In The Decameron, is the story of Griselda meant to symbolize an ideal?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Giovanni Boccaccio's epic work The Decameron was written over the course of several years and contains reworkings of common myths and legends. Of note is his version of the Griselda myth, in which a man tests his wife's obedience and patience by subjecting her to a number of cruel deceptions.

The Griselda myth is remarkably similar to the Biblical story of Job, where God tests Job by subjecting him to tragedies. The significant difference is that while Job's tragedies were real, Griselda's are fictional, created by her husband Gualtieri; while he claims to kill their children, they are alive, and when he divorces her, he sends her back to her father's house, where he knows she will be taken in and comforted. For her part, Griselda is astonishingly placid and deferential; when Gualtieri divorces her, she says:

"My lord, I ever knew that my low degree was on no wise congruous with your nobility, and acknowledged that the rank I had with you was of your and God's bestowal, nor did I ever make as if it were mine by gift, or so esteem it, but still accounted it as a loan. 'Tis your pleasure to recall it, and therefore it should be, and is, my pleasure to render it up to you."
(Boccaccio, The Decameron,

As she was a simple woman when he married her, she makes it clear that she saw his generosity as a gift rather than as an entitlement. In this sense, Griselda is shown to be an "ideal" woman for the time, when women were always expected to defer to their husbands and to indignities. The metaphor does not, however, last the test of time, and so is not literally relevant today.