This is taken from the blogs I wrote on MySpace some years back, spotlighting some of my favorite Decameron stories. This is one of my favoritest books ever. I practically know some of these stories by heart. Forget modern reading fads like Harry Potter and Twilight; give me the classics that have stood the test of time and are still being read and discovered long after their creators left the material world!
One of my all-time favoritest books is The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio. Though I first learnt about it in my sophomore year of high school, and heard one story from it (the ninth story of the fifth day, about Federigo degli Alberighi and Monna Giovanna), I didn’t actually get around to reading it till late 2002. I read a somewhat older translation, complete with illustrations; the edition I have now is a more updated translation, with a lot more of the dirty puns and risqué language rendered truthfully instead of euphemistically or not at all. At least my first experience with this classic book of Medieval literature wasn’t one of the even older translations, which, under the stupid guise of using the original Italian because of the disuse into which magic has fallen (what?), doesn’t translate the best part (indeed the better part) of my all-time favoritest story. Since there are 100 stories, and I haven’t reread all of them, some of them are less memorable and interesting than others, but the tenth story of the third day will always be my favorite.
My own favorite stories:
1. Tenth story of the third day. “Alibech becomes a recluse and a monk named Rustico teaches her how to put the Devil back into Hell. Then she is led away from there to become the wife of Neerbale.” I practically know this story by heart, and it always makes me laugh so much. Alibech is a beautiful but very naïve Tunisian girl, no older than fourteen, who’s heard from many Christians passing through that nothing is more pleasurable than serving God. One day she asks one of them for more detail, and is told the desert is ideal for serving God.
When she reaches the Egyptian desert after several days, without telling anyone she was leaving home (and doing this more from childish impulse than sincere convictions), several religious men turn her away, afraid of what might happen with such a beautiful young girl in the house. Finally a young monk named Rustico takes up the challenge, but as night falls, he realises he’s severely overestimated his willpower, and shrugs his shoulders and surrenders without a battle.
Alibech is so very very naïve she truly believes they’re serving God in the highest possible fashion by putting the Devil back into Hell, having no idea she and Rustico are really having sex. Well, before long she gets so horny she wears Rustico out, and the few times he is able to get it up anymore, “it was like tossing a bean into the mouth of a lion.” Rustico is relieved when Neerbale comes to claim her and take her back to Capsa, her hometown, but Alibech is furious. However, when she tells the other women how she was serving God in the desert, they laugh hysterically and tell her Neerbale will be quite useful to her in serving God that way.
2. Second story of the fourth day. “Brother Alberto convinces a lady that the Angel Gabriel is in love with her; then, disguised as the angel, he sleeps with her many times; in fear of her relatives, he flees from her house and seeks refuge in the home of a poor man, who, on the following day, leads him into the piazza dressed as a wild man of the forest, and there he is recognized by his brother monks and is put into prison.”
I practically know this story by heart too, and it’s a welcome relief from the other stories of the fourth day (bar the tenth, told by Dioneo, who gets to tell stories on whichever topic he likes), love stories that end badly. Brother Alberto is a scoundrel who reinvents himself as a minor friar and a very pious holy man when he flees to Venice. Madonna Lisetta’s husband is away in Flanders when she goes with some other women to be confessed by him, and he quickly realises what a perfect target she is when she goes on and on about her beauty.
With no trouble at all, he convinces this vain foolish woman into believing the Angel Gabriel is in love with her and has asked him to use Brother Alberto’s body to sleep with her. Madonna Lisetta, being the type of woman she is, can’t help from telling a friend about it, and in no time at all it’s the talk of all Venice. Her in-laws are among those who hear the story, though, and things go very badly from then on out.
3. Second story of the third day. “A groom lies with the wife of King Agilulf, and Agilulf discovers this but says nothing; he finds the man and shears his hair; the shorn man shears all the others and thus avoids coming to a bad end.” Medieval Europe was an extremely classist society; people just didn’t mix with those of other classes, let alone consider them as material for lovers or spouses. This lowly groom, though, is as tall, intelligent, and handsome as the king, and falls madly in love with the queen, Teudelinga, widow of King Auttari of the Lombards.
Knowing his place in society, the man never betrays his love to anyone, but is so burning with desire he feels he either has to impersonate the king to sleep with the queen or take his own life for the sake of love. This he does, but no sooner has he gotten back to the servants’ quarters than the king decides to pay a visit to the queen’s bed as well. The king immediately realises, based on what she says in surprise, that she was tricked by another man, but being a wise man, doesn’t tell her she was fooled. He decides instead to cut off a lock of the groom’s hair, after feeling the chests of all the sleeping servants to see whose heart is beating fast.
The groom outsmarts the king and quickly cuts off everyone else’s hair, and so it’s impossible for him to discover the guilty party in the morning. The king lets them go with a cryptic warning, understanding that he would “acquire great shame at the expense of trivial revenge” if he has them all interrogated and tortured to find out who tricked his way into the queen’s bed.