May 2021 update: This post was originally published 7 January 2012 (though written a few years earlier on MySpace) and entitled “Favorite Decameron stories, Part VII.” I disavow everything I wrote, and can’t believe I wrote any of this with a straight face. I’m absolutely horrified I ever saw such a disturbing story in a positive light. It’s so obvious I only began thinking that way due to the toxic influence of my now-ex and our dysfunctional relationship.
Obviously, it’s not cool to lead anyone on, but two wrongs don’t make a right. It seems much more likely Elena just wanted rid of this creepy older guy who wouldn’t take no for an answer and thought he’d finally leave her alone and get the message after that night in the snow. What Rinieri does to her in return is much more cruel.
It’s absolutely bizarre how I thought this was a great story with an important message simply because Rinieri does make a few good points while ranting against Elena! Yes, many people do tend to find they have better sex and more mature relationships as they get older, but that doesn’t mean young women should seek out much-older guys! A more realistic interpretation is that those things are better when BOTH partners are in their thirties or above.
Oh, and Sergey was only three years older, though mentally he was my youngest guy ever. Here I was talking about the wisdom of choosing older lovers as though I were dating someone 20+ years older! He was also immaturity and inexperience central, far from a great lover, and did nothing towards taking our relationship to a truly serious level. Sergey is 44 now and still contentedly living with his mommy and daddy.
This is a story I found rather horrifying the first time around, but when I got older, I began to recognize the wisdom of the scholar’s words and the cruelty of Elena in rebuking him. She reaps what she sows. In my Russian novel sequel, I had villain Boris quote some of the scholar’s words to his young teaching assistant Kseniya when he’s waging his dastardly campaign to woe her and ultimately seduce her. Young Kseniya is impressed by his command of classic literature, even though Boris is still as base and uncouth as ever. All he’s done is memorize some text, which any fool can do. But of course, Boris is ultimately punished for not only how he causes a sex scandal with Kseniya, but also for what he later does to Lyuba. Once again, the deceiver lays at the mercy of the deceived.
The scholar’s long speech is one huge paragraph in the book, but I’m breaking it up just to be easier on the eyes!
Seventh story of the eighth day: “A scholar is in love with a widow, who loves another man and makes the scholar stand one winter night under the snow waiting for her; later on, as the result of following his advice, she is forced to stand for an entire day in mid-July on top of a tower, naked and exposed to the flies, horseflies, and the sun.”
Elena gets a real power trip out of leading Rinieri on, which culminates in getting him to stand in the cold and snow outside her house for an entire night, after she’d told him they’d finally get to be lovers. This ordeal naturally isn’t good for his body or health, and it takes him awhile to physically recover. Luckily he’s still young enough, and the warmer weather arrives before long. The eighth day, under the rule of Lauretta, is devoted to stories about tricks people play on one another (men on men, women on men, men on women, and women on women), with even Dioneo telling his story on the topic instead of exercising his special privilege of telling a tale on any subject he likes.
Thus it follows that this scholar decides to take a very cruel revenge upon Elena, taking advantage of her desire to get back together with her lover, who’s recently left her for another woman. Rinieri tells her to stand naked up on top of the tower of the Church of Santa Lucia by the Prato gate in Florence, claiming it’s part of a magic spell he’s casting to help her to win back her man. And while she’s starting to suffer up there, realising it’s all a mean trick, Rinieri starts rebuking her at great length. Among the words he speaks to her are these, which I really hadn’t paid very close attention to when I first read the book (and was deep in the throes of a heartache myself, caused by a younger man):
“….You women go around falling in love with younger men, and wanting them to fall for you because their complexions are fresher and their beards a bit blacker, and they walk straighter, and because they dance and joust; somewhat more mature men once possessed all these attributes, but they also know things younger men still have to learn. Moreover, you believe that younger men are better riders [i.e., lovers] and able to do more miles in a day’s ride than more mature men.
“True, I will admit that they can warm your wool with greater energy, but mature men who are more experienced are better acquainted with all those places where the flea hides; a small but spicy serving can be far better than a big but tasteless one; hard riding will break and tire anyone, no matter how young he is, but a slow ride, though you may come somewhat later to your destination, at least will get you there in good shape.
“Senseless creatures that you are, you women do not see how much evil lurks beneath that little bit of handsomeness. Young men are not satisfied with one woman, they desire as many as they see, and they think they deserve to have just that many, so their love cannot be stable, and you yourself can now testify quite well to this fact through your own experience.
“And they think they deserve to be pampered and worshipped by their ladies, and their greatest glory is in boasting about all the women they have had—a defect which has made many a woman end up under a friar, who never opens his mouth about such matters. And although you claim no one knew about your love affair except your maidservant and me, you are mistaken and quite wrong if you believe this; all of your lover’s neighbors, as well as your own, speak of almost nothing else, but the person who is most concerned with such affairs is usually the last to know these things.
“Also, young men will steal from you, while more mature men give you gifts. Therefore, you, who made a bad choice, belong to the man to whom you gave yourself, and you must leave me, whom you scorned, for another, for I have found a lady who is worth much more than you are, one who understands me much better than you ever did….”
I knew from personal experience that a large part of the reason things didn’t work out with [my second and third loves] was because they were so young, immature, inexperienced, still a lot of growing up to do. In hindsight now, I’m glad I didn’t end up with either of them, since they weren’t good matches in the long run. And most younger men want to have a good time, not a serious relationship. And we all know women tend to mature a lot faster than men.
There’s also the issue of how men may reach their sexual peak before women, but who wants a fumbling inexperienced lover who doesn’t know how to last long enough or fully please a woman? For a full ten years, I was convinced I could only have a younger man, as though I’d forgotten how immature men of that age can be. Given the choice between someone who’s barely more than a boy and a grown man, what woman would honestly prefer the much-younger guy?