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The Decameron | Quotes


This pestilence was so powerful that it was transmitted to the healthy by contact with the sick.

Boccaccio, Preface

This is one of the many vivid descriptions of the plague and its effects on the people of Florence. The plague was horrifying, not least because it spread so fast and was so destructive. It took out entire families in the span of a few days. This is the environment those in the brigata are fleeing.


I saw ... no holiness, no devotion, no good work or exemplary life ... among the clergy; instead, lust, avarice, gluttony, fraud, envy, pride.

Abraham, First Day, Second Story

Abraham, a Jewish man whom Giannotto is trying to convert to Christianity, visited Rome and reports what he saw. This is his impression of the clergy. In the literature of the medieval and Renaissance periods, it was a common trope to have a corrupted clergy member in the tale. In this case Abraham is lumping all clergy in Rome together in sin. Being a member of the Church didn't necessarily mean a person was without fault.


The deceiver is at the mercy of the one he deceives.

Filomena, Second Day, Ninth Story

Filomena says this is a proverb and her story bears this out. The deceived party has the power to hurt the deceiver when the truth is revealed, as illustrated by this story. Zinevra holds the power over Bernabò and Ambroguiolo when she reveals what was done to her, and how she was treated.


I have heard ... one cock is enough to satisfy ten hens, but ... ten men can poorly ... satisfy one woman, and I have to satisfy nine.

Masetto da Lamporecchio, Third Day, First Story

Masetto complains about the sexual appetites of the nuns in the convent. He is exhausting himself by servicing all the ladies. The stories throughout The Decameron refer to women's sometimes insatiable sexual prowess, and this story follows this pattern. The men simply can't keep up with them.


Therefore, I can easily attest to what wise men say is true: only misery is without envy in this world.

Boccaccio, Introduction to Fourth Day

No one wishes they were in a miserable man's position, and this is the only time envy does not enter into it. No one envies the miserable.


She ... allowed no trace of contrition ... to cloud her features, but addressed her father in a firm ... voice, staring him straight in the face.

Fiammetta, Fourth Day, First Story

Ghismunda confronts her father after he discovers her affair. However, she does not resort to wailing or weeping upon discovery. Instead she deals with him calmly and rationally as though she had done nothing wrong. It speaks to her nobility and agency in this story. She is brave and honorable, and shows just how unreasonable Tancredi is being.


Hurry, woman, get up and come see how enchanted your daughter is by the nightingale she has caught and is still holding in her hand.

Lizio da Valbona, Fifth Day, Fourth Story

Lizio has just found his daughter in bed with her lover on the balcony. She had said at one point listening to the nightingales would help her sleep. Lizio is using a play on words to refer to what he saw when he walked in on the two lovers on the balcony, and what his daughter is really holding in her hand of her lover.


The foolish throng gazed upon it in reverent admiration, and they crowded around him and gave him larger offerings than they ever had before.

Dioneo, Sixth Day, Tenth Story

This illustrates the gullibility of the populace when dealing with the clergy and the corruption of supposed men of God. The crowd is eager to hand over their money for fake bits of charcoal that have never touched a saint before, but because a holy man told the crowd it had, they believe him.


Whatever a wife does to a husband who is jealous without a reason is certainly to be praised rather than to be condemned.

Fiammetta, Seventh Day, Fifth Story

The tricks a woman plays on her husband are justified if the husband is unreasonably jealous. In many cases in these stories, the husband had every reason to be jealous and yet he still remained blind to his wife's infidelities. Fiammetta believes a jealous husband—one who does not trust his wife—is about the worst thing a woman can endure.


We have laughed ... over the tricks which have been played, but in these stories, there has never been any mention of retaliation having taken place.

Pampinea, Eighth Day, Seventh Story

Pampinea warns the other members of the brigata although these stories all seem funny, there should be a very real fear of retribution from the pranked/tricked parties involved. She then tells a story about a young man's revenge on a woman who strung him along and played a prank on him that nearly killed him.


Love not only leads lovers to run certain deadly risks, but ... persuades them to enter into the home of the dead pretending to be dead.

Filomena, Ninth Day, First Story

Filomena warns against the darker side of love, the brashness that leads people to do very stupid things in the name of the person they love. She offers up an example of two men who abandon common sense and decide to rob a grave.


When she realized ... she was ... guilty ... the Abbess changed her tone ... concluding ... it was impossible for people to defend themselves from ... desires of the flesh.

Filomena, Ninth Day, Second Story

This quote sums up the hypocrisy of the clergy. The abbess was all set to punish the nun who had been caught with her lover, but as soon as her own misdeed is discovered, she changes her tune on the idea of sexual relations. She basically institutes a "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy throughout the convent. Because the abbess was caught in public and can't deny she's wearing men's pants on her head, she now must allow the girls to see their lovers, or risk revolt and scandal.


One black crow among many white doves will more set off their beauty than the whitest swan could do.

Dioneo, Ninth Day, Tenth Story

Dioneo speaks of the contrast and the powerful way it can work in one's favor. Another white bird will have little effect in a sea of other white birds, but a black one will immediately draw the eye and be compared to the white doves. This could also be said to be true of a woman's beauty and how she presents herself.


I know the havoc ... the powers of Love can inflict ... and I can see ... there is no ... turning back, or ... conquering your tears.

Gisippus, Tenth Day, Eighth Story

Gisippus sees his friend Titus suffering for love and confronts him about it, hoping to find out who the girl is. Titus exhibits all the signs of lovesickness, and Gisippus is his best friend who wants to help him. This helps illustrate their closeness—Gisippus is the only one who noticed Titus's distress and wants to help him.


Gualtieri was ... very wise, though the trials to which he had subjected his lady were regarded as harsh ... whilst Griselda was ... the wisest of all.

Panfilo, Tenth Day, Tenth Story

Gualtieri may have seemed wise, but he was horrible to his wife, something his people did not forget. However, as wise as Gualtieri is, Griselda is wiser still and far more patient than he deserves.

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