These are some of my favorite runners-up, including some I rediscovered and started to like and appreciate a lot more the second or greater time around.

1. Ninth story of the second day. “Bernabò da Genoa is deceived by Ambruogiuolo, loses his money, and orders his innocent wife to be killed; she escapes, and in the disguise of a man enters the service of the Sultan; she locates the one who deceived her husband and leads Bernabò to Alexandria, where she dons female attire once again, after the deceiver is punished, and returns to Genoa with her husband and their riches.”

Bernabò really was setting himself up to become a victim, the way he insisted so strongly to his buddies that his wife was the noblest of women and never cheated on him while he was away, and that he didn’t cheat either. Ambruogiuolo da Piacenza finds his assertions more and more hilarious, and resolves to prove his wife Zinevra is just as morally loose as anyone else’s wife. Bernabò stupidly wagers 5,000 florins against Ambruogiuolo’s 1,000, and loses all his money when, through sneaking into Zinevra’s bedroom, Ambruogiuolo convinces him that he’s slept with Zinevra.

The servant whom Bernabò had ordered to murder Zinevra has pity on her, and lets her escape with his clothes so she can pretend to be a man. When the wicked deceiver shows up in Alexandria, where Zinevra is serving the Sultan under the male name Sicurano, his story begins to unravel, and Zinevra understands the reason for her husband’s anger. A most cruel punishment awaits Ambruogiuolo.

The story concludes with the classic line “And thus it was that the deceiver lay at the mercy of the deceived.” I used that very line, in the present tense of course, to conclude Chapter 20 of my Russian novel sequel, “Dmitriy Is Discovered,” when Anastasiya’s second in command and alternate designer, a young Latvian named Dagnjia, learns about her bastard son and proceeds to make herself even more prominent at the salon and with frequent visits at home: “Now, the deceiver lays at the mercy of the deceived.”

2. Second story of the eighth day. “The priest of Varlungo goes to bed with Monna Belcolore, leaving his cloak with her as a pledge; after borrowing a mortar from her, he sends it back to her and asks that she return the cloak he left as a pledge; the good woman returns it to him with a few well-chosen words.”

This priest is a real piece of work; when he realises he’s not going to make enough money to cover even a half of what the wonderful cloak cost, he gets the son of a neighbor to go over to Monna Belcolore’s house and ask her to lend him her mortar. Then later in the day he has the sacristan return the mortar and tells him to tell Belcolore to also return the cloak which the neighbor boy left as a supposed guarantee.

Both Belcolore and her husband Bentivegna are quite pissed, both for different reasons, and she tells the sacristan to tell the priest that he won’t be grinding anymore sauce in her mortar. The priest just laughs and tells him to relay his own message, that if she won’t lend him her mortar, he won’t lend her his pestle. Everyone but the hapless peasant husband knows what they really mean by mortar and pestle!

3. Sixth story of the ninth day. “Two young men take lodgings at someone’s home, where one of them lies with the host’s daughter, while his wife inadvertently lies with the other; the man who was with the daughter gets into bed with her father and tells him everything, thinking he is speaking to his companion; they start quarreling; when the wife realizes what has happened, she gets into her daughter’s bed and then, with certain remarks, she reconciles everyone.”

Pinuccio has been in love with Niccolosa for quite some time, but they haven’t managed to find a way to be intimate yet. He and his buddy Adriano get the bright idea to take up lodgings overnight with Niccolosa’s family, and during the night Pinuccio and Niccolosa sleep together. The family cat knocks some stuff over during this time, and the wife gets up to see what’s the matter.

While she’s up, Adriano is also up to use the chamber pot, and when returning to his bed, moves the cradle of Niccolosa’s baby brother, since he can’t get around it. Then the wife gets into bed with Adriano, thinking she almost got into the wrong bed because there was no cradle. Pinuccio, a bit later on, leaves his lover and gets into bed with the host, also thinking it’s his bed because there isn’t a cradle. The wife convices her husband that Pinuccio is drunk and dreaming, and everyone is indeed reconciled. This story is strikingly similar to the Reeve’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales, only that story doesn’t have quite such a happy and conciliatory ending.

4. Ninth story of the third day. “Giletta of Narbonne cures the King of France of a fistula; in reward she requests Beltramo di Rossiglione for her husband, who after marrying her against his will, goes to Florence out of indignation; there he courts a young woman whom Giletta impersonates and in this way sleeps with him in her place and bears him two children; as a result, he finally holds her most dear and accepts her as his wife.”

Giletta is one of the ballsiest women in The Decameron. Not only does she use her wits and intelligence to figure out ways to fulfill all of Beltramo’s seemingly impossible requirements for becoming his most dear wife (bearing him a son and wearing a ring that’s very dear to him), but she’s also a female doctor in an era when women didn’t go to school, let alone med school. Her father taught her everything she knows about medicine, and in this way she was able to save the King of France and guarantee her longtime crush be granted to her as a husband. She’s feminist and empowered in the way a Medieval woman could be.

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