Panfilo - lover of all. Panfilo would seem to be one of the simplest characters in the brigata:
Love, I take such delight in thee,
And find such joy and pleasure in thy name,
That I am happy burning in your flame.
Panfilo is in love with love, in love with joy. Though it would at first appear that Panfilo is in the brigata simply to fulfill the slap-happy-fool-in-love role, a second look at his novelle reveals another side of Panfilo. Panfilo repeatedly emphasizes the need to look deeper into the stories of the brigata by presenting characters and situations which hide their true nature. Indeed, Panfilo acts as an almost direct voice of Boccaccio, in that he reminds us that the Decameron is not simply a collection of entertaining stories. It is Boccaccio's intention that we look deeper into the stories of the Decameron, so that it becomes a vehicle from which "useful advice" can be gleaned.
Panfilo begins the Decameron with a story about Cepparello (I.1), a scoundrel and usurer who, through a skillful confession on his death bed, becomes glorified as a saint. We can see from this story that, unless we want to look as silly as the townsfolk who considered Cepparello a saint, it is important to look deeper into things before judging their meaning. This translates easily into looking deeper into the stories of the Decameron. When Panfilo ends his first story by saying how wonderful God is because God can transmit His message through even the worst sinner, it appears that Panfilo is going to end all of his tales with a gay and positive moral. Instead, the theme that Panfilo comes back to time and time again is the "Don't judge a book by its cover" theme - a particularly apt proverb considering the medium in which he exists.
In the introduction to his second tale, Panfilo berates women for putting so much stock in their beauty that they hide who they are. He says that women...
...sin above all in one particular way, which is in [their] desiring to be beautiful, inasmuch as, being dissatisfied with the attractions bestowed upon [them] by Nature, [they] go to extraordinary lengths in trying to improve them.
Panfilo then tells a story about a woman who, though having possibly slept with nine men, is presented to her husband as a pure virgin (II.7). The underlying theme of both Panfilo's complaint against women trying to hide what they are and his story about a woman who is not what she is supposed to be is the same as that in Cepparello - the importance of investigating thoroughly, of looking deeper than the surface of one's skin.
Panfilo's fifth, sixth, and tenth stories all present similar messages:
In the fifth, Cymon is presented as an idiot (V.1). We soon find out, however, that he is not that "simple." He transforms into an exceptionally brave and noble gentleman, worthy of our respect.
In the sixth, Giotto is presented as an especially ugly, sloppy man (VI.5). This, in spite of the fact that he is one of the greatest artists of the period.
And in the tenth story (X.9), Messer Torello is greatly rewarded for not judging Saladin by his vocation, but by his noble presence.
All of these stories repeat the message, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Three of Panfilo's other five stories investigate this theme in other ways. In his third story (III.4), we see that because Friar Puccio does not investigate deeper than face value, Dom Felice makes a fool out of him while he sleeps with his wife. During Panfilo's seventh story (VII.9), Lydia and Pyrrhus deceive Nicostratus in front of his own eyes when he accepts their words without investigating for himself. Similarly, on the ninth day (IX.6), Pinuccio and Adriano get away with sleeping with their host's wife and daughter while he is in the same room with them - again because he accepts their words without looking any deeper.
Panfilo's message is consistent, clear, and not nearly as simple as a first look might imply. It is only by looking deeper into his stories that we hear Boccaccio's voice telling us to look deeper into all of the stories, and indeed the book as a whole. Through Panfilo Boccaccio reminds us: "Don't judge this book by its cover."
Panfilo's storytelling takes place at the beginning (I.1), at the very middle (V.1), and near the end (X.9). His story about Ser Cepparello sets the tone for the rest of that day's storytelling. And he is king of the last day, choosing its theme and thus helping round off and guide the stories towards their culmination. Present at these key places, Panfilo is strongly positioned as a frame narrator.
In the first day, Panfilo's story (I.1) is an exposition on the mysterious workings of Providence. Human intellect is shown to be weak in apprehending the vicissitudinous twistings and turnings of the mysterious plan, and the improbable (Cepparello's sainthood) is put forth as something pleasing to God for reasons which are difficult for humans to understand. In effect, Panfilo deepens the scope of storytelling from mere narration and plot to a meditation on the whole divine scheme, the hidden workings of fate and divine will, and the mistaken notions of humanity, which somehow have to be clarified and revealed through the ninety-nine stories which follow. As we shall see, Panfilo's role as the leader of the tenth day is consonant with this discovery of the hidden person, the motives of the soul, and the development of the soul towards greatness and magnificence, characteristics pleasing to God.
Panfilo's second story (II.7) develops his initial theme remarkably, by showing again that the outside characteristics of life can be incredibly deceiving. In this case, by showing how those things toward which people strive and for which they consider themselves blessed, such as riches and power, can be fraught with danger and trouble for the possessor, an irony that the wise person appreciates and which helps in understanding the remarkable ups and downs which distinguish most of these stories, and which can be attributed to capricious Fortuna.
His third story (III.4) relates how appearances can be used to deceive, in another case of fraudulent sanctity. In this story, the husband is willing to be duped because he is too credulous of the ritualistic forms of Christianity, and thus fails to see what is going on under his own roof between his wife and Dom Felice.
In Panfilo's fourth story (IV.6), we begin to get intimations of the soul's revelation of the truth to the awakened mind, which as Panfilo pointed out in the first day, is so often unable to discern the true nature of things. The dream sequence is still not taken seriously, however, but the mind is starting to receive a fuller picture of reality.
In his fifth story (V.1), Panfilo shows how the libidinous, untrustworthy side of human nature, awakens Cymon to his full potentialities, intellectually, aesthetically, and physically. Just as the sight of young women affected Filippo's son in the introduction to the fourth day (Boccaccio's intrusion) - they awaken in him longings of which he had been unaware.
In his sixth story (VI.5), Panfilo relates another tale concerning the deception and unreality of physical appearances, this time those of the painter Giotto, reputed to be very ugly but who, nevertheless, painted extraordinarily beautiful things. We are beginning to sense here a pattern, a deliberate dichotomy by which outward appearances and inner character are juxtaposed in various configurations, in order to demonstrate the power that "facts" and images have in regulating judgment and behavior. This could be compared to the storytellers art and its ability to affect human relationships and life (a theme of vital interest to readers of the Decameron), and which receives its most ironic and effective demonstration through the storytelling of Panfilo's first creation, Ser Cepparello, who constructs a fantasy world of goodness and virtue that his listener takes as real. Is Boccaccio also constructing a false world here, the reader is invited to ask? How are we to interpret the setup of the story, the speeches and introductions, and the songs of the narrators? Are they playing their own subtle game of appearances?
Panfilo, in his seventh story (VII.9), again manipulates the observed realities of his characters to demonstrate human gullibility. This time, the wife and her lover make love directly in front of the husband and convince him that what he thought he saw did not actually happen. By concocting a clever story about the supposed powers of the pear tree to cause hallucinations, they demonstrate again the polyvalent nature of storytelling, and the questionable social uses to which it can be put.
Darkness fortunately covers up the situations conjured up in Panfilo's ninth story (IX.6), but at least some of the bed-hopping can be ascribed to mistaken appearances.
Panfilo's tenth story (X.9) shows what the truly magnanimous man does in spite of appearances. Torello sees what quality of men the Sultan's group are, despite their merchant's garb. Torello is the culmination of the civilized, magnanimous man who sees through appearances and acts in a gracious and intelligent way.