Least-favorite Decameron stories, Part II

4. Ninth story of the ninth day. “Two young men ask advice from Solomon, one of them as to what he must do to be loved, the other as to how he should punish his stubborn wife; Solomon tells the first man to love and the other to go to the Goose Bridge.” This story makes me want to vomit, even more so than the tale of Nastagio scaring and bullying his decidedly non-mutual crush into marrying him by taunting her with a horrific ghostly apparition.

The ninth day, under the rule of Emilia, is a free-for-all, with everyone allowed to tell stories on whatever topic they’d like. Emilia, who tells this repugnant story, has been called out by many commentators and scholars over the years as being rather anti-feminist and not very friendly towards her own sex. This story proves it in spades. Giosefo, the man with the “misbehaving” wife who dares not obey his every last word and never assert herself, sees a man beating his stubborn mule on the Goose Bridge, and gets the brilliant idea to beat the shit out of his wife so she’ll have her spirit completely broken.

The moral of the story is to learn to beat your wife so she’ll never step out of line, assert herself, or go against anything her asshole husband demands. Since, you know, God forbid women have rights or even a voice. They don’t get a say in anything because they weren’t born with a penis. It’s nauseating to think about how it was not only legal, but considered perfectly normal and socially acceptable, to beat one’s wife until relatively recently in human history. The charming Emilia also thinks women who assert themselves and don’t go along with everything their husbands think or say are a complete disgrace to all women. Yeah, Emilia, if you were real, I’m sure you’d just love getting beaten black and blue by some brute on a whim!

5. Third story of the eighth day. “Calandrino, Bruno, and Buffalmacco go down to the Mugnone River in search of heliotrope, and Calandrino thinks he has found it; he returns home loaded with stones; his wife scolds him, and he, losing his temper, beats her up, and tells his companions what they already know better than he.”

Another charming story culminating in spousal abuse and anti-woman violence. Calandrino figures in several Decameron stories, always playing the same town idiot whom everyone makes fun of without him realizing it. Picture a Medieval Italian version of someone like Homer Simpson, only without any charming, redeeming qualities. That’s Calandrino, the rube of all Florence.

Calandrino is led to believe by his so-called friends that there’s Magickal heliotrope in the river that’ll make him invisible. His supposed buddies make believe they can’t see him, and throw stones at him all the way back home, pretending they’re unable to see him and not aiming right at him on purpose. They let the customs guards in on the joke, so Calandrino is able to pass still believing he’s invisible. And as they’re coming home, there are very few people in the streets, since it’s dinnertime.

The joke is up when this moron comes home, and his wife Tessa berates him for being late. Calandrino is furious, believing she spoilt his “magic” because women always ruin everything. He beats her to a pulp, covering her in bruises and almost breaking her bones. I had absolutely no sympathy for this wife-beating asshole in any of the other stories he was featured in after this. But then again, wives were property in this era, a love match was almost unheard of, and most men thought they had the right to do whatever they wanted simply because they’d been born with a penis. Ugh.

6. Tenth story of the tenth day. “The Marquis of Sanluzzo is urged by the requests of his vassals to take a wife, and in order to have his own way in the matter, he chooses the daughter of a peasant and by her he has two children, whom he pretends to have put to death. Then, under the pretense that she has displeased him, he pretends to have taken another wife, and has their own daughter brought into the house as if she were his new wife, having driven out his real wife in nothing more than her shift. Having found that she has patiently endured all this, he brings her back home, more beloved than ever, shows their grown children to her, honors her, and has others honor her, as the Marchioness.”

Gualtieri wants to stick it to his vassals, so he marries a peasant, Griselda, whose looks and manners he’s been very impressed with. But he’s an asshole on a power trip, so he gets off on “testing” her in the most cruel ways. He presents a fake Papal bull of divorce, claiming his subjects are pissed he didn’t produce a child with a penis on the first try, pretends to have their kids killed, drives her out of their home in nothing but a slip, and then pretends he’s marrying a 12-year-old girl who’s really their daughter. What a vile, repugnant human being.

No woman in her right mind would patiently bear all these horrific insults, and no man who really loves his wife would put her through all this just to “test” her and because he doesn’t trust any women anyway. What a complete controlling asshole. Griselda patiently bears all these horrific things, and when this clown finally realizes what a true blue woman she is, he comes to his senses and brings her back as his wife. Ugh. The Oxford Scholar’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales is admittedly a practically word-by-word retelling of this charming tale of a controlling, suspicious husband and his unrealistically patient, loving wife.

One thought on “Least-favorite Decameron stories, Part II

  1. The tale of Griselda is best thought of as an analogy to God and the way he treats humans. Testing them and torturing them under the pretense of love and promising a reward at the end of it all if they live up to his expectations. It is truly a sickening story if taken at face value and it is certainly meant to be!

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