The Decameron
By Giovanni Boccaccio
Ninth Day, Tenth Story 
(Andrea Del Castagno)

Links:
Lit 211, Dr. Richie
The Decameron  

Group Four    Jasmine Bell, Loukens Jacques, Robert Magara

Group Four Jasmine Bell, Lou Jarques,   Ma BIOGRAPHY

    Giovanni Boccaccio was a great writer of the thirteen hundreds that sparked new ideas of human values and behavior during the time of the European Renascence.  In 1313 he was born in France out of wedlock to a French women and an Italian merchant.  Boccaccio leaves France with his father in 1327 to Florence to peruse a career in banking.  Boccaccio became bored with banking and began to study Greek and Roman classical literature.  A woman named Maria d`Aquino becomes his interest of love 1336, and she influences much of Boccaccio’s first writings with topics concerning love and chivalry.  The famous poet Petrach meets Boccaccio in Florence in 1350 and they become life long friends.  Boccaccio writes two romance classics the Filostrato I and II from 1337-1340.  Boccaccio returns to Florence 1340 to write The Decameron.  The Decameron translated means “ten days of work”, and tells of people who escaped the black plague by seeking refuge in the country and tell over 100 stories over the course of ten days.  The Decameron serves as a prime example for Boccaccio’s idea of humanism.  Humanism was a renascence theory that viewed people as intelligent and placed and emphasis on values.  Boccaccio becomes ambassador to Bavaria and in 1354 he becomes Ambassador to Papel court in Avigon.  In 1359 he meets Petrach in Venice and learns Greek from Lion Pilatus, and this inspires Boccaccio to take his writing in a new direction.  In 1374 Boccaccio’s life long friend Petrarch dies and his own death follows a year later in 1374.  Boccaccio’s contribution to society was greatly significant in terms of how people view touchy issues.


HISTORY
 
    During the Middle Ages everything in Italy was based around the Holy Roman Church.  The Church was in the center of the universe and controlled everything for example education, government, and even the economy.  According to the Church, divine revelation was the only method of acquiring true knowledge.  The Pope was the one in charge when decisions were to be made regarding the government.  Even the economy was part of the Church.  Agriculture was controlled through determining what season was best for work and what the farmers should raise.
     By the end of the Middle Ages a lot of changes were taking place.  Opportunities became much more available where education was concerned and these educational institutions began a petition for political independence.  Many of the same texts that had been used throughout earlier centuries were found in the hands of these scholars.  They were trying to reconcile reason and religion faith.  But the Holy Roman Church believed that because God created nature and life, the study of nature and life was actually the study of God through His works.  One of the students, Thomas Aquinas, and his colleagues attempted to finally resolve the conflict between reason and faith.  They went on by saying "God is the cause of all things and therefore God is truth" and there should be no conflict between reason and faith.  The Church wasn't happy but after a while did accept it.
 The influence of the Church suffered greatly during the late Middle Ages.  The power would shift from the Church to individual secular rulers.  The Church found itself in more trouble when their ruler, Pope Gregory XI, passed away.  They finally elected a French Pope by the name of Clement VII, that did not sit to well with the Italians.  The Church was being separated, and their power was diminishing.  There were three Popes, two of the schismatic Popes were deposed, the third resigned and a single new Pope, Martin V, an Italian, was elected.
     During the Middle Ages Italy enjoyed an economic and agricultural boom.  Agricultural techniques allowed lands that had previously been marginal or even infertile to become fully productive.  But just like everything else the economy and agriculture took a fall.  The decreased agricultural output could no longer support the same level of economic activity; the economy was beginning to weaken even more

Ninth Day, Tenth Story:  Summary
(Italy Map)
 
    This is a tale told by Dioneo, during which he emphasizes the importance, to all that have gathered to listen, of following the instructions of a spell down to the very last detail.  If one does not take this rule seriously, they will eventually learn the downfall of even the “slightest deviation”(596.Decameron), and so the tale begins…
 It all started in Barletta with a priest by the name of Father Gianni di Barolo.  Unfortunately the priest couldn’t survive on the minimal income of the church, as a result he ventured into the city of Puglia, accompanied by his mare, and brought with him goods for buying and selling.  In time, he developed a friendship with Pietro de Tresanti, whom was also a man of the marketplace.  Whenever either traveled to the others home, they would welcome each other with sincere hospitality and offer a place to stay.  Although Pietro was a man of poverty, with a home barely big enough for him, his wife, and their donkey, he still managed to house him and show him a good time.
 Trouble begins when Comare Gemmata suggest to the Priest that he sleep in her bed with her husband rather than on a pile of straw out in the stable, for she feels this is the only hospitable thing to do for a guest.  The Priest, a clever man, replies:

‘”You see, whenever I want to, I can change this mare of mine into a beautiful young girl and lie with her.  Then, whenever I wish, I can turn her back into a mare.  And so I’d never want to be separated from her.”’ (597.Decameron)
Comare Gemmata is fully convinced that the Priest is a man of magic and with out doubt can perform such a task.  When the Comare learns of the Priest’s ability she informs her husband and tries to convince him that they could double their income if he would turn her into a mare for transporting goods during the day and at night back into a women.  Compare Pietro, without question, feels that this is a great idea and persuades the Priest to teach him the magic spell in spite of how ridiculous the Priest perceives the situation.
 After a bit of discussion, they all agree that the spell will be performed early the following morning.  The Priest immediately informs them that they “must do what [he] tell[s] [them] to do if [they] want it to succeed.”(598.Decameron)  As they go step by step through the spell, the Priest begins to fondle and perform sexual acts on Compare Pietro’s wife.  Yet Pietro does not say a word in fear that if he does the spell will be ruined completely.   Finally, Compare Pietro can’t keep quiet any longer when the Priest begins to have anal intercourse with his wife and tries to justify it to Pietro by telling him he is only putting the tail on the mare, the last step in completing the spell.  As soon as Pietro opens his mouth and the consummation is interrupted, the Priest ridicules him by saying, ‘“Didn’t I warn you not to say a word about what you saw?  The mare was just about to be made, but now your babbling has ruined everything, and there’s no way of ever making another one.”’ (598-599.Decameron)  And so the spell was not completed and neither ever asked for the same favor again.


