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1313 - 1375
Life of the Italian poet, writer, and scholar Giovanni Boccaccio.
Giovanni Boccaccio is sent by his father to study in Naples.
1335 - 1341
Giovanni Boccaccio writes his first poetry work, including Diana's Hunt, The Lovestruck, and Teseida.
Giovanni Boccaccio returns to Florence.
1347 - 1352
The Italian authors and scholars Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio first meet. They become lifelong friends.
Giovanni Boccaccio completes his masterpiece, the Decameron.
Giovanni Boccaccio writes a biography of Dante Alighieri. He revises the work in 1364 CE.
Giovanni Boccaccio works on his Ancestry of the Pagan Gods (Genealogia Deorum Gentilium).
Giovanni Boccaccio gives a series of public lectures in Florence on the work of Dante Alighieri.
21 Dec 1375
Giovanni Boccaccio dies in Certaldo, Tuscany. nn
Epic World History
Some reports suggest the writer’s birthplace was Paris, but most historians agree that it was either Florence or Certaldo (Tuscany). Born illegitimately, Boccaccio was nevertheless officially recognized by his father, who was reported to have been a crude and ill-mannered man.
Wishing Giovanni to enter business, his father sent him to Naples to learn the profession. Soon, however, it became evident that the boy had no aspiration to follow in his father’s footsteps and greatly disliked mercantile business. He was then ordered to study canon law, but this discipline was equally incompatible with Boccaccio’s demeanor, which was better suited to the vocation of poetry and letters.
His father’s money and position gave Boccaccio access to Naples’s high society and introduced him into the literary-scientific circle gathered around King Robert of Anjou. Naples of the first half of the 14th century was one of the largest cultural centers of western Europe, and Boccaccio’s affiliation with it, as well as his love affair with the king’s daughter Fiammetta, greatly stimulated the young man’s literary and poetic talent.
During this first Neapolitan period of creativity, Boccaccio wrote numerous poems eulogizing Fiammetta, then produced the novel Filocolo (1336) and two lengthy poems, Filostrato and Teseida (both finished in 1340). Today almost forgotten, these works were widely read by Boccaccio’s contemporaries and played an important role in the development of Italian literature.
In 1333 Boccaccio was first exposed to the poetry of Petrarch, whose verses began to reach Naples. After having heard Petrarch’s sonnets for the first time, Boccaccio went home and burned all his youthful works, disgusted with his own “petty” attempts at verse composition.
In 1340 two major Florentine banks collapsed, and Boccaccio’s father lost almost all his savings the young poet returned to Florence to assist his suddenly poor family. The Black Death of 1348, which took the lives of his father, stepmother, and numerous friends, crashed Boccaccio emotionally and took what was left of his family’s money. In spite (or maybe because of) these disasters, the Florentine period was especially productive for Boccaccio.
Historical Context for The Decameron by Boccaccio
The Dance of Death, or Danse Macabre, by Michael Wolgemut, 1493. (Wikimedia Commons) Such works portraying the inexorable universality of death were a common motif in urban centers throughout medieval Europe. In the Decameron, Boccaccio’s young story tellers escape death literally and literarily by fleeing to the countryside. Boccaccio lived in a period of transition, when a new and powerful mercantile class had emerged as economic prosperity took cities like Florence by storm. The intellectual currents were running high, with a vibrant university culture in Naples and Bologna and a new enthusiasm for Ancient Greek and Roman culture that was aided by the rediscovery of many lost texts of the ancient world. Naples was, furthermore, a highly important center for trade and a cultural crossroads that undoubtedly served as an important resource for Boccaccio’s wide-ranging tales in the Decameron. Robert d’Anjou, the king of Naples during Boccaccio’s day, was a powerful figure in Italian politics and an important patron of the arts. He cultivated a court culture that perhaps served as a practical model for Boccaccio’s literary valuing of courtliness in the Decameron.
The strength and far-reaching influence of Italian commerce can be measured by the success of the Bardi banking house, which employed Boccaccio’s father. They not only served as financial advisers to the Angevin king of Naples, but also lent money across Europe to such figures as the English king Edward III. The emergence of such a powerful mercantile class that did not belong to the noble aristocracy that traditionally held power led to social and political unrest. It has been suggested that this new demographic was Boccaccio’s intended audience for his Decameron and that the tales represented a way for him to advocate an ideal ethos for this influential group.
The Black Plague, which plays a vital role in the frame of the Decameron and the formation of the brigata of storytellers, ravaged the city of Florence in 1348. While accounts vary, it is estimated that the plague claimed the lives of 40,000-60,000 of the city's inhabitants (about half of the total population of the city), including Boccaccio's father, stepmother, and many of his close friends. The introduction to the first day of the Decameron represents an important historical account of the devastation of the city and the chaos that ensued.
The rediscovery of ancient texts such as Cicero’s letters and reacquaintance with Ancient Greek literature in the early 14 th century led to an important shift in the arts and intellectual life. There was an increased emphasis on renewing Classical culture and learning as well as a consciousness of how much was lost after the fall of the Roman empire. These early Humanistic tendencies, seen in Dante as well as Boccaccio and Petrarch, are important precursors to the explosion of artistic and literary production during the Renaissance.
Written by Akash Kumar (Department of Italian, Columbia University)
Branca, Vittore. “Vita e Opere di Giovanni Boccaccio.” In Giovanni Boccaccio. Decameron. Vittore Branca, ed. Torino: Einaudi, 1992
Branca, Vittore. Boccaccio medievale. Florence: Sansoni, 1956
The Cambridge History of Italian Literature. Peter Brand and Lino Pertile, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996
Florentine childhood, 1313–1327 Edit
The details of Boccaccio's birth are uncertain. He was born in Florence or in a village near Certaldo where his family was from.   He was the son of Florentine merchant Boccaccino di Chellino and an unknown woman he was likely born out of wedlock.  Boccaccio's stepmother was called Margherita de' Mardoli. 
