The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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Love and Sex Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Moderation and Excess Theme Icon
Intelligence Theme Icon
Class and Character Theme Icon
Faith vs. Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Decameron, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Love and Sex Theme Icon

Stories of love abound among the tales and songs composed by the members of the brigata (the ten young women and men who narrate The Decameron’s tales) who have escaped plague-ridden Florence for the countryside. Love appears in many guises, although it primarily falls into the exalted literary guise of fin’amors (refined love) or, in stark contrast, the funny and sometimes graphic exploration of human sexuality that can be found in the fabliaux tradition—raunchy stories about illicit sex.

Many of the tales explore traditional themes of fin’amors. Jacques Amiens suffers lovesickness because of his feelings for Jeannette, and middle-class Lisa also becomes lovesick over King Peter. Other symptoms of refined love are more subtle. The burning metaphors in Filomena’s and Panfilo’s love songs also characterize Gilette’s feelings for Bertrand. And refined lovers often weep and sigh, like Girolamo beneath Salvestra’s window or Lodovico in Beatrice’s presence. Tears and sighs fill the love-songs of Pampinea, Lauretta, Filostrato, Dioneo, and Elissa. Gerbino’s love for the Tunisian Princess exemplifies love from afar (or amor du lonh). But perhaps the clearest hallmark of fin’amors is the ennobling nature of love. This is demonstrated in the tale of rude and undereducated Cimon, who is so inspired by Iphigenia’s beauty that he accomplishes a better education in four years than most men attain in a lifetime.

Other tales explore basic human lust. These even include some of the more refined tales of noble lovers, like the hilarious description of Teodoro and Violante progressing from huddling and declaring their love to holding hands, to kissing, to embracing, to having sex—all in the space of a short summer storm. These tales depict women as autonomous sexual agents: wives whose husbands can’t meet their sexual appetites are likely to stray, like Bartolomea leaving her old husband for a pirate, Monna Isabetta jumping into bed with her husband’s spiritual coach, or Mazzeo’s wife polishing Ruggieri d’Aieroli’s family jewels because her husband is too frail to have sex with her. Nor are the tales’ men—especially priests—shy about their sexual desires or slow to fulfil them.

The book’s overarching message about love is that it drives human behavior through its irresistible power, for good or ill. Sometimes, this means ennobling a lover, but other times, it means circumventing vows of chastity and marital fidelity, inspiring pranks and cons, and forcing women to acquiesce to male desires. Sometimes, it even leads lovers straight into the arms of death, demonstrating its frequent dominance over reason, morals, and law.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Love and Sex ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Love and Sex appears in each chapter of The Decameron. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Love and Sex Quotes in The Decameron

Below you will find the important quotes in The Decameron related to the theme of Love and Sex.
Day 1: Fourth Tale Quotes

One day, about noon, when all the other monks were asleep, he chanced to be taking a solitary stroll round the walls of the monastery, which lay in a very lonely spot, when his eyes came to rest on a strikingly beautiful girl, perhaps some local farmhand’s daughter, who was going about the fields collecting wild herbs. No sooner did he see her than he was fiercely assaulted by carnal desire.

Related Characters: Dioneo (speaker), Young Monk, The Country Girl, Tuscan Abbot
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

The girl, who was not exactly made of iron or of flint, fell in very readily with the Abbot’s wishes. He took her in his arms and kissed her a few times, then lowered himself on to the monk’s little bed. But out of regard, perhaps, for the weight of his reverend person and the tender age of the girl, and not wishing to do her any injury, he settled down beneath her instead of lying on top, and in this way he sported with her at considerable length.

Related Characters: Dioneo (speaker), Tuscan Abbot, The Country Girl, Young Monk
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 1: Fifth Tale Quotes

Whereas men, if they are very wise, will always seek to love ladies of higher station than their own, women, if they are very discerning, will know how to guard against accepting the advances of a man who is of more exalted rank. For which reasons, and also because of the pleasure I feel at our having, through stories, begun to demonstrate the power of good repartee, I have been prompted to show you, fair ladies, in the story I have to tell, how through her good words and actions a gentlewoman avoided this pitfall and guided her suitor clear of its dangers.

Related Characters: Fiammetta (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Being an intelligent and judicious woman, she sent back a message to say that she was glad to have been singled out for this uniquely great favor, and that the king would be very welcome. She then began to wonder why such a great king should be calling upon her in her husband’s absence. Nor was she wrong in the conclusion that she reached, namely, that he was being drawn thither by the fame of her beauty. Nevertheless, with her habitual nobility of spirit she made ready to entertain him[.]

