The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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Fortune Symbol Analysis

Fortune Symbol Icon

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

The The Decameron quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fortune. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Sex Theme Icon
).
Day 2: First Tale Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Neifile (speaker), Martellino, Marchese, Stecchi, Sandro Agolanti
Related Symbols: Fortune
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Third Tale Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Pampinea (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fortune
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Fourth Tale Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Lauretta (speaker), Landolfo Rufolo
Related Symbols: Fortune, Gifts
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Fifth Tale Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Fiammetta (speaker), Andreuccio di Pietro, Sicilian Woman
Related Symbols: Fortune
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Seventh Tale Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Panfilo (speaker), Alatiel , Prince of Morea, The Young Masters
Related Symbols: Fortune
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Eighth Tale Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Fortune
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 6: Second Tale Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Pampinea (speaker), Cisti, Cimon
Related Symbols: Fortune
Page Number: 448
Explanation and Analysis:
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Fortune Symbol Timeline in The Decameron

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fortune appears in The Decameron. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...love’s suffering. But Boccaccio thinks that female hobbies—sewing, weaving, spinning—aren’t distracting enough. In this way, fortune is unfair, subjecting women to greater lovesick suffering while providing them less access to therapeutic... (full context)
Day 1: Introduction
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
Having met by good fortune, when they’re done praying, Pampinea reminds the other ladies it’s natural to try to preserve... (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
...among the company) because even the terrible plague hasn’t cooled their passion. Pampinea immediately declares fortune has sent just the right men to join the group. (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...who lives honestly and has a clear conscience before God. She agrees with Pampinea that fortune seems to be smiling on them. Pampinea invites the trio, and they leave at dawn... (full context)
Day 1: Conclusion
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Everyone is subject to fortune, so Filomena wants to hear stories about “those who after suffering a series of misfortunes... (full context)
Day 2: Second Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...Lady is already in a romantic mood. To her eyes, Rinaldo is a gift from fortune. She flirts with Rinaldo, who not only willingly accepts but reciprocates her advances. Before long,... (full context)
Day 2: Third Tale
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
While everyone is laughing at Rinaldo’s good fortune (and the Lady’s!) Pampinea prepares to tell her tale, which will illustrate how inscrutable fortune’s... (full context)
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...with pity, and he assures Alessandro that God will restore to him the wealth that fortune has stolen. (full context)
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...embraces her. The Abbot in White stops him because she’s a virgin. She feels that fortune sent Alessandro to her, so she confesses her love and offers herself as his wife.... (full context)
Day 2: Fourth Tale
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Lauretta speaks next, noting that no one could describe a greater distance for fortune to raise someone than from poverty to kingship, as it did Alessandro. Although her tale... (full context)
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
...forces the chest open, he discovers precious jewels, which cheer him up considerably. Afraid that fortune may reverse this latest stroke of good luck, he cautiously puts the jewels into a... (full context)
Day 2: Sixth Tale
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
...of her story will contrast with the unbelievably “intense and protracted” sufferings that arise from fortune’s “erratic course.” (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...for several days. Beritola finds an isolated cave where she can privately grieve her ill fortune each day. While she is crying in the cave, pirates capture Guisfredi, The Outcast, and... (full context)
Class and Character Theme Icon
...worried that the boys will be harmed if their identities are revealed (and hoping that fortune might eventually relent), begins to call Guisfredi “Giannotto” (The Outcast gets to keep his name).... (full context)
Day 2: Seventh Tale
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Panfilo begins his tale with some general comments on fortune, noting that it’s hard for humans to judge their luck. Sometimes poor people acquire wealth... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Fortune has reduced Alatiel from a king’s bride to a baron’s mistress and is planning to... (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Fortune has still more in store: the two Young Masters who own the ship are moved... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...will be safe from the Duke and his father. Although initially distressed at this new misfortune, Alatiel eventually succumbs to Constant’s charms, and even begins to enjoy this newest gift of... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...as the Merchant’s wife in Cyprus, she encounters a lowly gentleman named Antigono—another one of fortune’s playthings—whom she recognizes from her father’s court at Alexandria. He tells her that her father... (full context)
Day 3: Seventh Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...Elisei, who has an affair with Ermellina, the wife of Aldobrandino Palermini. But one day, fortune decrees herself Tedaldo’s enemy, and Ermellina spurns him without explanation. After trying and failing to... (full context)
Day 3: Eighth Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
...being married to a bumpkin like Ferondo and being subject to his jealousy. Seeing that fortune has given him an opportunity, the Abbot offers to teach Ferondo a lesson by allowing... (full context)
Day 3: Ninth Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...with the Impoverished Noblewoman, promising that if they work together, they can overcome their ill fortune and be restored. She reveals her identity and offers to pay the daughter’s dowery if... (full context)
Day 4: First Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
...way of meeting, they enjoy each other often until their happiness attracts the envy of fortune. Tancredi habitually comes to Ghismonda’s bedroom to chat. One day, while she’s in the garden,... (full context)
Class and Character Theme Icon