Boccaccio grew up in Florence. His father worked for the Compagnia dei Bardi and, in the 1320s, married Margherita dei Mardoli, who was of a well-to-do family. Boccaccio may have been tutored by Giovanni Mazzuoli and received from him an early introduction to the works of Dante. In 1326, his father was appointed head of a bank and moved with his family to Naples. Boccaccio was an apprentice at the bank but disliked the banking profession. He persuaded his father to let him study law at the Studium,  (the present-day University of Naples), where he studied canon law for the next six years. He also pursued his interest in scientific and literary studies. 
His father introduced him to the Neapolitan nobility and the French-influenced court of Robert the Wise (the king of Naples) in the 1330s. At this time, he fell in love with a married daughter of the king, who is portrayed as "Fiammetta" in many of Boccaccio's prose romances, including Il Filocolo (1338). Boccaccio became a friend of fellow Florentine Niccolò Acciaioli, and benefited from his influence as the administrator, and perhaps the lover, of Catherine of Valois-Courtenay, widow of Philip I of Taranto. Acciaioli later became counselor to Queen Joanna I of Naples and, eventually, her Grand Seneschal.
It seems that Boccaccio enjoyed law no more than banking, but his studies allowed him the opportunity to study widely and make good contacts with fellow scholars. His early influences included Paolo da Perugia (a curator and author of a collection of myths called the Collectiones), humanists Barbato da Sulmona and Giovanni Barrili, and theologian Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro.
Neapolitan adolescence, 1327–1340 Edit
A cosmopolitan environment: self-taught training Edit
Boccaccino wanted his son to enter the profession of merchant, according to the family tradition. After having made him do a short internship in Florence, in 1327 Boccaccino decided to take his young son with him to Naples, the city where he played the role of business broker for the Bardi family. 
Adult years Edit
In Naples, Boccaccio began what he considered his true vocation of poetry. Works produced in this period include Il Filostrato and Teseida (the sources for Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and The Knight's Tale, respectively), The Filocolo (a prose version of an existing French romance), and La caccia di Diana (a poem in terza rima listing Neapolitan women).  The period featured considerable formal innovation, including possibly the introduction of the Sicilian octave, where it influenced Petrarch.
Boccaccio returned to Florence in early 1341, avoiding the plague of 1340 in that city, but also missing the visit of Petrarch to Naples in 1341. He had left Naples due to tensions between the Angevin king and Florence. His father had returned to Florence in 1338, where he had gone bankrupt. His mother died shortly afterward (possibly, as she was unknown – see above). Boccaccio continued to work, although dissatisfied with his return to Florence, producing Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine in 1341 (also known as Ameto), a mix of prose and poems, completing the fifty-canto allegorical poem Amorosa visione in 1342, and Fiammetta  in 1343. The pastoral piece "Ninfale fiesolano" probably dates from this time, also. In 1343, Boccaccio's father remarried to Bice del Bostichi. His other children by his first marriage had all died, but he had another son named Iacopo in 1344.
In Florence, the overthrow of Walter of Brienne brought about the government of popolo minuto ("small people", workers). It diminished the influence of the nobility and the wealthier merchant classes and assisted in the relative decline of Florence. The city was hurt further in 1348 by the Black Death, which killed some three-quarters of the city's population, later represented in the Decameron.
From 1347, Boccaccio spent much time in Ravenna, seeking new patronage and, despite his claims, it is not certain whether he was present in plague-ravaged Florence. His stepmother died during the epidemic and his father was closely associated with the government efforts as minister of supply in the city. His father died in 1349 and Boccaccio was forced into a more active role as head of the family.
Boccaccio began work on The Decameron   around 1349. It is probable that the structures of many of the tales date from earlier in his career, but the choice of a hundred tales and the frame-story lieta brigata of three men and seven women dates from this time. The work was largely complete by 1352. It was Boccaccio's final effort in literature and one of his last works in Tuscan vernacular the only other substantial work was Corbaccio (dated to either 1355 or 1365). Boccaccio revised and rewrote The Decameron in 1370–1371. This manuscript has survived to the present day.
From 1350, Boccaccio became closely involved with Italian humanism (although less of a scholar) and also with the Florentine government. His first official mission was to Romagna in late 1350. He revisited that city-state twice and also was sent to Brandenburg, Milan and Avignon. He also pushed for the study of Greek, housing Barlaam of Calabria, and encouraging his tentative translations of works by Homer, Euripides, and Aristotle. In these years, he also took minor orders. 
In October 1350, he was delegated to greet Francesco Petrarch as he entered Florence and also to have Petrarch as a guest at Boccaccio's home, during his stay. The meeting between the two was extremely fruitful and they were friends from then on, Boccaccio calling Petrarch his teacher and magister. Petrarch at that time encouraged Boccaccio to study classical Greek and Latin literature. They met again in Padua in 1351, Boccaccio on an official mission to invite Petrarch to take a chair at the university in Florence. Although unsuccessful, the discussions between the two were instrumental in Boccaccio writing the Genealogia deorum gentilium the first edition was completed in 1360 and this remained one of the key reference works on classical mythology for over 400 years. It served as an extended defense for the studies of ancient literature and thought. Despite the Pagan beliefs at its core, Boccaccio believed that much could be learned from antiquity. Thus, he challenged the arguments of clerical intellectuals who wanted to limit access to classical sources to prevent any moral harm to Christian readers. The revival of classical antiquity became a foundation of the Renaissance, and his defense of the importance of ancient literature was an essential requirement for its development.  The discussions also formalized Boccaccio's poetic ideas. Certain sources also see a conversion of Boccaccio by Petrarch from the open humanist of the Decameron to a more ascetic style, closer to the dominant fourteenth century ethos. For example, he followed Petrarch (and Dante) in the unsuccessful championing of an archaic and deeply allusive form of Latin poetry. In 1359, following a meeting with Pope Innocent VI and further meetings with Petrarch, it is probable that Boccaccio took some kind of religious mantle. There is a persistent (but unsupported) tale that he repudiated his earlier works as profane in 1362, including The Decameron.
