Boccaccio’s Decameron, Day 5 Novella 4

Decameron • Fifth Day, Fourth Novella by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375)

This English translation is © 2016 by Christopher DiMatteo. All rights reserved.

Filostrato’s story, in which Ricciardo Manardi is found by Messer Lizio da Valbona with his daughter, whom he marries and keeps peace with her father.

Giovanni BoccaccioOnce Elisa had finished and heard her friends praise her story, the Queen told Filostrato that it was his turn to speak and he began with a laugh:

Many of you have chided me, so many times, for having told stories of cruelty that bring you to tears. It seems to me that I should provide a remedy for this annoyance, so I want to tell you one that should make you laugh. And so, it is a love story, with nothing scarier than sighs of love and a brief spell of fear mixed with shame, but with a happy ending; this I intend to tell you in a little novella.

Not a long time ago, gentle ladies, in Romagna there was a worthy and noble knight, who was called Messer Lizio da Valbona, who, although he was getting close to old age, had a daughter with his wife Madonna Giacomina.

As the daughter grew up, among all the young ladies in the contrada, she became the sweetest and most beautiful. Since she was her father and mother’s only remaining child, her parents loved her more than anything and they doted on her and took care of her with marvelous care, as they expected to make a fine marriage for her.

And so there used to come to the home of Messer Lizio a fine young man, of the family of the Manardi da Brettinoro, called Ricciardo, who was a good friend and one whom neither Messer Lizio or his wife would ever suspect, any more than if he were their own son. Once and again seeing the beautiful and lovely young lady, and being well-bred, polite and of marriageable age, he fell madly in love with her, and with great effort he kept his love a secret.

Once the young lady noticed the young man, without missing a beat, she fell in love with him too, which made Ricciardo very happy.

Many times he wanted to say some words to her, but kept quiet out of fear, but one time, he gathered his courage and told her, “Caterina, please, don’t make me die for your love!”

The young lady said right back, “God willing, you don’t do the same to me!”

This answer gave Ricciardo great pleasure and fed his love, and he told her, “For me, I will have nothing unless it pleases you, but you have to find a way to save us from being apart, for the sake of your life and of mine.”

Then the young lady said, “Ricciardo, you see how closely I am watched, and I can’t see how you can come to me, but if you can figure out how we can do that without dishonor, tell it to me and I will do it.”

Ricciardo, having thought things over, quickly replied: “My sweet Caterina, I can’t think of anything, except if you go to sleep on the balcony that is next to your father’s garden, and if I know that you are there at night, I will figure out a way to reach you, even as high up as it is.”

To which Caterina replied, “If you have the courage to come, I am pretty sure I can take care of sleeping out there.”

Ricciardo said yes. Having said that, they kissed each other only quickly, and he went away.

The next day, as it was already near the end of May, the young lady began asking her mother, complaining that the previous night due to the excessive heat, she had not been able to sleep.

Her mother replied, “O my daughter, what heat was that? It was not even really so hot,” to which Caterina said: “Mother, you should say ‘in my opinion,’ and maybe you would be right; but you should think of how much warmer young women are than older women.”

The woman then said, “My dear girl, that is true, but I can’t make the weather warm or cool as I please, as perhaps you would like. You had better be ready to put up with whatever weather the seasons give us. Maybe tonight it will be cooler and you will sleep better.”

“God, I hope so,” said Caterina, “but it’s not the usual way things work, getting on toward summer, for the nights to get cooler.”

“So,” said the mother, “what do you want to do?”

Caterina replied, “Whenever my father and you would like, I could make a little bed up on the balcony that is along the side of your bedroom and above the garden, and I could sleep there: and hearing the nightingale sing, and having a cooler spot, I could be so much more comfortable than I am in your room.”

Her mother then said, “Don’t worry, I will tell your father and we will do as he decides.”

Once messer Lizio heard these things from his wife, being as old as he was and because of that maybe a bit reluctant, said, “What nightingale is this that she needs to fall asleep to? I’ll have her still sleep to the song of the crickets.”


The nightingale singing, in the picture and in the 4-minute audio track above.

When Caterina heard that, more from heat of passion than of warmth, the next night not only did she not sleep, she made sure her mother did not sleep either, with all of her complaining about the heat.

Having heard it all night, in the morning her mother took her to her father and told him, “My dear, your love is showing but slightly to the young girl. What is it to you if she sleeps on that balcony? She got no rest all night due to the heat, and besides that, can you imagine why she wouldn’t want to hear the nightingale sing, a young girl like her? Young people want to have these things that they like.”

Hearing this, Messer Lizio said, “All right, make a bed out there just as you like it, and put a curtain up around it, and sleep there, and she can listen to the nightingale sing as much as she pleases.”

