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A Reader's Guide to the Decameron Stories

A Tale from the Decameron (detail), by James William Waterhouse, 1916.

Explanation of Story Guide

With much of the world under some form of quarantine due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the following guide has been created to encourage households to spend quality time together reading and telling stories. While many of Boccaccio's stories would best be described as "ribald humor", there are quite a few that are appropriate for older children and young adults. Each parent must use their own judgement; however, the summaries and ratings will hopefully prove useful in selecting the right stories for your audience.

4/10 stories rated G.

5/10 stories rated PG.

1/10 stories rated R.

Illustration from The Decameron (detail), anonymous, Flanders c1432.

Day One: Free Choice

After they all agreed to the story-telling, Pampinea, acting as queen, decreed that on the first day they would be free to choose any topic they might prefer:

I.1. Pamphilo tells a long tale of an exceedingly dishonest notary named Cepperello, better known as Ciappelletto (“little hat”) due to his small stature. He is hired by a rich merchant to recover his loans from a villainous lot of Burgundians. When he falls ill on his journey and finds himself on his deathbed, he uses his last confession to fool a local friar into thinking him a holy man so he would not have to pay for a funeral; instead, he ends up being declared a saint. [PG for mocking religion] [12 pages]

I.2. Neiphile tells a short tale about a Christian named Giannotto who urges his Jewish friend, Abraham, to convert. Abraham insists on visiting Rome to see the Pope first, which makes Giannotto lose all hope. Abraham returns after witnessing the extreme wickedness of the highest offices of Christianity and surprises his friend by declaring himself ready for baptism—if a religion with such sinful leadership can continue to spread, it must have the Holy Spirit at work. [PG13 for enumerated sins] [4]

I.3. Philomena tells a very short tale where Saladin, in desperate need of money, attempts to trap a Jew named Melchizedek by asking him which of the three religions is the true one—Jewish, Saracen, or Christian? The wise Jew outsmarts him by telling him a parable of three equally-valuable rings and is subsequently honored for his wisdom. [G] [2]

I.4. Dineo spins a short but sordid tale about a young and vigorous Benedictine monk from Lunigiana who espies a ravishing girl picking herbs. He sneaks her back to his cell where they get ‘carried away’. The monk realizes the abbot has heard the ‘rumpus’ and decides he must outsmart his senior to avoid severe punishment. The monk feigns stepping out for his chores, turning in his key to the abbot, who, worried the girl might be the daughter of someone important, uses the key to check in on her. He feels ‘the same instinct’ and is, of course, confronted by the young monk, who receives a pardon . [R for sex] [4]

I.5. Fiametta tells the very short story of how the King of France, after hearing of the famed beauty and spirit of the Marchioness of Montferrato, decides to pay her a visit while the Marquis is off to war. Upon seeing her, he falls passionately in love with her, but the lady was ‘sharp as well as wise’ and was not deceived about his intentions. She orders her cooks to prepare chicken for every dish. When the king expresses his puzzlement, the noble lady reveals her logic and outwits her royal suitor who promptly departs. [PG for innuendo] [2]

I.6. Emilia gives a very short story about a Franciscan inquisitor who overheard a rich merchant make a mildly sacrilegious remark and seizes the opportunity to extort money from him upon threat of heresy. The simple man himself overhears a verse in a sermon that he uses to point out the cleric’s own hypocrisy. [G] [2]

I.7. Philostrato recounts a short story how Congrande della Scala suffered a bout of stinginess, but a wise guest named Bergamino uses a parable to cure the host. [G] [4]

I.8. Lauretta tells a very short tale about Ermino de’ Grimaldi, who was known not only as the richest man in Italy, ‘both in cash and in kind’ but also reputed as the most greedy and stingy. When a well-mannered and prominent citizen named Guglielmo Borsiere dropped in for a visit, Ermino tells him ‘Liberality’ is the one thing he has ‘never set eyes on’. Shamed, Ermino becomes the most open-handed gentleman. [G] [2]

I.9. Elissa recounted the very short story of a noble lady upon whom soldiers ‘took the basest advantage’ of. ‘Prostrate and beyond comforting’, she decides to lay her complaint before the king. She is told it would be a ‘complete waste of time’ as the king is renown for his passivity. She instead asks him to teach her how he can be ‘so good at swallowing insults’. The king suddenly changed his ways, meting out harsh justice and no longer allowed any to impugn his dignity. [PG for implied rape] [1]

I.10. Pampinea tells a very short tale of an elderly doctor named Master Alberto of Bologna who, although nearing 70, remained ‘receptive as ever to the flames of love’. He comes across an irresistible widow called Margherita de’ Ghisilieri and looks for any excuse to pass by her house. Her friends mock him for thinking he has a chance against all the other young and handsome gentlemen. The man twists their barb before leaving, thus the lady ‘missed her mark and got herself spiked’. [PG for innuendo] [2]

When the stories were complete, the 'sun was beginning to set and the heat had largely abated'. The queen presented the garland to Philomena, who decreed the next day's story-telling would be confined to a theme: 'whims of Fate'. Dineo, who was regarded as 'the life and soul of the party' was granted the special favor of going last and not being bound to the proposed theme.


Next: The Decameron, Day Two



Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Decameron, translated by Guido Waldman. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Miniatures taken from The Decameron by Master Jean Mansel (1430-1450) and copyist Guillebert de Mets, Parigi, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, 5070.

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Decameron Day 1

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