The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | Symbols


Fortune/Wheel of Fortune

In The Decameron fortune is random and unpredictable. People are raised in status or wealth, then brought to a lower position or status by another turn of the wheel. In the medieval period it was believed God was ultimately in charge of fortune, adjusting the outcomes of a man's life for some plan only divinely known.

The second day of stories all revolve around misadventures with happy endings. Here the "Wheel of Fortune" is a symbol of the up-and-down cycle. In some cases it has a physical representation as well. In Andreuccio's tale he is constantly going down (dropped into the alley, down the well, down into the tomb) and climbing up again until he returns home with the amount of money he had previously.


In The Decameron the brigata retreat to a residence outside the city to escape the horrors of the plague. During the part of the day when they tell their tales and wait out the heat, they retreat further into a garden. They move to the Valley of the Ladies, an even more secluded area, rife with beautiful plants. The gardens represent a kind of safety. In medieval literature a walled garden was used to keep something safe, or allow for privacy. The brigata take advantage of this, creating their own safe haven away from the outside world.

Because of the way religion permeated almost all aspects of medieval life, one can also view the garden as a return to Eden, the biblical garden of Adam and Eve. The brigata escapes the threat of infection, the filth of dead bodies left in the streets, and the stress of a world turned upside down. The garden is an idyllic space, beautiful and peaceful, where the brigata can dance and sing and tell stories without care. Pampinea even forbids news of the outside world while they are away, making it a true retreat away from the fallen world of man. In terms of Dante the brigata escapes the hell of plague-ridden Florence to stay at a veritable paradise, though it ends up being a purgatory since they do have to return to the city. The garden is only a respite.

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