Week 10: Boccaccio's Decameron

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End of the First Day

Reading time: 6 minutes. Word count: 1200 words.

In order to develop the framework of his story, Boccaccio provides an elaborate description of the end of the first day. And remember: ten stories were told that day (one story per person), although you only read two of them. Pampinea makes Filomena the queen for the next day, and Filomena decides that it would be good to propose a topic for each day, so that each of the stories told on that day should relate somehow to that topic. Dioneo also asks for a special privilege: he should be granted the privilege of telling the last story each day. The scene concludes with singing and dancing, and the party then retires to bed at the end of their first day's retreat from the city.

As the young ladies and the three young men finished their storytelling the sun was westering and the heat of the day in great measure abated. Which their queen observing, debonairly thus she spoke:—"Now, dear gossips, my day of sovereignty draws to a close, and nought remains for me to do but to give you a new queen, by whom on the morrow our common life may be ordered as she may deem best in a course of seemly pleasure; and though there seems to be still some interval between day and night, yet, as whoso does not in some degree anticipate the course of time, cannot well provide for the future; and in order that what the new queen shall decide to be meet for the morrow may be made ready beforehand, I decree that from this time forth the days begin at this hour. And so in reverent submission to Him in whom is the life of all beings, for our comfort and solace we commit the governance of our realm for the morrow into the hands of Queen Filomena, most discreet of damsels."

So saying she arose, took the laurel wreath from her brow, and with a gesture of reverence set it on the brow of Filomena, whom she then, and after her all the other ladies and the young men, saluted as queen, doing her due and graceful homage.

Queen Filomena modestly blushed a little to find herself thus invested with the sovereignty; but, being put on her mettle by Pampinea's recent admonitions, she was minded not to seem awkward, and soon recovered her composure. She then began by confirming all the appointments made by Pampinea, and making all needful arrangements for the following morning and evening, which they were to pass where they then were. Whereupon she thus spoke:—

"Dearest gossips, though, thanks rather to Pampinea's courtesy than to merit of mine, I am made queen of you all, yet I am not on that account minded to have respect merely to my own judgment in the governance of our life, but to unite your wisdom with mine; and that you may understand what I think of doing, and by consequence may be able to amplify or curtail it at your pleasure, I will in few words make known to you my purpose. The course observed by Pampinea to-day, if I have judged aright, seems to be alike commendable and delectable; wherefore, until by lapse of time, or for some other cause, it grow tedious, I purpose not to alter it.

"So when we have arranged for what we have already taken in hand, we will go hence and enjoy a short walk; at sundown we will sup in the cool; and we will then sing a few songs and otherwise divert ourselves, until it is time to go to sleep. To-morrow we will rise in the cool of the morning, and after enjoying another walk, each at his or her sweet will, we will return, as to-day, and in due time break our fast, dance, sleep, and having risen, will here resume our story-telling, wherein, methinks, pleasure and profit unite in superabundant measure.

"True it is that Pampinea, by reason of her late election to the sovereignty, neglected one matter, which I mean to introduce, to wit, the circumscription of the topic of our story-telling, and its preassignment, that each may be able to premeditate some apt story bearing upon the theme; and seeing that from the beginning of the world Fortune has made men the sport of divers accidents, and so it will continue until the end, the theme, so please you, shall in each case be the same; to wit, the fortune of such as after divers adventures have at last attained a goal of unexpected felicity."

The ladies and the young men alike commended the rule thus laid down, and agreed to follow it. Dioneo, however, when the rest had done speaking, said:—"Madam, as all the rest have said, so say I, briefly, that the rule prescribed by you is commendable and delectable; but of your especial grace I crave a favour, which, I trust, may be granted and continued to me, so long as our company shall endure; which favour is this: that I be not bound by the assigned theme if I am not so minded, but that I have leave to choose such topic as best shall please me. And lest any suppose that I crave this grace as one that has not stories ready to hand, I am henceforth content that mine be always the last."

The queen, knowing him to be a merry and facetious fellow, and feeling sure that he only craved this favour in order that, if the company were jaded, he might have an opportunity to recreate them by some amusing story, gladly, with the consent of the rest, granted his petition. She then rose, and attended by the rest sauntered towards a stream, which, issuing clear as crystal from a neighbouring hill, precipitated itself into a valley shaded by trees close set amid living rock and fresh green herbage. Bare of foot and arm they entered the stream, and roving hither and thither amused themselves in divers ways till in due time they returned to the palace, and gaily supped.

Supper ended, the queen sent for instruments of music, and bade Lauretta lead a dance, while Emilia was to sing a song accompanied by Dioneo on the lute. Accordingly Lauretta led a dance, while Emilia with passion sang the following song:

So fain I am of my own loveliness,
I hope, nor think not e'er
The weight to feel of other amorousness.

When in the mirror I my face behold,
That see I there which doth my mind content,
Nor any present hap or memory old
May me deprive of such sweet ravishment.
Where else, then, should I find such blandishment
Of sight and sense that e'er
My heart should know another amorousness?

Nor need I fear lest the fair thing retreat,
When fain I am my solace to renew;
Rather, I know, 'twill me advance to meet,
To pleasure me, and shew so sweet a view
That speech or thought of none its semblance true
Paint or conceive may e'er,
Unless he burn with ev'n such amorousness.

Thereon as more intent I gaze, the fire
Waxeth within me hourly, more and more,
Myself I yield thereto, myself entire,
And foretaste have of what it hath in store,
And hope of greater joyance than before,
Nay, such as ne'er
None knew; for ne'er was felt such amorousness.

This ballade, to which all heartily responded, albeit its words furnished much matter of thought to some, was followed by some other dances, and part of the brief night being thus spent, the queen proclaimed the first day ended, and bade light the torches that all might go to rest until the following morning; and so, seeking their several chambers, to rest they went.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how is the new queen chosen each day?
  • what is the special privilege that Dioneo asks for himself and for his daily story?
  • when they are not telling stories, what kinds of things do they do for entertainment?

Source: Decameron, by Boccaccio: Book 1, Novel 3. Translation by J.M. Rigg (1903). Website: Decameron Web. Volume 1 (= Days 1-4) available at Project Gutenberg.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM