Literature Study GuidesThe DecameronThird Day Tenth Story Summary

The Decameron | Study Guide

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron | Third Day, Tenth Story | Summary

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Summary

Dioneo narrates the final story of the day. In Tunisia lived a 14-year-old girl named Alibech. While not a Christian, Alibech was impressed by those Christians around her and asked one how best to serve God. She was told she should deny the things of the world. She takes the words to heart and sets out by herself for the Egyptian desert.

She arrives at the hut of a holy man. When he asks what she is doing there, Alibech answers she wishes to learn how to serve God. Fearful he might be tempted by her beauty, the holy man directs her to another holy, much holier, man. This occurs several times until she finally comes upon a young hermit named Rustico.

Seeing Alibech is young and beautiful, Rustico wishes to test himself against temptation and does not send her away. He finds himself unequal to the task and begins to think of a way to sleep with her. He tells her the best way to serve God is to put the s-called devil back in hell. When she asks how to do this, he tells her to follow what he does—they both end up naked and kneeling opposite each other in prayer.

Since Alibech is a virgin, she doesn't know what she is seeing when Rustico becomes erect. He tells her it is the devil, and she has a place inside of her known as hell where he has to put it. The euphemism for sex continues throughout the story with Alibech none the wiser.

She soon becomes so enamored with putting the devil in hell Rustico can no longer keep up with her stamina, and tries to find a way to rid himself of her. During this time, Alibech's father and brothers are killed in a house fire and she is the sole heir. A young man named Neerbale comes to find her and Rustico happily gives Alibech over to him to marry.

When some women in the city ask Alibech how she served God out in the desert, she tells them how she put the devil in hell. The women are amused and tell her she will have plenty of opportunity to serve God as Neerbale's wife.

Analysis

This is another bawdy tale to end the day from Dioneo. Alibech is a woman of action in this story, who makes her own decisions. This is also one of the most explicit tales in The Decameron, and one of the finer examples of Boccaccio's earthier take on the subject matter.

The hermit, Rustico, while holy, is still a very fallible man. He believes he can resist the temptation Alibech represents, but soon realizes he is not up to the task. Instead, he uses trickery to find a way to have sex with her. She is naïve and is still learning about God and Christianity, so she will believe anything. Again, the sinful clergyman trope appears.

Alibech is hardly a passive observer, and this is one of the great aspects of this story. She enjoys sex so much she runs through Rustico's stamina, and he tries to think of a way to get rid of her before she exhausts him completely. Boccaccio shows a woman enjoying receiving pleasure and demanding it. Alibech is not ashamed of her desires, which is a change from most medieval literature of the time period in which the woman was placed on a pedestal and was not to be touched, but unrealistically worshipped.

Such an egalitarian way of talking about sexual desires captures the real world. Boccaccio didn't write for imagined lovers—he wrote The Decameron for real people, and most of his characters react in typically human ways. They deceive, they enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, they like drinking and song. Even the brigata enjoy their feasts, dances, and songs. They enjoy pleasure, and this seems to be Boccaccio's chief motivation: do things that give pleasure, in the right ways or at least in ways that end successfully.

Alibech's innocence is played for laughs with the euphemism of "put the Devil back in Hell" and her eager willingness to do so. Here is another instance of deception, this time using language. The reader knows what this means, but Alibech takes it literally. The women she tells the story to know exactly what took place and they do not enlighten her. Instead they assure her she will have a chance to remain pious with her new husband. Alibech is not punished for her past actions, nor is she made to feel shame or embarrassment. Her innocence is still enjoyed by the women, and they make a point of reassuring and protecting her. While they continue the literary deception, since no one bothers to explain it to her, they do not make fun of the girl.

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