In 1360, Boccaccio began work on De mulieribus claris, a book offering biographies of one hundred and six famous women, that he completed in 1374.
A number of Boccaccio's close friends and other acquaintances were executed or exiled in the purge following the failed coup of 1361. It was in this year that Boccaccio left Florence to reside in Certaldo, although not directly linked to the conspiracy, where he became less involved in government affairs. He did not undertake further missions for Florence until 1365, and traveled to Naples and then on to Padua and Venice, where he met up with Petrarch in grand style at Palazzo Molina, Petrarch's residence as well as the place of Petrarch's library. He later returned to Certaldo. He met Petrarch only once again in Padua in 1368. Upon hearing of the death of Petrarch (19 July 1374), Boccaccio wrote a commemorative poem, including it in his collection of lyric poems, the Rime.
He returned to work for the Florentine government in 1365, undertaking a mission to Pope Urban V. The papacy returned to Rome from Avignon in 1367, and Boccaccio was again sent to Urban, offering congratulations. He also undertook diplomatic missions to Venice and Naples.
Of his later works, the moralistic biographies gathered as De casibus virorum illustrium (1355–74) and De mulieribus claris (1361–1375) were most significant.  Other works include a dictionary of geographical allusions in classical literature, De montibus, silvis, fontibus, lacubus, fluminibus, stagnis seu paludibus, et de nominibus maris liber. He gave a series of lectures on Dante at the Santo Stefano church in 1373 and these resulted in his final major work, the detailed Esposizioni sopra la Commedia di Dante.  Boccaccio and Petrarch were also two of the most educated people in early Renaissance in the field of archaeology. 
Boccaccio's change in writing style in the 1350s was due in part to meeting with Petrarch, but it was mostly due to poor health and a premature weakening of his physical strength. It also was due to disappointments in love. Some such disappointment could explain why Boccaccio came suddenly to write in a bitter Corbaccio style, having previously written mostly in praise of women and love, though elements of misogyny are present in Il Teseida. Petrarch describes how Pietro Petrone (a Carthusian monk) on his death bed in 1362 sent another Carthusian (Gioacchino Ciani) to urge him to renounce his worldly studies.  Petrarch then dissuaded Boccaccio from burning his own works and selling off his personal library, letters, books, and manuscripts. Petrarch even offered to purchase Boccaccio's library, so that it would become part of Petrarch's library. However, upon Boccaccio's death, his entire collection was given to the monastery of Santo Spirito, in Florence, where it still resides. 
His final years were troubled by illnesses, some relating to obesity and what often is described as dropsy, severe edema that would be described today as congestive heart failure. He died on 21 December 1375 in Certaldo, where he is buried.
Short history of Italian language
From Latin to Vulgar Latin
Let&rsquos begin with the Romans. In the whole empire Latin was the official language, but only for written documents, verdicts etc. People kept on talking their own mother tongue of origin and/or very often a kind of Latin much influenced by their mother tongue. Between the third and the fifth centuries B.C., along with the decline of the Western Roman Empire, spoken language became more and more different from the official language. This was the origin of the Western European languages. Thus in Spain they used to speak Hispanic-Latin, in France Franco-Latin, in Great Britain Anglo-Latin etc.
The barbarian invasions after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 B.C.) brought a final fragmentation of linguistic unity in Italy. Invaders, although they had learned Latin, spoke it their way and later some peculiarities of their languages appeared in the spoken languages in Italy. For example we still use some words of Langobard origin (the Langobards reigned over Northern Italy for two centuries, 568-774 b.C.): ciuffo, graffiare, guancia, ricco, scherzare, schiena, zanna (clump, scratch, cheek, rich, joke, back, fang).
The origins and the 13 th century
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, for a long time, in Italy, Latin remained the only language used for written communication, for literature, documents and in the official sites. Latin was still spoken in 1600 in the universities in all of Europe.
The first documents written in Vulgar Latin, that is, the language spoken by people of certain regions and that nowadays we call dialect, were &ldquoplaciti&rdquo (i.e. verdicts) of Cassino (in the province Frosinone) of 960 B.C. . An example: &ldquoSao ko kelle terre, per kelle fini que ki contene, trenta anni le possette parte Sancti Benedicti&ldquo (= So che quelle terre, entro quei confini che qui si descrivono, le ha possedute per trent&rsquoanni l&rsquoabbazia di San Benedetto - I know that those lands, within the boundaries described here, have been owned by the abbey of St. Benedict for thirty years).
Written Vulgar was also used in literary texts around 1200. The famous &ldquoCantico delle creature&rdquo by Saint Francis of Assisi was written in Umbrian Vulgar in 1224:
Altissimu, onnipotente, bon Signore,
tue so&rsquo le laude, la gloria, e l&rsquohonore et onne benedictione.
Ad te solo, Altissimo, se konfano,
et nullu homo ène dignu te mentovare.
Laudato sie, mi&rsquo Signore, cum tucte le tue creature,
spetialmente messor lo frate sole,
lo qual&rsquoè iorno, et allumini noi per lui.
Et ellu è bellu e radiante cum grande splendore:
de te, Altissimo, porta significatione.
Highest, almighty good Lord
Yours are the praises, the glory and the honour
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.
Praised be You, my Lord with all Your creatures
Especially our brother, Master Sun
Who brings the day and the light
That warms us he that is beautiful and radiant
He brings meaning of You, O Most High.
The lyric poems of the Sicilian poets of the court of Frederick II of Swabia are of the same period. They were inspired by the Provençal French poets and they founded a real school of poetry in Sicilian Vulgar (dialect) in Palermo. The Sicilian poems were so popular that they were copied also in Tuscany.
In this period k was often an alternative to c, gn was written in different ways (bagno (bath), but also bango, bango, bannio, etc.). The conjunction et and Latin h were still used (homo, honore). Concerning articles, lo was prevalent (lo quale, lo frate). Several Gallicisms appeared in the vocabulary, (messere, cavaliere, scudiere, madama, ostaggio, mestiere, pensiero, coricare - messer, knight, squire, madame, hostage, craft, thought, lament).
