Literature Study GuidesThe DecameronFirst Day Second Story Summary

The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | First Day, Second Story | Summary

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Summary

Neifile tells the next story about a Parisian merchant named Giannotto di Civignì and his Jewish friend, Abraham. Both are good upright men, but Giannotto worries for the state of Abraham's soul. He does his best to convince his friend to leave the Jewish faith and convert to Christianity so his soul won't be confined to hell upon his death, but Abraham keeps refusing.

Finally, Abraham tells Giannotto he will consider converting if he can go to Rome and see the pope and his cardinals to see how they conduct themselves. Giannotto tries to convince him not to go, but to no avail. Abraham sets off for Rome and stays with his Jewish friends so he can observe the clergy.

Abraham observes the pope, bishops, and cardinals behaving in shameful ways. When he sees enough, Abraham returns to Paris and reunites with his friend. When Giannotto asks Abraham what he saw, Abraham tells him in no uncertain terms the kind of men he thinks the pope and his brethren are. But he also says despite all of their perceived efforts to make Christianity fail due to their sinful natures, the fact it has not speaks well of the religion and he is going to convert. Giannotto cannot be happier and Abraham is baptized immediately.

Analysis

This second story is another example of poking fun at the religious leaders of the time. Giannotto strives to convince his Jewish friend Abraham to convert to Christianity (Catholicism). The problem arises when Abraham thinks about the state of the clergy. Abraham's visit to Rome reveals the corruption rampant in the Church during this period, while also tapping once again into the trope of the greedy or lecherous clergyman.

However, Boccaccio makes a point of Abraham deciding for himself Christianity must have something going for it. This is an instance of someone thinking for themselves and making their own decision rather than doing what the clergy tells them to. Class is upended in this same fashion. Giannotto and Abraham would be merchant/middle class in this story, while the clergy (especially those in Rome) would be part of the upper class. And yet, Abraham and Giannotto follow their own minds.

Boccaccio's treatment of Abraham is a departure from most Jewish representation in literature of the period. Abraham's religion (and the character himself) is treated with tolerance and respect within the narrative. Considering the prejudice faced by those of the Jewish faith during the Middle Ages, Boccaccio's depiction is quite advanced and remarkable.

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