ANALYSIS
    The “Ninth Day, Tenth Story” written in the Decameron depicts just one incident that proved the naivetÚ of the peasants during this era.  This is evident when the Queen states that because of her simple ways and her many differences in comparison to her audience, she should be given the utmost precedence in regard to the story she is about to tell them.  Because of her candor and verbal manipulation, the Queen slants the attentions of those present towards her and off of themselves.  Signs of this type of manipulation are also seen in the story itself.  (As we open with the Priest, we see that with his high society stature and his demanding of respect, he uses intelligence and cunning to keep the Compare and Comare in the dark about his actual intentions).
     Being that the Compare and the Priest have a history, it is quite understandable that the Compare would accept almost anything that Priest said.  We see that the peasants of this time were to trusting and were easily taken advantage of.  An example of this is shown when the Comare suggests that the Priest turn her into a mare so that the Compare would be able to do his daily business using both mare and donkey.  In this, the Priest takes advantage of the na´ve couple by telling then that he has this power and uses his cunning as an attempt to perform sexual intercourse with the Comare.  Not only did the Priest premeditate the scenario, but he also played on the innocence and caring that the Comare is showing for her husband.
Once it has been decided that the ‘spell’ would commence, the Priest then tells them to “watch carefully everything I do and memorize what I say, and no matter what you hear me say or do, be sure you do not utter a word; otherwise you will ruin everything.  And pray to God the tail sticks on firmly" (p. 598)  With this, we see that the Priest is already placing emphasis on the fact that since every detail must be adhered to, it is imperative that there be no outside influence, no matter what is going on.  In this segment we see the trusting nature of the peasants is abused again.
   As the spell commences  that the Comare is placed on all fours to represent the stance of a  mare.   While reciting phrases  the Priest is acting in an inappropriate  sexual manner.  During this, the Priest caresses certain parts of the Comares body.  Even though the Compare sees this he still does nothing because of his respect for the Priest.  Not until the last phase of the cantation does the Compare show signs of ill feeling towards the situation at hand.  The Priest attempts to place the ‘tail’ on the Comare to finish her transformation and the problem arises when the Compare sees the instrument used to complete the Priest’ task.  Finally the Compare says “Oh father Gianni, no tail! I really don't want a tail there!" (p. 598)  With this statement the Priest exclaim:
    Alas! Compare Pietro! What have you done?  Didn't I warn you not to say a word about what you saw?  The mare was just about to be made, but now your babbling has ruined everything, and there's no way of ever making another one. (p. 598)
In this, we see that the Priest has placed an amount of guilt on the Compare even though the Priest was acting in an unscrupulous manner, thus reiterating his lack of common sense towards the adultery that he allowed the Priest to perform with his wife.  Additionally, the Comare is incensed by the fact that the Compare has destroyed all chances of using the Comare as a mare for business.  She then exclaims… “You're an idiot!  Why did you ruin both your business and mine?  Have you ever seen a mare that didn't have a tail?  So help me God, poor man that you are, you deserve to be even poorer”  With this statement, it is seen that not only was the Comare going through with this spell for her husband, but she also lets him know that she had some interest in the procedure being performed on her.
    Although Comare and Compare were consumed in poverty this can't be held accountable for the reason behind the Priest's ability to trick them.
Rather, "it seems to be directed simply at those susceptible to harmful superstition at large or foolish people in general, whether men or women, who lack intelligence and easily believe whatever tantalizing disguised rubbish someone directs their way" (The Decameron Web).
by having sex with her from behind; the position has a "beastly" connotation. "Confused the boundaries between human and animal behavior.
    In all that has happened, we see that in the end the Priest has taught both the Compare and the Comare a valuable lesson about life and how no matter what someone's stature the laws and impulses of nature may take precedence over any type of virtue or good.  Additionally it is apparent that in most cases there is no easy way out of a situation especially via magic.  The importance of this story does not lie in the actual actions being performed, but the manner in which they were brought to pass.
    The Black Plague which occurred during this time period explains Boccaccio's reasoning behind the freedom he uses to express ideas not commonly discussed or accepted in the society of his time.  Devastating as it was, the Plaque acted as a way to bring both men and women together during a time when this was not considered common practice.  Many looked at the plague as a "justification of the formation "(The Decameron Web) of the relationships they established.  This was the reasoning behind the union of the Comare and the Compare.  As well as the Priest's justification for playing such an unholy trick.  The Plague was ment to explain all of the unusual behavior, relationships, and language of the time period.
(The Escort of Death)
 

BIBLIOGRAPHY
 "Andrea del Castagno, c. 1450: Boccaccio" The Decameron Web.  24 May 1999.
    <http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/dweb/lifework/life1.html >(8th June 1999).

Boccaccio, Giovanni, The Decameron. New York: Penguin Books, 1982.

"Italy Map" Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection. 14 June 1999. <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/europe/Italy_pol96.jpg> (6th July 1999).

 "The Escort of Death" The Decameron Web.  24 May 1999.
    <http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/dweb/lifework/life1.html >(6th July 1999).