Through the Arabs who traded frequently with the maritime cities and stayed in Sicily from 827 until 1091, Eastern words arrived, mainly from the nautical, economic and scientific world, such as magazzino, dogana, darsena, arsenale, tariffa, ammiraglio, zenit, nadir, algebra, cifra, zero, alambicco, sciroppo, arancio, albicocco, carciofo, zafferano ( warehouse, customs, dock, arsenal, tariff, admiral, zenith, nadir, algebra, digit, zero, almond, syrup, orange, apricot, artichoke, saffron).
14th century - Vulgar began to have the same dignity as Latin for literary use.
Between the most used Italian Vulgars, Sicilian and Tuscan, Florentine Tuscan dominated.
That was due to the fact that, within a few decades, Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio became famous writers in Vulgar and they were all from Tuscany.
The first one was Dante Alighieri, who decided to write a huge narrative poem, something between metaphysics and science fiction. It is about his fantastic travel through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Then there was Petrarca, who wrote very beautiful and tender love poems for his lover Laura. And then Giovanni Boccaccio who wrote the Decameron, a collection of short stories devoted to humoristic/erotic subjects. The three of them were very popular among their contemporaries and had much impact, by emulation, on the authors from the other Italian regions.
15th century - The comeback to Latin through the revival of the Greek and Latin classics.
Humanists, as the scholars of that period are called, found texts which were believed to be lost and they discovered works which were unknown at the time.
Admiration for the classical world raised the desire to imitate ancient writers and Latin was considered the only noble language for literature.
This period of decadence of Vulgar ended only at the end of the century, when some great authors (for example Lorenzo il Magnifico) started to believe again in Vulgar&rsquos potentiality and to use it in their works.
Around 1470, with the spread of printing also in Italy, circulation of books grew and writers tried to establish rules which standardized the writing of words. Punctuation was inadequate and the apostrophe did not exist.
The articles el and il prevailed over lo. In the imperfect tense, the suffix &ndasho for the first person (io dovevo) began to appear, but in the literary language &ndasha was still predominant.
16th century - the great debate on which Vulgar Latin should be used.
There are three main stances:
- Some people want the Florentine Tuscan of the great writers of the 14 th century (Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio)
- Others think that Italian should be a mix of the most elegant words of national dialects
- The third group would prefer the predominance of modern Florentine Tuscan.
The first stance prevails owing to great writers of the time such as Pietro Bembo and Ludovico Ariosto.
Spelling from the 16 th century is still mainly Latin, but since the second half of the century h, x and ti instead of z tend to disappear. Punctuation becomes more complex and regular and spelling is made clearer by the introduction of apostrophe.
Wars and foreign dominations brought a lot of Gallicisms and Hispanicisms in Italy. But Italy also exported many words because of Italian supremacy in the cultural and artistic fields.
17th century - Many linguistic innovations took place
The need to spark astonishment in readers encouraged writers to invent a great number of sometimes arguable metaphors. New words were invented. Elegant and other words from everyday and practical life, dialectal and foreign terms were mixed with technical vocabulary.
But in certain milieus, respect for tradition was still very deep. In 1612 the Accademia della Crusca, the official institution of Italian language till now, published the first edition of its Dictionary, based on the language used by the Florentine writers of the 14 th century.
Many new words with prefixes and suffixes (-issimo, -one, &hellip) were introduced into the vocabulary. Many scientific words were drawn from Latin (cellula, condensare, iniezione, iperbole, prisma, scheletro - cell, condense, injection, hyperbole, prism, skeleton) as well as legal words (aggressione, consulente, patrocinio - aggression, counselor, patronage).
18th century - Illuminism and the Cult of Reason spread out.
Illuminists intended to bring truth and the light of reason everywhere, to eradicate superstition and prejudice for a spiritual and material improvement of mankind. You can see this in the written language, which gives priority to content rather than to the elegance of form.
Among articles, il always prevailed before z, but lo and gli dominated before s followed by a consonant. There was still a large amount of variants in verbs.
The strong dominance of the French illuministic culture encouraged the entry in the vocabulary of much Gallicism.
19th century - The dispute between Classicists and Romantics.
Classicists, opposed to the abuse of gallicisms by the 18 th century&rsquos men of letter, preferred to go back to the elegance of the traditional language and the imitation of classical authors. Romantics, on the other hand, would have liked a modern and fresh language, adaptable to national reality, to become a tool for the political unity of Italy.
The growth of the middle bourgeoisie brought success to the romantic thesis, because teachers, doctors, notaries, technicians and militaries felt the need for an ordinary language that could substitute for dialect, in their profession as well as in simple conversation.
Whereas poetry was linked to tradition for a long time. The most authoritative testimony of this trend was represented by I Promessi Sposi by Alessandro Manzoni who, for the final edition of 1840, did not use the old traditional language, but the Florentine dialect spoken by the middle class of the Tuscan city.
The political union, that is, the Italian Kingdom, marked the beginning of a process of linguistic unification of our peninsula. In 1877 school became compulsory for two years. However illiteracy was widespread: around the end of the 19 th century the great majority of the population was not yet able to read and write and spoke only dialect.
Considering il/lo and il/gli before s followed by a consonant and z, the articles could be alternated. As for pronouns, lui and lei prevailed as subjects instead of egli/ei and ella, also thanks to Manzoni&rsquos choice in I Promessi Sposi.
20th century - Italian language prevailed over dialects.
In the first half of the century illiteracy receded drastically due to secularization and the influence of radio and television. Poetic language too was freed from tradition.
Journalistic style had much impact on language.
There was a huge arrival of anglicisms, determined by the great prestige obtained by the countries of the English language, especially overseas, in the scientific, technological and economical fields, such as baby sitter, bestseller, blue jeans, clacson, computer, guard rail, hostess, jeep, killer, pullover, quiz, rock, self-service, spray, stop, supermarket, week end.
Pandemics Inspire Great Works of Art
As pandemics inflicted suffering and loss upon millions of people, artists have responded by channeling their experiences into art, literature and music.