Related Characters: Fiammetta (speaker), Marchioness of Montferrat, King Philip II
Page Number: 49-50
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Third Tale Quotes

The whole company, men and ladies alike, listened with admiration to the adventures of Rinaldo d’Asti, commending his piety and giving thanks to God and Saint Julian, who had come to his rescue in the hour of his greatest need. Nor, moreover, was the lady considered to have acted foolishly (even though nobody openly said so) for the way she had accepted the blessing that God had left on her doorstep. And while everyone was busy talking, with half-suppressed mirth, about the pleasant night the lady had spent, Pampinea […] started planning what to say.

Page Number: 82-83
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

Sweet friend and master, dearest one of all, since you are wise you will readily acknowledge that men and women are remarkably frail, and that, for a variety of reasons, some are frailer than others. It is therefore right and proper that before an impartial judge, people of different social rank should not be punished equally for committing an identical sin. For nobody would, I think, deny that if a member of the poorer classes, obliged to earn a living through manual toil, were to surrender blindly to the promptings of love, he or she would be far more culpable than a rich and leisured lady who lacked none of the necessary means to gratify her tiniest whim.

Related Characters: French Princess (speaker), Walter, Elissa
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

The doctor was holding [Jacques] by the wrist, taking his pulse, when Jeannette […] entered the room in which the youth was laying. When he saw her coming in, the flames of passion flared up in the young man’s breast, and although he neither spoke nor moved, his pulse began to beat more strongly. The doctor noted this at once, but concealing his surprise, he remained silent, waiting to see how long his pulse would continue to beat so rapidly.

As soon as Jeannette left the room, the young man’s pulse returned to normal […] [The doctor] waited for a while, and then, still holding the patient by the wrist, he sent for Jeannette […] and no sooner did she enter the room than the youth’s pulse began to race all over again: and when she departed, it subsided.

Related Characters: Elissa (speaker), Boccaccio, Jeannette (Violante), Jacques Lamiens
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 2: Conclusion Quotes

Come, Love, the cause of all my joy,
Of all my hope and happiness,
Come let us sing together:
Not of love’s sighs and agony
But only of its jocundness
And its clear-burning ardour
In which I revel, joyfully,
As if thou were a god to me.

Love, the first day I felt thy fire
Thou sett’st before mine eyes a youth
Of such accomplishment
Whose able strength and keen desire
And bravery could none, in truth,
Find any complement.
With thee I sing, Lord Love, of this,
So much with him lies all my bliss.

Related Characters: Pampinea (speaker)
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 3: First Tale Quotes

Thus it was that Masetto, now an elderly and prosperous father who was spared the bother of feeding his children and the expense of their upbringing, returned to the place from which he had set out with an axe on his shoulder, having had the sense to employ his youth to good advantage. And this, he maintained, was the way that Christ treated anyone who set a pair of horns on His crown.

Related Characters: Filostrato (speaker), Masetto
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 3: Second Tale Quotes

On hearing these words, the King immediately came to the conclusion that the Queen had been taken in by an outward resemblance to his own physique and manner. But he was a wise man, and since neither the Queen nor anybody else appeared to have noticed the deception, he had no hesitation in deciding to keep his own counsel. Many a stupid man would have reacted differently, and exclaimed “It was not I. Who was the man who was here? What happened? Who was it who came?” But this would only have led to complications, upsetting the lady when she was blameless and sowing the seeds of a desire, on her part, to repeat the experience. And besides, by holding his tongue his honor remained unimpaired, whereas if he were to talk he would make himself look ridiculous.

Related Characters: Pampinea (speaker), Agilulf, Theodelinda, Groom
Page Number: 202-203
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 3: Fourth Tale Quotes

Friar Puccio thought he could detect a certain amount of vibration in the floorboards. When […] he had recited a hundred of his paternosters […] without leaving his post, he called out to his wife and demanded to know what she was doing.

His wife […] who at that moment was possibly riding bareback astride the nag of Saint Benedict or Saint John Gaulbert, replied:

‘Heaven help me, dear husband, I am shaking like mad.’

‘Shaking? … What is the meaning of all this shaking?’

His wife shrieked with laughter […] ‘What,’ she replied, ‘You don’t know its meaning? Haven’t I heard you saying, hundreds of times: “He that supper doth not take, in his bed all night will shake”?’

