Introduction to Day Five
By Emily Butterworth
Day 5 marks a pivotal point in the grand (and unfinished) scheme of the Heptameron, approaching halfway through the projected ten days’ storytelling. The storytellers are becoming increasingly engaged with Oisille’s morning Bible lessons, which we’re told are more profitable than any sermon they’ve ever heard. Marguerite’s evangelical position comes through clearly as this group of lay people, led by a woman, discuss the spiritual truths of the gospel.
Saffredent starts the storytelling with an ironic plea to his audience to have pity on the great villains of the Heptameron – the Franciscans. The story he tells, however, is not obviously designed to evoke pity; indeed, three of the four stories about Franciscan friars told on this day create instead a sense of menace and threat. Young girls unprotected by those who should be their guardians are particularly vulnerable. Two of the stories involve a Franciscan taking advantage of the secrecy of the confessional. Telling her story of Franciscan concupiscence and duplicity, in which a friar rapes a young bride on her wedding night, Ennasuite warns against taking appearances at face value: the habit (she says, drawing on an old proverb) does not make the monk. In response, Oisille recommends vigilance and suspicion rather than trusting naivety. Nomerfide’s light-hearted and very short story – about a Franciscan who is rewarded for telling the truth about women’s foolishness – does little to dissipate the sense of threat that is building around these predatory characters. Indeed, in the discussion after this story, Parlamente warns against Franciscan theology, which seems to aim at keeping women foolish. She points to the Bible as a touchstone that everyone can use to discern the value of any preaching. Storytelling is a similar enterprise: in the debates that follow each tale, the storytellers exercise their judgement and discernment.
Hircan and Geburon tell stories about women’s hypocrisy and audacity – both protagonists outface their accusers and emerge with their reputations intact, at least until their stories are told. Simontaut, in contrast, recounts the story of a clever man who outwits his naïve wife.
Parlamente’s story is another one that is probably about Marguerite’s brother, François I, in which the young prince is educated in virtue and duty by his namesake, Françoise.
In Dagoucin’s story, two friends are pulled apart by suspicion and secrecy; and in Longarine’s final tale, an Italian dies of love for his neighbour, who consequently stabs herself with his sword.
The stories told on the fifth day are overwhelmingly tales of miscommunication, abuse, and separation. The storytellers discuss hypocrisy, scandal, virtue, and passion; Oisille suggests that the exemplary force of their stories shouldn’t work to shame the individual but rather to humble humanity in general. At the end of the day, she worries that they will run out of stories, but Geburon reassures her: while there is nothing new under the sun, we – poor humans not called to God’s privy council – will always find new sources of wonder. They are not likely to run out of material over the next five days.