“The medieval author Giovanni Boccaccio set his masterwork The Decameron (1351) in the midst of the 1348 bubonic plague, which the author witnessed firsthand in his city of Florence,” says cultural historian Rebecca Messbarger, co-founder of the Medical Humanities program at Washington University.
The list goes on: British author Daniel Defoe and the Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni wrote historical novels based on the 17 century plague pandemic that swept through Europe. The 1918 influenza crisis sparked some of the most important literary works of the early 20 century, including T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. And the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s produced artists such as David Wojnarowicz, Therese Frare and Keith Haring.
“These artists translated their personal experiences of the ravages and loss of the disease into graphic images that in other times would have been hidden by the forces of social and political quarantine,” Messbarger says.
Billanovich 1947 represents the modern study of Boccaccio’s literary career, turning away from the earlier emphasis on Boccaccio as an autobiographical author. Branca 1996 contextualizes Boccaccio’s literary career within the intellectual and historical realities of trecento Italy. Giorgio Padoan, a student of Vittore Branca’s, focuses on the later works of Boccaccio (Padoan 1978), placing Boccaccio in close relationship to his literary contemporaries, particularly Petrarch. Bruni 1990 defines Boccaccio’s contribution to the formation of a “middle” category of literature, and Kirkham 1993 relates Boccaccio’s writings to the philosophical tradition. Battaglia Ricci 2000 updates and expands Branca’s notions of Boccaccio in historical context. Gittes 2008 takes a broad view of Boccaccio’s intellectual innovation as mediator between classical and Christian concepts of history and myth.
Battaglia Ricci, Lucia. Boccaccio. Sestante 3. Rome: Salerno Editrice, 2000.
An expansion of her entry “Boccaccio” for the encyclopedic Storia della letteratura italiana (Rome: Salerno Editrice, 1995), this volume takes its point of departure from Branca’s Boccaccio medievale (Branca 1996), while updating the reader on philological developments. The volume begins with four chapters that present Boccaccio’s life and his intellectual context. The remaining eleven chapters discuss, in more or less detail, his entire corpus.
Billanovich, Giuseppe. Restauri boccacceschi. Storia e Letteratura 8. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1947.
A groundbreaking study that evaluated Boccaccio’s works, particularly his earlier works, in a fictional, rather than autobiographical, mode. Billanovich presents Boccaccio as an erudite and sophisticated literary technician rather than as a lascivious lover.
Branca, Vittore. Boccaccio medievale e nuovi studi sul Decameron. New ed. Saggi Sansoni. Florence: Sansoni, 1996.
This study remains the most influential study of Boccaccio. First published in 1956 and revised and enlarged in 1996, this volume defines Boccaccio as author of the emerging “merchant” class in Florentine and broader Italian society. The study focuses much attention on the Decameron but ranges broadly across all of Boccaccio’s works, both in Italian and Latin.
Bruni, Francesco. Boccaccio, l’invenzione della letteratura mezzana. Collezione di Testi e di Studi. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 1990.
Bruni traces Boccaccio’s entire literary career in his argument that Boccaccio sought to perfect a letteratura mezzana, a middle or median literary voice. The author pays particular attention to Boccaccio’s vernacular works, especially the Decameron. However, Bruni accounts for Boccaccio’s entire literary production.
Gittes, Tobias Foster. Boccaccio’s Naked Muse: Eros, Culture, and the Mythopoeic Imagination. Toronto Italian Studies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
Gittes considers the entire spectrum of Boccaccio’s writings to identify the manner in which the author adapted his sources—classical, Christian, and contemporaneous—to create new myths. The study most closely confronts the Genealogie deorum gentilium libri but dedicates much attention to the Decameron and other works.
Kirkham, Victoria. The Sign of Reason in Boccaccio’s Fiction. Biblioteca di Lettere Italiane 43. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1993.
A collection of updated and reprinted essays on Boccaccio’s minor Italian works (Teseida) and the Decameron, with a new long essay on the Amorosa visione. The gathered essays share the theme of connecting Boccaccio to the intellectual culture of Scholasticism, in particular St. Thomas of Aquinas, sometimes through Dante.
Padoan, Giorgio. Il Boccaccio, le muse, il Parnaso e l’Arno. Biblioteca di Lettere Italiane 21. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1978.
A collection of articles, many of which have been published elsewhere. The most-important contributions offer a possible dating for the Corbaccio (“Sulla datazione del Corbaccio”), describe Boccaccio’s relationship to Dante (“Il Boccaccio fedele di Dante”), and demonstrate Boccaccio’s role in the development of the bucolic in the trecento (“Giovanni Boccaccio e la rinascita dello stile bucolico”).
Anselmi, et al. 2013 focuses on Boccaccio’s narrative craft and his influence as an author through the Renaissance, while Armstrong, et al. 2015 contains essays by North American and British scholars on varying aspects of Boccaccio’s works. De Robertis, et al. 2013 and Ferracin and Venier 2014 contain essays mostly by Italian scholars on Boccaccio and his influence. Kirkham, et al. 2013 contains essays by North American scholars on each of Boccaccio’s works.
Anselmi, Gian Mario, Giovanni Baffetti, Carlo Delcorno, and Sebastiana Nobili, eds. Boccaccio e i suoi lettori: Una lunga ricezione. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino, 2013.
This collection of conference proceedings collects nearly thirty essays with a wide variety of subjects and methodologies, all under the rubric of Boccaccio’s reception. The first of the four sections investigates Boccaccio’s authorial technique and influence as a father of Italian prose. Essays in the second section treat Boccaccio’s early reception in Florence and Tuscany. The third section stretches to include Boccaccio’s reception in Italy and Europe during the Renaissance period, and the fourth section turns to the necessary discussion of Boccaccio’s complex relationship with Dante.