[…]

‘Wife,’ he replied […] ‘I told you not to fast, but you would insist. Try not to think about it. Try and go to sleep.’

Related Characters: Panfilo (speaker), Friar Puccio, Monna Isabetta, Dom Felice
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 3: Fifth Tale Quotes

Dearest beloved, since I am yours and you alone have the power to fortify my soul with some vestige of hope as I languish in the fiery flames of love, I beseech you, as your most humble servant, to show me some mercy and mitigate the harshness you have been wont to display towards me in the past. Your compassion will console me, enabling me to claim that it is to your beauty that I owe, not only my love, but also my very life, which will assuredly fail unless your proud spirit yields to my entreaties, and then indeed people will be able to say that you have killed me. Now, leaving aside the fact that my death would not enhance your reputation, I believe, also, that your conscience would occasionally trouble you and you would be sorry for having been the cause of it.

Related Characters: Zima (speaker), Francesco’s Wife, Francesco Vergellesi
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 3: Conclusion Quotes

“Now we shall discover whether the wolf can fare any better at leading the sheep than the sheep have fared in leading the wolves.”

On hearing this, Filostrato laughed and said: “Had you listened to me, the wolves would have taught the sheep by now to put the devil back in Hell, no less skillfully than Rustico taught Alibech. But you have not exactly been behaving like sheep, and therefore you must not describe us as wolves…”

“Allow me to tell you, Filostrato,” replied Neifile, “that if you men had tried to teach us anything of the sort, you might have learned some sense from us, as Masetto did from the nuns, and retrieved the use of your tongues when your bones were rattling from exhaustion.”

On perceiving that the ladies had as many scythes as he had arrows, Filostrato abandoned his jesting and turned to the business of ruling his kingdom.

Related Characters: Filostrato (speaker), Neifile (speaker), Rustico, Alibech, Young Nuns, Masetto
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 4: Eighth Tale Quotes

Excellent ladies, to my way of thinking there are those who imagine that they know more than others when in fact they know less, and hence they presume to set this wisdom of theirs against not only the counsels of their fellow men, but also the laws of Nature…Now, there is nothing in the whole of Nature which is less susceptible to advice or interference than Love, whose qualities are such that it is far more likely to burn itself out of its own free will than to be quenched by deliberate pressure. [So I will] tell you a story about a lady who … sought to be wiser than she actually was, and by flaunting her cleverness in a matter that was beyond her competence, succeeded at one and the same time in driving both Love and life from the body of her son.

Related Characters: Neifile (speaker), Girolamo’s Mother, Girolamo, Salvestra
Page Number: 342-343
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 5: First Tale Quotes

On catching sight of this vision, Cimon stopped dead in his tracks, and […] began to stare at her, rapt in silent admiration, as though he had never before set eyes upon the female form. And deep within his uncouth breast, which despite a thousand promptings had remained closed to every vestige of refined sentiment, he sensed the awakening of a certain feeling which told his crude, uncultured mind that this girl was the loveliest object that any mortal being had ever seen […] Having suddenly been transformed from a country bumpkin into a connoisseur of beauty, he longed to be able to see her eyes, but they were closed in heavy slumber.

Related Characters: Panfilo (speaker), Cimon, Iphigenia
Page Number: 358
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 5: Fourth Tale Quotes

When there was no longer any sound to be heard, Ricciardo climbed over a wall with the aid of a ladder, then climbed up to the side of the house by clinging with great difficulty to a series of stones projecting from the wall. At every moment of the ascent, he was in serious danger of falling, but in the end he reached the balcony unscathed, where he was silently received by the girl with very great rejoicing. After exchanging many kisses, they lay down together and for virtually the entire night they had delight and joy of one another, causing the nightingale to sing at frequent intervals.

Related Characters: Filostrato (speaker), Caterina, Ricciardo de’ Manardi
Page Number: 396
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 7: Fifth Tale Quotes

And so it was that the jealous wretch, having thought himself very clever in ferreting out his wife’s secret, saw that he had made an ass of himself. Without saying anything by way of reply, he began to look on his wife as a model of intelligence and virtue. And just as he had worn the mantle of the jealous husband when it was unnecessary, he cast it off completely now that his need for it was paramount. So his clever little wife, having, as it were, acquired a license to enjoy herself, no longer admitted her lover by way of the roof as though he were some kind of cat, but showed him in at the front door. And from that day forth, by proceeding with caution, she spent many an entertaining and delightful hour in his arms.