The young lady, upon hearing this, quickly had a bed made; and since she was to sleep there that night, she watched and waited for Ricciardo, and gave him their secret signal, by which he understood what he was to do.

Once Messer Lizio heard his daughter had gone to bed, he locked the door that leads from his room to the balcony, and he went to sleep himself.

Then, when Ricciardo heard that everything had quieted down, with the help of a ladder he climbed up onto a wall, and from there on the wall, getting hold of bits of some ledges, with great effort and danger, if he had fallen, he reached the balcony, where he was received quietly and with great joy. After many kisses, they got into bed together and for almost the whole night took pleasure of one another, making the nightingale sing many times.

The night being short and the pleasure great, soon it was almost dawn (which they couldn’t believe) and since they were still warm, from the weather and from their play, they fell asleep wearing nothing, Caterina with her right arm wrapped under Ricciardo’s neck, and with her left hand she held him by that which you gentle ladies are ashamed to name in the presence of men.

And in that position they slept, without awakening as the day dawned, and Messer Lizio got up. Remembering that his daughter was sleeping outside on the balcony, he quietly opened the door and said, “Let me see how the nightingale made Caterina sleep last night.”

So he went outside, quietly lifted up the curtain that surrounded the bed and he saw her and Ricciardo naked and uncovered, sleeping in each other’s arms as described above. Having noticed Ricciardo, he quickly stepped away and went to his wife’s bedroom and called to her, saying, “Hurry and get up, come see what a fan of the nightingale your daughter is, so much that she has captured it and holds it in her hand.”

His wife replied, “How can this be?” Messer Lizio said, “you’ll see, but you have to hurry up!”

She got dressed quickly and quietly followed Messer Lizio. When they reached the bed and lifted the curtain, Madonna Giacomina could clearly see how her daughter had captured and held in her hand the nightingale, whose song she had so much wished to hear.

At this, the lady wanted to cry out and accuse his villainy, but Messer Lizio said, “My dear, listen, as much as you hold dear my love, make not a sound, because in all truth, now once that she has captured him, he surely will become hers! Ricciardo is a wealthy young gentleman. He is nothing but a great match for us. And if he wants to get away from me in one piece, he’ll have to marry her! He sure has put his nightingale into his own cage and not someone else’s.” This reassured her, as she saw that her husband was not upset by this, and considered that her daughter had had a good night, was well rested and had captured her nightingale, she kept quiet.

As soon as they had said these words to each other, Ricciardo awakened and seeing the light of day, was shocked almost to death, and called to Caterina saying, “Oh no, my dearest, what are going to do, it’s day already and I am caught here?”

At these words, Messer Lizio came out, lifted the curtain from the bed and replied, “We will do just fine.”

When Ricciardo saw him, it felt to him that his heart would leap out of his chest; sitting up on the bed, he said, “Sir, I beg you for mercy for God’s sake, I understand that for my disloyalty and sinfulness, I could deserve to die, and so do with me as you will, but I beg of you, if it can be, that you have mercy on me and spare my life.”

To this Messer Lizio said, “Ricciardo, the love and faith that I had in you do not deserve this, but even so, since this is how it is and seeing how your youthfulness has led you to this, in order to spare you from death and me from deep embarrassment, before you make another move, marry Caterina as your legitimate wife, so that as she was with you last night, so shall it be for as long as she lives. In this way you may achieve your salvation and also peace with me. And if you will not, then may God have mercy on your soul.”

While her father was speaking, Caterina let go of the nightingale, put some clothes on and began crying loudly, begging her father to pardon Ricciardo, while also begging Ricciardo to do was his father wished, so that they could be sure to share nights like that again for a long time. But she did not have to beg very much. For all these reasons, on the one hand the shame for their sin and the willingness to make amends, and on the other hand the fear of death and the desire to escape it, and beyond that, the burning love and the desire to possess the loved one, freely and without any reservation they willingly consented to Messer Lizio’s wishes.

And so with that, Messer Lizio borrowed one of Madonna Giacomina’s rings from her and without further ado, Ricciardo married Caterina right there in front of her parents. Once this was done, Messer Lizio and his wife went back inside, saying, “Now get some rest, since maybe you need that more than to get up now.”

When they had left, the young lovers embraced again, and since they had covered not more than six miles during the night, they covered another two miles before the end of the early morning. Once they got up Ricciardo had a more orderly conversation with Lizio and a few days later, as they had agreed, married his daughter in the presence of all of their friends and family and with great celebration brought her home. They had a beautiful and honorable marriage and lived a long and peaceful life together and made the nightingale sing by day and by night as much as they liked.