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Boccaccio’s 4 Moral Stories Essay

“…that just as stupidity can often remove one from a state of happiness and place him in the greatest misery, so, too can intelligence rescue the wise man from the greatest of dangers and restore him to his secure state” (Boccaccio 93-94) so begins the story of Saladin, who from the beginnings of pecuniary humbleness becomes a sultan, but because of his many wars (with Christians and other religions) he is short on money and must borrow from the Jew Melchisedech.

This Jew was known to not give loans readily and so Saladin meant to hoodwink the moneylender. To this effect Saladin presented this question: Which religion is the one true path; Christian, Jewish, or Saracen?

It is with this question that the story of the three rings is given. The story is told by Melchisedech in order to give Saladin a moral lesson. The story tells of a king who must give his ring to the next heir, as is the kingdom’s tradition. This king however has three obedient sons whom the king has promised the ring to each, in secret.

In order so that his promise is kept to each son, the king makes the ring into its likeness twice. Thus, when the king dies and each son claims the throne, they each get their ring to prove their position. However, the rings are made in such similar fashion that no one can tell them apart. So, the sons decide to leave it that way. So too does Saladin leave his question to the Jew unanswered and decides to be frank with the man and come right out and ask for the money. The lesson is that there is no one true religion, and furthermore, as a way of wit, Boccaccio is stating that one cannot fool a Jew.

The Monk, The Abbot and the Farm Woman

In this story, Boccaccio delivers the narrative through the voice of Dioneo, whose story involves lies in order to save ones own body from mortal punishment, in this case, a monk. The monk, whose youth and vigor are not daunted by fasts or prayers, gives into his carnal pleasure one afternoon with a farm girl.

The Abbot happens to be walking by and hears the commotion the two of them are making in the monk’s room. Instead of opening the door upon them then, the Abbot decides to wait. In waiting, the monk comes up with his own scheme. The Abbot soon gets the key to the monks room and upon seeing the young woman there, decides to take advantage of the situation, reciting this idiom to himself, “…a sin that’s hidden is half forgiven” (Boccaccio 98).

The monk is reprimanded but tells the Abbot that his sin is shared with the Abbot (this is discovered through the monk explaining about the position of the Abbot and the farm woman’s sexual positions). Thus, unwilling to go to prison himself, the Abbot excuses the monk from prison. The moral lesson in this story is along the same lines as not being the one to throw the first stone; meaning, everyone sins, therefore, is judgment is to be given to anyone; it must be given equally or not at all. In the case of the Abbot and the monk, the punishment for their sins is not given at all.

The Story of Balducci and his Son

Balducci is a man who has lost wife. In so doing, he has lost his love. She however has left him their two year old son.  Without the great love in his life, Balducci renounces the world and decides to dedicate his remaining years to God, and to do the same for his son. Thus, the two family members are in service of God in a little hut on the top of Mount Asinaio.

Miscommunication, or misleading input and sin is the theme of this story. When the son of the story goes into Florence with his father, he only has eyes for women. He has seen nothing so beautiful or charming. He asks his father if he may bring a ‘gosling’ home and feed it (for the father has told the son that the name for women is gosling).

The father is refusing the sons request, and realizes that nature is more powerful than intelligence. In this realization the father feels he has lost all of the years of upbringing with his son for nature, or carnal pleasure has won. It is at this point that the narrator interrupts the story and tells of how women, their beauty, company, and decorum are what he chiefly desires. It is these desire that he has measured life by.

Thus, the moral of this short piece of fiction is to not judge someone else’s desires by one’s own grief. The father merely wanted to spare his son the grief of knowing the death of your loved one.  Thus, the moral of the story becomes more about personal happiness and how that cannot be judged by anyone. Thus, pleasure is to be had in life and that is what the son is arguing for with his father, he is arguing for the pleasures of life.

The Story of Tancredi and Ghismunda

Tancredi is the prince of Salerno and it is his story with which the Fourth Day begins. The love of Tancredi’s life is his daughter. The ominous story teller says that Tancredi’s life would have been easier had he not had her, but the story begins this way in order for the reader to judge the qualities of such a life. Tancredi’s daughter is so beloved by him, that she is made to stay by his side for an extended amount of time.

Although she has had many suitors, she has not married and is well past the age to have done so. Finally, Tancredi has her marry Duke of Capua. Unfortunately the Duke dies and thus Tancredi’s daughter returns to her father. She quickly realized that her father had no further intentions of giving her away in marriage again and so set about finding a suitable lover.

Guiscardo is the valet of the Prince and is the one Ghismunda falls in love with. He returns the Prince’s daughter’s affections.  However, they are soon found out by the Prince. He has Guiscardo imprisoned and beckons his daughter why she would do this; why she would ingratiate herself with someone who is not noble enough to fraternize with.

Ghismunda’s defense lies with answering for herself by stating that she is his daughter and will continue to lover Guiscardo even in death. She argues that it is the disposition of the young to want these things; love and desire.  She implores her father’s sense of self in this argument. In essence Ghismunda cannot deny her nature, and her nature is to love in a carnal and spiritual way.

Thus, it is not her fault and she further defends herself by saying that she chose Guiscardo over all of the others because of his behavior and his noble nature not his noble birth (of which cannot lay claim to having been born in poor circumstances). She soon kills herself as Guiscardo had been ordered strangled and his heart cut from his body. On her death bed her father comes to her too late and repents for his cruelty, it is in this moment that the moral lesson is learned.

The lesson is this: Do not repent too late for your sins, nor should one be cruel toward someone who is merely acting in their nature (in this case Ghismunda acting in her nature to love). Thus, the sin is not carnal pleasure in the story but the misunderstanding or misguided love of a father for his daughter and his negligence of her needs through only seeing to his own needs. Therefore the moral of the story is also selfishness.


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