Related Characters: Fiammetta (speaker), Jealous Merchant, Jealous Merchant’s Wife
Page Number: 513
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 8: Second Tale Quotes

Her name was Monna Belcolore, she was married to a farmworker called Bentivegna del Mazzo, and without a doubt she was a vigorous and seductive-looking wench, buxom and brown as a berry, who seemed better versed in the grinder’s art than any other girl in the village. When […] she had occasion to play the tambourine, and sing […] and dance a reel or a jig […] she could knock the spots off every single one of her neighbors. Master Priest was so enthralled by all these talents of hers that he was driven to distraction […] Whenever he caught sight of her in church on a Sunday morning, he would intone a Kyrie and a Sanctus, trying very hard to sound like a master cantor when in fact he was braying like an ass, whereas if she was nowhere to be seen he would hardly open his lips.

Related Characters: Panfilo (speaker), Worthy Priest, Belcolore, Bentivegna del Mazzo
Page Number: 555-556
Explanation and Analysis:

“How much is it worth?” said the priest. “Why, I’ll have you know that it’s made of pure Douai, not to say Trouai, and there are those in the parish who would claim that it’s Quadrouai. I bought it less than a fortnight ago from Lotto, the old-clothes merchant, for exactly seven pounds, and according to Buglietto d’Alberto, who as you know is an expert in such matters, it would have been cheap at half the price.”

“Is that so?” said Belcolore, “So help me God, I would never have believed it. But anyway, let’s have a look.”

Related Characters: Worthy Priest (speaker), Belcolore
Page Number: 558
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 8: Fourth Tale Quotes

“Heaven be praised!” said the Provost, who could scarce contain his joy. “To tell you the truth, madam, I am amazed that you should have held out for so long, seeing that this has never happened to me with any woman before. And in fact, I have sometimes had occasion to reflect, that if women were made of silver you couldn’t turn them into coins, as they bend too easily. But no more of this, when and where can we be together?”

Related Characters: Provost (speaker), Emilia, Piccarda
Page Number: 571
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 9: Fifth Tale Quotes

He gave her a friendly greeting, which she acknowledged, then she began to stare at him, not because she found him the least bit attractive, but because she was fascinated by his odd appearance. Calandrino returned her gaze, and on seeing how beautiful she was, began to think of various excuses for not returning with the water to his companions. However, not knowing who she was, he was afraid to address her, and the girl, perceiving that he was still staring at her, mischievously rolled her eyes at him a couple of times, and fetched a few little sighs, so that Calandrino instantly fell in love with her and stood rooted to the spot till she was called inside by Filippo.

Related Characters: Fiammetta (speaker), Calandrino, Niccolosa, Bachelor Filippo
Page Number: 669-670
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 10: Fifth Tale Quotes

“What I want is this,” replied the lady, “In the month of January that is now approaching, I want a garden, somewhere near the town, that is full of green plants, flowers, and leafy trees, exactly as though it were the month of May. And if he fails to provide it, let him take good care never to send you or anyone else to me again. For if he should provoke me any further, I shall no longer keep this matter a secret as I have until now, but I shall seek to rid myself of his attentions by complaining to my husband and kinsfolk.

Related Characters: Dianora (speaker), Ansaldo Gradense, Gilberto, Emilia
Related Symbols: Gardens
Page Number: 727
Explanation and Analysis:
Day 10: Seventh Tale Quotes

Love, ever since I fell in love
With him, you always granted me
More fear than courage; wherefore I
Could never show it openly
To him who takes away my breath,
And death is hard as I lie dying.
Perhaps he would not be displeased
If he were conscious of my sighing
And I could find the power to show
To him the measure of my woe.

Related Characters: Minuccio d’Arezzo, Lisa, King Peter
Page Number: 741
Explanation and Analysis:
Author’s Epilogue Quotes

I confess that I do have weight, and in my time I have been weighed on numerous occasions; but I assure those ladies who have never weighed me that I have little gravity. On the contrary, I am so light that I float on the surface of the water. And considering that sermons preached by friars to chastise the faults of men are nowadays filled, for the most part, with jests and quips and raillery, I concluded that the same sort of thing would not be out of place in my stories, written to dispel the woes of ladies. But if it should cause them to laugh too much, they can easily find a remedy by turning to the Lament of Jeremiah, the Passion of Our Lord, and the Plaint of the Magdalen.

Related Characters: Boccaccio (speaker)
Page Number: 801-802
Explanation and Analysis: