Fortune symbolizes the capricious and random changes of life and circumstances. It is based on the medieval conception of “Fortuna,” a goddess or semi-deified force. The idea of fortune’s wheel, drawn from ancient philosophy and literature, was popular throughout the Middle Ages. In The Decameron, fortune is an amoral force, elevating and humbling people at random, although it is also sometimes invoked as an excuse for a character’s choices or, in a few cases, tied to divine intervention. Fortune and her wheel are responsible for elevating the lowly and humbling the mighty, or sometimes doing both to one person over the course of their adventures. Rinaldo d’Asti, Landolfo Rufolo, and Martuccio Gomito are all humbled by fortune before having their wealth restored; likewise, the vicissitudes of political fortunes first destroy the lives of Beritola and her sons but then see them restored to their former wealth and position.
Fortune is essentially amoral, neither conforming to ideas of Christian morality or personal worthiness. Sometimes fortune abets sexual adventures, handing Alatiel from one lover to another, helping the Jealous Merchant’s Wife find a lover, allowing Lydia to cuckold (cheat on) her husband, or protecting Sister Isabetta from punishment for her affair. But, at other times, it punishes lovers for their happiness, including Ghismonda and Guiscardo, and Simona and Pasquino. Sometimes, fortune puts a noble character into a position of low social status, like Guiscardo or Cisti, the Florentine baker. At other times, it elevates the lowly, as when moneylender Alessandro marries a princess. And at still others, it ignores those who deserve a better fate, like Ruggieri de’ Figiovanni, who deserves better rewards from King Alfanso than fortune allows, or Lisa, whose noble spirit is trapped in a bourgeois family. However, in the end, fortune’s decisions are immutable, and it’s better for people to accept them than to fight against them, as Titus Quintus Fulvius eloquently argues.
Fortune Quotes in The Decameron
Meanwhile, with the matter proceeding along these lines, word had reached Marchese and Stecchi that the judge was giving him a rough handling and had already put him on the strappado. “We have made a fine mess of things,” they said, shaking with fright. “We have taken him out of the frying-pan and dropped him straight in the fire.” Being determined to leave no stone unturned, they tracked down their landlord, and explained to him what had happened. The landlord, who was highly amused at their tale, took them to see a man called Sandro Agolanti, a Florentine living in Treviso who had considerable influence with the ruler of the city.
Excellent ladies, if the ways of Fortune are carefully examined, it will be seen that the more one discusses her actions, the more remains to be said. Nor is this surprising, when you pause to consider that she controls all the affairs we unthinkingly call our own, and that consequently it is she who arranges and rearranges them after her own inscrutable fashion, constantly moving them now in one direction, now in another, then back again, without following any discernable plan. The truth of this assertion is clearly illustrated by everything that happens in the space of a single day, as well as being borne out by some of the previous stories.
The stones he possessed were, he discovered, so valuable and numerous that, even if he sold them at less than their market value, he would be twice as rich as when he had set out. So that, having taken steps to dispose of his gems, he sent, by way of payment for services received, a tidy sum of money to the good woman of Corfu who had fished him out of the sea. And likewise, he sent a further sum to the people at Trani who had given him the new clothes. He was no longer interested in commerce, so he kept the remainder of the money and lived in splendor for the rest of his days.
Nature demanded that he should relieve his belly, which was inordinately full, so he asked […] where he could do it, and the boy showed him a door in one of the corners of the room […] Andreuccio passed jauntily through, and chanced to step on to a plank, which came away at its other end from the beam on which it was resting, so that it flew up in the air and fell into the lower regions, taking Andreuccio with it. Although he had fallen from a goodly height, he mercifully suffered no injury; but he got himself daubed from head to foot in the filthy mess with which the place was literally swimming.
When he learnt about the circumstances of her arrival in the city, he saw no reason why he should not be able to have her. And indeed, once the wounded man’s relatives discovered that the Prince was putting out inquiries, they promptly sent her off to him without asking any questions. The prince was highly delighted, but so also was the lady, who considered that she had now escaped from a most dangerous situation. On finding that she was endowed with stately manners as well as beauty, the Prince calculated, since he could obtain no other clue to her identity, that she must be a woman of gentle birth, and his love for her was accordingly redoubled. And not only did he keep her in splendid style, but he treated her as though she were his wife rather than his mistress.
But knowing her to be a woman of gentle birth, doing penance for another’s sin through no fault of her own, the Lord above, who rewards all according to their deserts, arranged matters otherwise. One must in fact conclude that He alone, out of His loving kindness, made possible the train of events which followed, in order to prevent this nobly-born maiden from falling into the hands of a commoner.
I would assuredly curse Nature and Fortune alike, if I did not know for a fact that Nature is very discerning and that Fortune has a thousand eyes, even though fools represent her as blind. Indeed, it is my conviction that Nature and Fortune, being very shrewd, follow the practice so common among mortals, who, uncertain of what the future will bring, make provision for emergencies by burying their most precious possessions in the least imposing […] parts of their houses, whence they bring them forth in the hour of their greatest need […] In the same way, the two fair arbiters of the world’s affairs frequently hide their greatest treasure beneath the shadow of the humblest trades, so that when the need arises for it to be brought forth, its splendor will be all the more apparent.