On the first day, the third story by Boccaccio revolves around Saladin, the sultan of Babylon, and a rich Jew named Melchisedech. Despite his humble beginning, the sultan was able to defeat and conquer both the Christian and Saracen kings over a dozen times. Saladin wanted to conquer the city of Alexandria but he lacked adequate capital for this battle. This lack of funds was mainly attributed to his previous battles and the extravagance in the display of his magnificence and might. He wanted to borrow some money from a wealthy Jew named Melchisedech. The sultan knew the rich Jew would not lend him money fairly. Melchisedech was known to lend money and impose high rates on the loan. The sultan plotted to trap Melchisedech to justify the seizure of his estate after giving a wrong answer. The sultan invited Melchisedech to his palace and after brief entertainment and meals, he asked him, of which of the three laws/religions was the truest “…which of those three lawesor religion, thou takest to be truest?” (Bondanella and Musa 48). Wise Melchizedech realized the trap and narrated the story of the three sons and three rings, “…Had a goodly ring of great valew” (Bondanella and Musa 48). The aim of the sultan was to trap Melchizedech by making him choose, which religion between the Christian, Judaism, or Islam, or laws was truest. He wanted him to choose his own religion as the truest of the three, thus getting his motive to take Melchizedech’s estate. The story that Melchizedech had told the sultan was an intelligent way of avoiding choosing between the religions, thus saving his estate. The king in the story promised each of his three sons the ring that would see the bearer being the sole owner of the estate therein. The king loved his son and thus, he made two exact copies of the rings and gave each of his sons, “… Hee caused two other rings to be made” (Bondanella and Musa 49). The story has a huge significance to society in that no particular religion is better than the other. Every religion is as good as the other, and thus, no one should criticize another man’s religion as being inferior to that of his. Later, the sultan acknowledged the wisdom illuminated by Melchizedech and they became friends, “…Respecting him as his especiall friend” (Bondanella and Musa).
Towards the end of the third story, sultan Saladin and Melchizedech became friends after the sultan had failed to con him in admitting which religion was the truest. The sultans defied his customs and beliefs and befriended Melchizedech as a sign of his support that there was no greater religion than the other. Despite him being affiliated to Islam, Saladin appreciated the Melchizedech’s wisdom of recognizing the equality of the three religions/laws. Therefore, Boccaccio in this story wanted to advance the theme of equality of all religions. He chose a Muslim character to add twist to his theme. The author wanted his Christian audience to critically examine and embrace the equality by making his main character embrace the fact that his religion (Islam) was not the best of the three but it was equally leveled with the other two religions. If the author had chosen a Christian character, his theme of equality would have been compromised by biasness in regards to Christianity above other religions.
The story about the young monk and the abbot illustrates Boccaccio’s criticism of the institutional Christian church. The story in summary illustrates how the young monk and the abbot committed adultery against the very basic principles of their monkhood and Christian religion in general. This story is in direct contrast to the story of the sultan and Melchisedech. In the monk story, the author criticizes the Christian church by using the hypocrisy of the monk and the abbot, while in the sultan story, the author advances the theme of equality among all the religions. The two stories are in direct contrast of each other. Boccaccio’s attitude towards religion is clear. He believes all religions are equal as illustrated in the sultan story but every religion has its shortcomings. Further, in the monk and abbot story, Boccaccio illuminates to his audience on how religion can be imperfect on the inside and perfect on the outside. Thus, the monk and the abbot story is Boccaccio’s way of expressing his view of how imperfect religions can be while still maintaining their perfect appearance.
Ghismunda was the only child to Tancredi who was a prince of Salerno. Her marriage to the son of the Duke of Capua ended not long ago due to the death of the Duke’s son. She returned to her father’s court where, after careful observation, she settled for Guiscardo, her father’s valet, “Gentleman among all the rest, a servant to her father” (Bondanella and Musa).
Her father is against her decision of loving a lowly servant. Tancredi was against the affair between his daughter and his valet. He saw the affairs as sin since they were not married; thus, they committed adultery, which was against all religious teachings of that time. He is aggregated by the fact that she has selected a valet over many suitable suitors with noble background, “…Among many worthy spirits in my court…Guiscardo, one of very meane and base decent” (Bondanella and Musa 290). Tancredi, being a prince himself, did not expect his own daughter to be married to a lowly servant. Therefore, he was against such a marriage. Judging from her first marriage, Tancredi expected his daughter to be married to someone noble again and not to a lowly valet. He had Guiscardo arrested and sent to prison awaiting judgment, “…And detained as my prisoner ” (Bondanella and Musa 290). Tancredi was even ready to choose a suitable suitor who was by birth a nobleman. Further, Tancredi, as outlined above, was against the affair due to the fact that they were not married and thus were committing sin, “…Privately conversing with any man, but onely he that was to be thy husband” (Bondanella and Musa 291).
On the contrary, Ghismunda loved Guiscardo, purely overlooking the wealth and his status in her father’s court. She had observed him for long and noted his humility; thus, she fell in love with him despite him being a valet, “True it is, I have loved, and still do, honorable Guiscardo” (Bondanella and Musa 291). Knowing the fate that awaited her lover, she confessed to her father that she would commit suicide if her love were killed, “…And death was likewise welcome to her” (Bondanella and Musa 290). Later, Tancredi had Guiscardo killed and had the servants cut his heart and taken to his daughter in a golden goblet. Tancredi’s sending the heart to his daughter was an indication of his affection to her and his valet. He tried to console his daughter after killing her lover. Later, she drank poison and directed to be buried alongside her lover. Tancredi, full of regret, buried his daughter and her lover together in a public ceremony.
The whole drama could have been avoided should Tancredi have been more understanding and open-minded to his daughter’s choice of a husband. Ghismunda knew he would never approve of their relationship; thus, she opted to be sneaking around with her lover. Tancredi could have taken his daughter’s threats of committing suicide seriously and taken measures to prevent her from going through with it. He could have chosen another way of punishing Guiscardo rather than having him killed. In the end, he lost his daughter and his trusted valet.