...Tancredi implied that he would have preferred her to have taken a noble lover, but fortune frequently elevates the unworthy and oppresses the noble-spirited; class shouldn’t be taken as the only... (full context)
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...Ghismonda curses her father’s cruelty and mourns the short life allotted to her lover by fortune. She floods the chalice with silent tears and kisses the heart over and over. When... (full context)
Day 4: Third Tale
Men and Women Theme Icon
...Restagnone learns about the men courting Ninetta’s sisters, he thinks he can repair his own fortune with their wealth. He promises Folco and Ughetto that if they give him one third... (full context)
Day 4: Fourth Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...travel to Tunis, they send messages and gifts through Gerbino’s friends while they wait for fortune to give them an opportunity to meet. (full context)
Day 4: Seventh Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
But Simona is blessed by fortune, who preserves her good name against false accusation and reunites her with her lover: within... (full context)
Day 5: First Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...Over four years, Cimon is transformed and the “lofty virtues” which were his birthright—but which fortune had locked away in his heart—were released by love’s power. (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...Iphigenia is distressed by this turn of events. Cimon steers his ship towards Crete, but fortune intervenes to turn his “boundless joy” into “sad and bitter weeping.” (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...life sentence instead, since he hadn’t killed any of the Rhodian ship’s crew. This allows fortune to lay the groundwork for freeing him. Lysimachus loves Cassandra, fiancée of Ormisdas, Pasimondas’s brother.... (full context)
Day 5: Second Tale
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...a life of piracy, intent on returning to Lipari a rich man. He’s blessed by fortune, but when he becomes greedy, she punishes him, and he is captured by Saracens (a... (full context)
Day 5: Seventh Tale
Class and Character Theme Icon
...willing to make his relationship with Violante right by marrying her. Cursing the waywardness of fortune, Currado stays the execution and calls for Amerigo Abate who, having stopped Violante’s forced suicide... (full context)
Day 5: Ninth Tale
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
...like Filomena’s, shows women the danger of allowing love to fall into the hands of fortune and her arbitrary whims. Her story comes from the repertoire of Coppo di Borghese Domenichi,... (full context)
Day 6: Second Tale
Class and Character Theme Icon
...about Geri Spina. It shows that, while nature sometimes gives bad characters to noble people, fortune often gives noble characters to lowly people. One example is Cisti, a common baker but... (full context)
Day 6: Fourth Tale
Intelligence Theme Icon
Neifile’s tale will illustrate how fortune sometimes gives people a prompt retort in a moment of need. Noble Florentine gentleman Currado... (full context)
Day 6: Fifth Tale
Intelligence Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
In his tale, Filostrato proposes to expand on Pampinea’s claim that fortune sometimes hides wit in humble men with proof that it also hides it in ugly... (full context)
Day 7: Fifth Tale
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
Fortune favors the Jealous Merchant’s Wife, who finds and enlarges a crack that communicates between her... (full context)
Day 7: Ninth Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...is about a woman who played the biggest trick of all, with the aid of fortune. In Argos, the most ancient city in Greece, an old nobleman named Nicostratos lives with... (full context)
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Men and Women Theme Icon
...out that Lydia offers him a chance at riches as well as love, and if fortune offers blessings like this, he should take them. Also, he shows greater loyalty toward Nicostratos... (full context)
Day 8: Seventh Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
After some time, fortune gives Rinieri a chance to enact his revenge. Elena’s lover leaves her for another woman,... (full context)
Day 9: Second Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
Elissa’s story concerns fortune, which sometimes brings comeuppance to those who blame others for sins that they share. Sister... (full context)
Day 10: First Tale
Class and Character Theme Icon
...dispersing them in inappropriate places. King Alphonso replies that he recognizes Ruggieri’s worth, and that fortune prevents his reward. To prove it, he fills one chest with his crown, orb, scepter,... (full context)
Day 10: Second Tale
Class and Character Theme Icon
...to see the highwayman as a friend, the Abbot embraces him while cursing his bad fortune. He leaves everything but his bare necessities behind. Once he’s returned to Rome, the Abbot... (full context)
Day 10: Seventh Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...for her. Her lovesickness and prudence raise her in his esteem, and King Peter curses fortune for condemning such a noble character to a bourgeoise life. (full context)
Day 10: Eighth Tale
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...he’s a youth and thus subject to Love’s laws. The blame, he feels, lies with fortune, which gave Sophronia to his friend instead of someone else. But then again, he reasons,... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
...love for Sophronia. He tells Gisippus about his internal debate, complains that he has failed fortune’s test of his virtue, and resolves to die as penance. Gisippus isn’t immune to Sophronia’s... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
...and his noble spirit—highly susceptible to passionate feelings—virtually guaranteed it. Additionally, Titus should be blessing fortune for giving Sophronia to Gisippus instead of another man. Gisippus can’t recall a single thing... (full context)
Class and Character Theme Icon
...that its voluntary nature gives it a higher claim than family, which is controlled by fortune. As for wisdom, Gisippus demonstrated his by giving Sophronia to a better husband than himself.... (full context)
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...upset. People who think that Gisippus had no right to dispose of Sophronia forget that fortune often works in “strange and wonderful” ways. For example, does anyone care how the cobbler... (full context)
Day 10: Ninth Tale
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...They protest that Torello entertained them splendidly enough the previous night, but he claims that fortune prevented him from doing them justice by sending them to him too late in the... (full context)
Day 10: Tenth Tale
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...despair,” but she prepares to “endure this final blow as stoically as she had borne fortune’s earlier assaults.” After leading everyone to believe he’s received dispensation, Gualtieri publicly renounces Griselda, since... (full context)
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...returns to Giannùcole, puts on peasant clothes, and “bravely endur[es] the cruel assault of hostile fortune.” Gualtieri gives the impression he’s betrothed to a nobleman’s daughter, and as the wedding preparations... (full context)