The Decameron
By
Giovanni Boccaccio
[Third Day, First Story]
Lit211: Dr. Richiehttp://webpage.pace.edu/erichie/211s99.html
                                             The Decameron Web
Group 9 http://webpage.pace.edu/erichie/211s99.html

Michael Connolly

Shelly Shiamsundar
Venesha Richards
Barjes R. Angulo
 
 
 

 

 
Giovanni Boccaccio  (1313-1375)

Giovanni Boccaccio, born out of wedlock, fathered by Boccaccino di Chelo and unbeknown to him, his mother. His correct date of birth is also a mystery and thus, only the year 1313 is referred. Although he was an illegitimate child, Boccaccio was welcomed with open arms by his father who took responsibility for him. Boccaccio lived a fulfilling life and was quite happy with his father.

He was a very ambitious youth who pursued various challenges while growing up. He attempted poetry, arismetica, and banking and eventually enrolled in a university to study law. The charismatic, brilliant and charming Boccaccio made connections with people of high status and was now starting off on the right foot.
 

[Third Day, First Story]  Summary
 

     Boccaccio’s story, “Third Day, First Story” is about a man named Masetto who offered to become a gardener at a nuns’ convent.  Masetto’s intentions were not just to become a gardener, but he also had ideas of a sexual nature, for he had heard from a former steward of the convent how hard it was to please these nuns.  He also heard from the steward that while at the convent, he could do whatever he wished.  Masetto misunderstood what the steward meant by that, so his curiosity took the best of him.  He wished to experience for himself what the steward spoke of.

     Entering the convent as an ordinary man seeking a job would not guarantee Masetto’s entrance to the convent. Men were not allowed there, especially not young attractive men.  So Masetto disguised himself as a deaf mute in need of food and shelter.  This disguise was a success, and Masetto now had access to the convent of nuns.

     Masetto worked hard as a gardener, and played the role of a deaf mute incredibly well so as not to create any suspicions.  He was so convincing in his act, that the nuns felt comfortable enough to express their most intimate feelings in the presence of this deaf mute.  With Masetto being such an attractive young man, one of the nuns fantasized what it would be like to be with him - sexually.  She expressed these feelings to another nun and was confident no one would know of her thoughts or actions.  Meanwhile, Masetto was close enough to hear every word and when the nun called him to satisfy her needs, he was of course, well prepared to indulge.

     Masetto accomplished what he set out to do.  He eventually satisfied all the nuns in the convent including the head nun, the Abbess.  Having to satisfy so many women at all times of the day was becoming very exhausting for Masetto, so he protested by speaking out.  The nuns were shocked at this revelation of Massetto’s speech. They considered it nothing else but a miracle from God that Masetto has regained his speech.

 
Analysis of Story/Characters

 
 

        Third Day - First Story reads like a 90's soap opera.  It is hard to imagine that its author, Giovanni Boccaccio, could write such a raunchy story in the 14th century.  Is it possible that this distinguished Renaissance author is attempting to titillate his readers, or is it merely a sign of those times as well as ours?
        The tale focuses on the weaknesses of human nature.  First of all, we have a major deception.  Then there is the biggest human frailty of all, lust. It is unthinkable that nuns in a convent would resort to such behavior so Boccaccio must be trying to prove a point. Since nuns are portrayed as lacking in morals and women, in general, as not knowing what they want,  it would appear that the author regards women as untrustworthy and lacks respect for them. “...What’s a man reduced to when he’s around women?  He’s better off around devils; six out of seven times they don’t know what they want” (166)!
        The story gives the impression that a man has to play games of deception with women if he is to get along with them when Masetto further states:“The place is far away from here and no one knows me there; if I can pretend to be deaf and dumb, they’ll certainly take me in” (167).  It also suggests that men and women have the freedom to use each other for sexual gratification when one nun tells another:

                                         I have been thinking about seeing if that could be true by trying
                                         it with this deaf-mute, since no one else is available; and he is the
                                         best person in the world for this purpose, since even if he wanted
                                         to he could not or would not know how to speak about it; as you
                                         can see, he is a stupid youth, mature in everything but his wits. (168)
        It is evident that the woman, of course, will suffer any consequences of engaging in sex.  When one nun asks what they would do if they become pregnant, the other responds:  “Worry about it when and if it happens” (168).  The gardner’s situation, on the other hand, is such that he fathers children without having to support them.  Some things never change.
        The major coverup that develops when the secrets are revealed within the convent shows the strength of the basic human instinct, self preservation, as the nuns try to protect their reputation and their enjoyment.
 While the events in Third Day - First Story seem incredible, the truth is the characters have something you don’t get by praying -- LUCK!
 

Nuto

 He is a sturdy worker that worked for the convent.  He landscaped beautiful gardens and attended to their every need.  In the beginning of the story he left the convent because the nuns pushed him around and he also felt that they had “the devil in their bodies, for there was nothing you could do to please them” (166).

Masetto

He is from Lamporecchio, where he is known to be strong and a hard worker.  Masetto is also handsome.
When Nuto returns from the convent, he tells Masetto of these eight nuns that pushed him around, and how they needed someone to replace him.  Masetto is curious with the task of being with these women, so he pretends to be a deaf-mute. Eventually he does have sexual encounters with the nuns and even the Abbess.  Between his daily duties and pleasing these 9 women, he couldn’t take it any longer.   Masetto made it known that he did speak and hear.  The deviant Masetto lied to the Abbess that God restored his power of speech.  Masetto expresses his feelings to the Abbess:

 My lady, I have heard that one cock is enough to satisfy ten hens, but that ten men can poorly, or with difficulty, satisfy one woman, and I have to satisfy nine of them. I can’t stand it any longer; from doing what I’ve done I have reached the point no longer being able to do anything! So either let me go in God’s name, or find some solution to this problem (170).

Looking at this character, he exhibits a greedy behavior in wanting to conquer these young nuns.  It’s a challenge he creates for himself, trying to outwit everyone, and at the same time satisfying his sexual needs.
 
 

The 8 nuns and the Abbess

Most beautiful ladies, many are those men and women who are so stupid as to be thoroughly convinced that when a young woman places a white veil over her head and a black cowl upon her back, she no longer feels feminine desires as if the act of making her a nun had turned her into stone…(165).

Just as us humans being curious about sexuality, these nuns wanted to know what it is to experience a man’s touch.  The nun that has the first encounter couldn’t keep her promises to God. She had heard so many stories of how joyous it is to be with a man. This nun is willing to risk it all, even pregnancy, to experience this act.  What is really appalling is that the Abbess, sworn to God for so many numbers of years, had succumbed to her lustful feelings. Eventually these nuns take advantage of Masetto to the point that he can’t take it anymore.
 
 
 

   
 

http://www.initaly.com/regions/friuli/tiepolo.htm
http://www.fatlaloggia.it/s1.htm

 
Historical and Cultural Background

 
Cultural Background

Religion

In 330, Italy became the center of Christianity. Emperor Constantine I transferred the capital from Rome to Constantinople. Shortly afterwards, Italy lost its administrative sovereignty when two dioceses were joined. The loss of power brought forth a growing awareness of the importance of Italy as a center for Christianity (http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt22.html). In the ensuing centuries to follow, great emphasis was being placed on Christianity.

Religious Tradition of Nuns

In the Medieval age, and centuries before that, women who became nuns were required to practice celibacy, and therefore, they could not marry. They pledged their lives to god, lived in a convent, ate, dressed and behaved in a manner of such that befitted a nun (http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt53.html). Today, this tradition is still being upheld.

Historical Background:

Italy's History can be traced back to as early as the Paleolithic period (Old Stone Age - 2.5 million to 200,000 years ago). The Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age) commenced from 8000 BC and continued until 2700BC. The Bronze Age began in 2000BC by immigrants who introduced metal and bronze workings. Roman Italy was founded in 753BC. This period was also the beginning of the unification process of Italy by the Romans. The Roman Empire was founded by Augustus, who later became the first Emperor. During these years, Italy became the center for Christianity. During the Middle Ages, Italian ties with New Rome were severed, the PAPACY emerged, and the Italian cities had their own rights and powers (http://www.arcaini.com/Italy%20history.html).

In 1568, the Lombards arrived and took control followed by the Franks, and the Ottonians. The Kingdom of Sicily was taken by Roger II in 1130. The Italian Renaissance and Foreign Domination began in the 1300s. The 18th century was the beginning of The Italian Unification. The Napoleanic Era in Italy began in 1796 and lasted until 1814. This was followed by the Risorgimento Revolutionaries. In 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed. The Rise of Fascism arose from Mussollini in 1919. In 1943, World War 2 began, followed by the post war years and an effort to break the Mafia (http://www.arcaini.com/Italy%20history.html).

 

Works Cited

Boccaccio, Giovanni.  The Decameron.  Penguin Books USA, Inc.1982. Third Day, First Story (165-171).

Di Baccio, Gimar. Gimar-Via Lambbertesca, Florence Italy. Copyright 1996 Arca. Net. Srl. 9 May. 1999.
       http://www.arca.net/mall/gimar/index.htm

Kausal, Martin and Eddu Genowitz, Leonardo Da Vinci's Birthplace and Childhood,
     1997 (http://www.fatlaloggia.it/s1.htm) July 4th, 1999

 
The History of Italy, Nov. 1996 (http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt22.html) 4th July, 1999

 
The Taste of Living Tradition, Organ of the Roman Theological Forum, July 1994.
     (http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt53.html) July 4, 1999.

 
Udine, The City of Tiepolo (http://www.initaly.com/regions/friuli/tiepolo.htm). July 4,
     1999