Armstrong, Guyda, Rhiannon Daniels, and Stephen J. Milner, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Boccaccio. Cambridge Companions to Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
This collection of essays considers Boccaccio’s importance a cultural mediator in the Italian trecento, with thematic essays treating Boccaccio’s role in relationship to Dante, Petrarch, material culture, and other gender. The volume dedicates ample space to the Decameron and treats Boccaccio’s other texts less centrally. The front matter includes a list of autograph manuscripts and bibliography of editions and translations of Boccaccio’s work.
De Robertis, Teresa, Carla Maria Monti, Marco Petoletti, Giuliano Tanturli, and Stefano Zamponi, eds. Boccaccio autore e copista. Florence: Mandragora, 2013.
This volume contains brief essays by Italian scholars on all of Boccaccio’s literary enterprises: his vernacular and Latin works, his zibaldoni, his work as copyist and editor of Dante and Petrarch, and his other work as copyist. The editors include a number of appendixes, including a rich bibliography and a list of Boccaccio manuscripts. The volume is noteworthy for the over fifty included images of manuscripts. The work is a comprehensive introduction of the state of Italian criticism on Boccaccio.
Ferracin, Antonio, and Matteo Venier, eds. Giovanni Boccaccio: Tradizione, interpretazione e fortuna In ricordo di Vittore Branca. Papers presented at an international conference held 23–25 May 2013 in Udine, Italy. Libri e Biblioteche 33. Udine, Italy: Forum, 2014.
This large volume contains over thirty essays in Italian by Italian and European scholars on a range of topics in four categories: the classical and medieval tradition in Boccaccio’s works, the fortune of Boccaccio’s work in later Italian and European authors, Boccaccio’s impact in northern Italy, and readings of novella and other texts. The volume includes two indexes and a list of manuscripts, as well as abstracts of each article in English.
Kirkham, Victoria, Michael Sherberg, and Janet Levarie Smarr, eds. Boccaccio: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
The editors collect together twenty-nine essays, each treating one of Boccaccio’s works. The front matter contains a chronology of Boccaccio’s life, an introductory essay, and illustrations the end matter has ample notes and a rich bibliography, as well as an index.
Boccaccio and Dante, Trattatello in laude di Dante
The 1979 edited volume of the conference, sponsored by the Società Dantesca Italiana (Società Dantesca Italiana 1979), brings together mostly philological essays concerning Boccaccio’s role in the transmission of Dante’s texts and as a reader of Dante. Bettinzoli 1981–1982 provides an exhaustive list of references to Dante in the Decameron, while Sandal 2006 collects essays about Boccaccio’s relationship with Dante’s works and politics. Hollander 1997 proposes that some of Boccaccio’s citation of Dante in the Decameron and elsewhere includes satire, and Houston 2010 argues that the entire scope of Boccaccio’s treatment of Dante intentionally constructs a specific political and intellectual figure of Dante. Boccaccio 2002, a translation by J. G. Nichols of Boccaccio’s biography of Dante, is the most updated. Ricci 1975 details the intellectual process behind the three versions of Dante’s biography, and Boli 1988 argues that Boccaccio’s biography of Dante was meant to persuade Petrarch.
Bettinzoli, Attilio. “Per une definizione delle presenze dantesche nel Decameron I: I registri ‘ideologici,’ lirici, drammatici.” Studi sul Boccaccio 13 (1981–1982): 267–326.
Continued in “Ironizzazione e espressivismo antifrastico-deformatorio,” in Studi sul Boccaccio 14 (1983–1984): 209–240. Important pair of articles that are among the first to treat the use of Dante’s language, from the Commedia as well as the Vita nuova, in Boccaccio’s Decameron. The author does not just offer an uncritical list of the textual borrowing, but, rather, he offers a narrative of the intertextualities while drawing important critical distinctions.
Boccaccio, Giovanni. Life of Dante. Translated by J. G. Nichols. Introduction by A. N. Wilson. London: Hesperus, 2002.
This is based on the first redaction in Ricci’s edition for Branca’s Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio. Text does not include facing page original text. A short introduction by Wilson precedes the translation. Volume includes an introductory poem, spuriously attributed to Boccaccio, very short notes on the translation, and a novella from the Decameron (VI.9).
Boli, Todd. “Boccaccio’s Trattatello in laude di Dante, or Dante Resartus.” Renaissance Quarterly 41.3 (1988): 389–412.
The author argues that Boccaccio’s Trattatello in laude di Dante “redresses” Dante so that he might be more in line with Petrarch’s humanist project, which dominated contemporaneous Florence and beyond.
Hollander, Robert. Boccaccio’s Dante and the Shaping Force of Satire. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
This book contains previously published essays on various aspects of Boccaccio’s treatment of Dante or Dantean themes in the Decameron. Hollander proposes that Boccaccio’s approach to Dante can be seen in his identification as the Italian Ovid to Dante’s Virgil therefore, Boccaccio’s treatment of Dantean themes in the Decameron tends toward satire.
Houston, Jason M. Building a Monument to Dante: Boccaccio as Dantista. Toronto Italian Studies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010.
The author considers four roughly chronological aspects of Boccaccio’s preoccupation with Dante: editor, biographer, apologist, and commentator. Houston proposes that Boccaccio created a figure of Dante through these varied efforts in order to promote his own poetic and political vision of Tuscan and Italian civic culture.
Ricci, Pier Giorgio. “Dante e Boccaccio.” L’Alighieri 16.1–2 (1975): 75–84.
Traces Boccaccio’s development of his biography of Dante through the initial stages of research to the three different versions of the Trattatello, which scholars recognize today thanks to Ricci’s historical and philological evidence in this article and elsewhere. Ricci also argues that Boccaccio’s lectures on Dante’s Commedia in Florence ended not only due to ill health but also to the rise of humanist literary tastes.
Sandal, Ennio, ed. Dante e Boccaccio: Lectura Dantis scaligera, 2004–2005, in memoria di Vittore Branca. Miscellanea Erudita, n.s. 72. Rome: Antenore, 2006.
