccolosa into the second. Then he and the Host’s Wife settle in the third, with the baby’s crib right next to it. When everyone else is asleep, Pinuccio sneaks into Niccolosa’s bed. While they’re having sex, both the host’s wife and Adriano get up: she to investigate a noise and he to pee. He trips on the crib and moves it alongside his own bed to get it out of the way. So, when the host’s wife returns, she climbs into his bed, where she receives his “cordial reception” with “delight and satisfaction.” 
The poverty and simple lives of the host and his family are underlined by their offer of the least uncomfortable bed to their guests. But Giovanni Boccaccio is also very explicit about the arrangement of the beds and the crib, because in his version, it’s not just the guests, but also the host’s wife that makes the rounds of the beds. The tale’s humor comes from the manic bed-switching and adds in a bonus trick when the host’s wife has sex with her guest thinking it’s her husband.
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
When Pinuccio finishes with Miss Niccolosa, he climbs back into the bed without the cradle, accidentally joining the Host, whom he thinks is Adriano. He boasts about going to the “bower of bliss” half a dozen times with the delicious Niccolosa, and the host protests at this dirty trick. This allows the Host’s Wife to realize that she’s in bed with Adriano. She gets up, sets the cradle beside her daughter’s bed, and climbs in there. Pretending that the shouting woke her, she says she’s been sleeping beside Niccolosa all night, and that too much drinking gave Pinuccio dreams about his sexual prowess. Adriano chimes in to claim that he often sleepwalks, and Pinuccio pretends to wake up, surprised, in the wrong bed.  
By the end of the tale, everyone has enjoyed a nice romp in bed (except the host) and the host’s wife—thanks to her quick grasp of the situation and clever story—has soothed any ruffled feathers on her husband's part. The tale emphasizes the mutual satisfaction of all parties involved (recalling the unconventional arrangements made by Pietro and his wife in V, 10 and the Tavena and di Mino couples in VIII, 8).
Themes
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Get the entire The Decameron LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Decameron PDF
The next morning, the Host mocks Pinuccio’s dreams. And, after somehow convincing the Host’s Wife that he was indeed just dreaming that night, Pinuccio finds easier ways of visiting Miss Niccolosa. Remembering the good time she had with Adriano, the host’s wife comes to believe that she was the only person awake that night.
It's hard to know what the host’s wife knows and believes at the tale’s end. She knows that she had sex (by process of elimination) with Adriano, and she claims not to suspect that Pinuccio slept with Niccolosa, although her story the previous night was designed to cover Pinuccio’s boasts of having sex with Niccolosa. In performing unawareness, however, the host’s wife reinforces the cultural preference for sexually chaste women—Niccolosa’s honor would be harmed if it were made clear that she’d slept with Pinuccio—and points to an idea raised in other tales as well: that keeping a sin secret keeps it from being harmful. 
Themes
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon