The Decameron

The Decameron

by

Giovanni Boccaccio

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The Decameron: Day 4: Seventh Tale Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Filostrato demonstrates his lack of pity for Andreuola by bidding Emilia to begin her story immediately. While it bears a similarity to Panfilo’s—hers is also set in a garden and her lady also escapes the law—it’s different because it demonstrates how love can also hold court in the “dwellings of the poor.” It also returns to their own beloved city of Florence, where a poor man’s daughter named Simona is in love with a wool-merchant’s porter named Pasquino.
Simona and Pasquino have the distinction of being the first working-class lovers in European tragic literature. They fulfill this role in the context of a work which maintains that a person’s worthiness comes from their inherent character rather than their wealth and status. 
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Pasquino brings the merchant’s wool to various spinners, including Simona. Pasquino flirts with her under the pretext of examining her work, and love makes her sigh a thousand sighs over each skein of thread. The two are soon lovers. One day, they plan to make love in a certain pleasant garden. They meet there with their friends Lagina and Puccino (called Stramba or “Dotty Joe”). They pair off in different corners of the garden, with Simona and Pasquino settling down to make love under a large sage bush.
Given the tales’ focus on the concerns of the merchant class, it’s not surprising that the work arrangements that bring Pasquino together with Simona receive such a detailed description. And even though they are working-class people, unschooled and possibly unaware of the traditions of love established in literature and aristocratic culture, they show that the experience of love—sighing, flirting—is indeed universal. Because gardens are so frequently associated with the aristocratic classes in medieval literature—and in The Decameron specifically—Simona and Pasquino’s date there stakes a claim on the garden (and love) for all classes.
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Afterwards, because they planned to have a picnic too, Pasquino plucks a sage-leaf and rubs it against his teeth to keep the food from sticking to them. But while he’s still discussing the picnic, he suddenly dies. Simona’s wails attract the attention of Lagina and Stramba. They rush over to see Pasquino’s body swollen and covered in dark blotches. Stramba accuses Simona of murdering him, making enough racket to attract the attention of the authorities.
Pasquino’s death (unlike Gabriotto’s in the preceding tale) is clearly unnatural. Stramba’s suspicion thus seems reasonable at first, even if it entails cruel treatment of the vulnerable and obviously distraught Simona.
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Pasquino’s friends Atticciato (“Potbelly”) and Malagevole (“Killjoy”) join Stramba in pressing the magistrate to interrogate Simona. Unsure what to think, he takes her to the garden and asks her to show him what happened. Simona demonstrates everything, including rubbing a sage leaf on her teeth. Stramba, Atticciato, and Malagevole mock her, denounce her wickedness, and ask the judge to execute her.
Although lovers Simona and Pasquino are elevated by their love and portrayed positively despite their low social status, Pasquino’s friends are caricatures of working-class people, with unflattering nicknames that question their personalities (Stramba essentially means “Weirdo”) or mock their physical appearance (like Potbelly). Elitism is at play here, despite the book’s claim that character is more important than wealth. But it's elitism based in demeanor, and these men prove the lowliness of their attitudes—not just their class status—in their relentless attack on Simona. For her part, her vulnerability to the men around her, and their assumptions about her character and guilt, is on display throughout her trial.
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But Simona is blessed by fortune, who preserves her good name against false accusation and reunites her with her lover: within minutes, she has died in the exact same way as Pasquino. The shocked judge orders a gardener to cut down and burn the sage bush, beneath which they discover a toad whose foul breath has poisoned the leaves. Stramba, Atticciato, Guccio Imbratta, and Malagevole bury Pasquino and Simona in their local church. 
Simona’s death is both unfortunate, because she is so young, and lucky, because it demonstrates that she was telling the truth. Fortune shows itself here, as always, to be capricious. While the poisonous toad hiding beneath the sage bush seems like a somewhat ridiculous plot device, Giovanni Boccaccio draws the idea from a popular 13th-century superstition that this exact thing could (and did) happen.
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