This volume contains a collection of essays by distinguished Italian scholars, all in Italian. Many of the articles rework earlier published pieces on Dante and Boccaccio, including contributions by Bettinzoli and Peruzzi. The most-pertinent pieces on Boccaccio’s relationship to Dante are by Carlo Delcorno and Manlio Pastore Stocchi.
Società Dantesca Italiana. Giovanni Boccaccio editore e interprete di Dante: Convegno su Giovanni Boccaccio editore e interprete di Dante, Firenze-Certaldo, 19–20 aprile 1975. Florence: L. S. Olschki, 1979.
Collects and publishes papers given at a conference on Dante and Boccaccio in Florence. Two of the articles (by Domenico De Robertis and Giorgio Petrocchi) discuss Boccaccio’s role in the transmission of the Commedia. Giorgio Padoan’s article on Boccaccio role in the rebirth of the bucolic in Italy remains central.
Boccaccio and Petrarch, De vita et moribus Francisci Petracchi
Villani 2004, an edition and translation of Boccaccio’s biography of Petrarch, offers useful notes and appendixes to the text. Billanovich 1947 defines the relationship between Boccaccio and Petrarch as disciple to master, whereas Branca 1980 complicates the commonly held assumptions about Boccaccio and Petrarch’s relationship. Velli 1987 recognizes the importance of Boccaccio’s biography of Petrarch in the formation of the legend of Petrarch. Kircher 2006 explores the important roles that both Boccaccio and Petrarch had in the formation of humanism, and Eisner 2007 argues that Boccaccio influenced Petrarch’s Trionfi. Lummus 2012 contrasts Boccaccio’s and Petrarch’s views of classical and contemporaneous culture, in an effort to reconsider the relationship between the two.
Billanovich, Giuseppe. Petrarca letterato. Vol. 1, Lo scrittoio del Petrarca. Storia e Letteratura 16. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1947.
The volume contains three long studies of Petrarch’s life and works. Billanovich dedicates the second and longest essay, nearly 250 pages, to Boccaccio’s relationship with Petrarch. “Il più grande discepolo di Petrarca” views Boccaccio’s literary development in terms of an attempt to conform to Petrarch’s humanism.
Branca, Vittore. “Petrarch and Boccaccio.” In Francesco Petrarca, Citizen of the World: Proceedings of the World Petrarch Congress, Washington, D.C., April 6–13, 1974. Edited by Aldo S. Bernardo, 193–221. Studi sul Petrarcha 8. Padua, Italy: Antenore, 1980.
In this article, published elsewhere in English and in Italian, the author summarizes the traditional view of Boccaccio’s relationship to Petrarch as one of student to master. He then complicates that view by suggesting that Boccaccio and Petrarch might have had a more collaborative literary relationship.
Eisner, Martin. “Petrarch Reading Boccaccio: Revisiting the Genesis of the Triumphi.” In Petrarch and the Textual Origins of Interpretation. Edited by Teodolinda Barolini and H. Wayne Storey, 131–146. Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition 31. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.
The author considers philological evidence—particularly a close analysis of variants of Boccaccio’s and Petrarch’s vernacular production—that points to the influence of Boccaccio’s Amorosa visione in Petrarch’s vernacular poem I triumphi.
Kircher, Timothy. The Poet’s Wisdom: The Humanists, the Church, and the Formation of Philosophy in the Early Renaissance. Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History 133. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.
This monograph considers the roles both of Boccaccio and Petrarch in forming the philosophical precepts that will come to define Renaissance humanism. Kircher compares aspects both of Boccaccio’s and Petrarch’s work, sometimes noting the difference between their visions, with the religious thinkers, preachers, and theologians of the Italian trecento.
Lummus, David. “Boccaccio’s Hellenism and the Foundations of Modernity.” Mediaevalia 33 (2012): 101–167.
Lummus contrasts the cultural views of Boccaccio and Petrarch through the example of the differing approaches and views of ancient Greek culture and myths. Using examples from Boccaccio’s Genealogie and the correspondences between the two poets, the author shows how Boccaccio had a more open concept of classical culture than did Petrarch.
Velli, Giuseppe. “Il De vita et moribus domini Francisci Petracchi de Florentia del Boccaccio e la biografia del Petrarca.” MLN 102.1 (1987): 32–38.
Velli discusses Boccaccio’s short biography of Petrarch as part of Boccaccio’s important juvenile literary production. Despite its formal and rhetorical reliance on biographic models, Velli argues that it played an important role in the development of a “fictional” Petrarch.
Villani, Gianni, ed. and trans. Vita di Petrarca. Faville 25. Rome: Salerno, 2004.
This edition and translation of Boccaccio’s De vita et moribus Francisci Petracchi contains a newly edited Latin text as well as a translation of the original into Italian, presented on the facing page. The edition comes with a lengthy introduction to text, in which the editor contextualizes the biography in terms of the relationship between Petrarch and Boccaccio.
Boccaccio and Chaucer
Boitani 1983 includes essays on the breadth of the question of Boccaccio’s influence on Geoffrey Chaucer. Thompson 1996 focuses on the question of Chaucer’s direct and indirect knowledge of the Decameron as a source for the Canterbury Tales. Koff and Schildgen 2000 is a collection of essays on many issues related to the two authors, while Ginsberg 2002 tackles in depth Chaucer’s understanding of Italian literary culture through Boccaccio. Coleman 2005 updates the understanding of Boccaccio’s knowledge of the Teseida. Clarke 2011 focuses on the manuscript culture surrounding Boccaccio and Chaucer and the material evidence of their relationship.
Boitani, Piero, ed. Chaucer and the Italian Trecento. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
This collection of essays edited by Boitani contains mostly pieces directly addressing Chaucer’s relationship to Boccaccio. Essays by J. A. W. Bennett, David Wallace, and Boitani, and two by Robin Kirkpatrick, directly address Chaucer’s use and borrowings from Boccaccio’s vernacular works. Peter Godman looks at Chaucer’s appropriation of Boccaccio’s Latin encyclopedic works.
Clarke, K. P. Chaucer and Italian Textuality. Oxford English Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
The author focuses on the related manuscript cultures of Chaucer’s and Boccaccio’s texts, locating similar practices both in the authors, as glossators for example, and in their readership. The author provides a useful appendix that lists all the marginal commentary on f Day X, 10, in that manuscript.
Coleman, William E. “The Knight’s Tale.” In Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales II. Edited by Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel, 87–248. Chaucer Studies 35. Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2005.
Coleman’s book-length contribution to the volume thoroughly describes Chaucer’s appropriation of Boccaccio’s Teseida for his “Knight’s Tale” of the Canterbury Tales. The study presents the likely manuscript versions that Chaucer might have possessed, and it closely considers the textual form (including Boccaccio’s self-commentary) available to the English poet.
Ginsberg, Warren. Chaucer’s Italian Tradition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.
This monograph engages Chaucer’s relationship with each of the Tre Corone, individually and together, as what the author identifies collectively as Chaucer’s “Italian Tradition.” The central three chapters treat in detail Chaucer’s literary interactions with Boccaccio.
Koff, Leonard Michael, and Brenda Deen Schildgen, eds. The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2000.
This volume gathers ten essays together with a number of short essays in the front and end matter, all of which treat Boccaccio’s influence on Chaucer. Despite the title, many of the essays discuss texts besides Boccaccio’s Decameron, including the Teseida and De casibus.
Thompson, N. S. Chaucer, Boccaccio and the Debate of Love: A Comparative Study of the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Taking his starting point from an assumption that Chaucer had exposure to the Decameron, while not claiming that he read the collection in its original entirety, the author offers comparative readings, both specific and thematic, between the Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s collection of novella.
Poet and prose writer b. probably Florence or Certaldo, Italy, July 1313 d. Certaldo, December 21, 1375. Legend has falsely portrayed the earliest circumstances of his life. Using pseudoautobiographical confidences, vague and mysterious to the point of enigma, that were scattered throughout the youthful works, the 19th century set out to construct an entrancing vie romanc é e, in which Boccaccio was thought to have been born in Paris of the love of a merchant and a gentlewoman, or even a princess, and later to have been the chosen lover of the beautiful illegitimate daughter of King Robert of Anjou, Fiammetta. If his father, Boccaccio di Chellino, representative of the powerful trading company of the Bardi, was actually in Paris during 1313, then Giovanni was born of an illegitimate affair of his mother at Certaldo or, more likely, at Florence.
He passed his infancy in the San Pier Maggiore section of Florence, in his father's house, where Margherita
de' Martoli had come as wife she was related to the Portinari (Beatrice's family), and perhaps directly from her or from his first teacher, Giovanni Mazzuoli da Strada, sprang the earliest indications of that Dantean cult that grew throughout his life. When hardly out of boyhood (perhaps about 1325), he was sent into business at Naples with the Bardi Bank, which controlled the finances of the Angevin court. This commercial experience was unhappy and was followed by an equally disappointing study of Canon Law. Boccaccio thereupon turned completely to literature, under the direction and with the advice of the most learned men of the Neapolitan court (e.g., Paolo ve neto, Paolo da Perugia, Andal ò del Negro) and of such friends as Cino da Pistoia, Dionigi da San Sepolcro, Barbato da Sulmona, and Giovanni Barrili, who held up to him the example of Petrarch. The carefree and lordly life of the Angevin court and city, necessary meeting place of the Italo-French and the Arab-Byzantine cultures, also deeply influenced his formation.
Fiammetta Period. Against such a background, dominated by both avid cultural interests and easygoing pleasure, Boccaccio desired to weave his great romance of love, centering on the fickle and fascinating figure of Fiammetta and the various heady adventures that had brightened his youth. Though Fiammetta is missing from the elegant portrayal of the aristocratic Neapolitan society within the mythological setting in his first poem, Caccia di Diana (1334?), and from the flowing ottava rima of Filostrato (1335?), which deals with the Troilus-Cressida story, she dominates, directly or indirectly, Boccaccio's other works up to the eve of his masterpiece.
Filocolo, the romantic story of the adventures of Florio and Biancofiore — made all the more valuable by the digressions in which the self-taught young man shows his scholarly enthusiasm, by the autobiographical allusions, and by the storytelling techniques that foreshadow the Decameron — appears to have been produced about 1336 at the direct request of Fiammetta. Teseida (written about 1340 – 41, perhaps partly in Florence), which tells the story of the love of Arcita and Palemone for Emilia, inserts lyric motifs and love laments that seem to echo and develop the notes in the dedicatory letter to Fiammetta into his ambitious plan for a first Italian epic poem. The Commedia della Ninfe (entitled Ninfale d'Ameto by 14th-century scribes and editors) and the Amorosa visione (one form in 1341 – 42 alternating prose and verse, the other in 1342 – 43 in Dantean terza rima ) seem to wish to elevate, by the allegorical literary forms of the prevailing Tuscan tradition, the figure of the beloved to a superhuman level. The Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta (composed between 1343 and 1344), the first modern psychological novel, inverts the roles of the two lovers and blends the subtlest motivations with the innermost impulses of an enamored feminine heart.
Thus, nearly all the youthful work of Boccaccio (and even more clearly the Rime of this period), though patently autobiographical, gives evidence of becoming dominated and almost paralyzed by the experiences of love and enthusiasm for culture. But the immediacy of the first writings gradually gives way to a psychological analysis more detached from the sorrowful matter of love, under an interpretative effort sometimes almost allegorical.
The failure of the Bardi Bank forced Boccaccio to return to Florence in 1340 to meet painful domestic difficulties that are reflected in the laments that crop up in the works and letters of those years. Far from alienating him from literary pursuits, however, these harsh realities put him into immediate contact with his city and the life of the mercantile society to which he belonged. After brief periods in Ravenna at the court of Ostasio da Polenta (1345 – 46) and at Forl ì with Francesco Ordelaffi (1347), he was again at Florence in 1348, where he witnessed the terrible plague described in the introduction to his masterpiece.
The Decameron. Shortly before 1348, Boccaccio had sung in ottava rima in Ninfale fiesolano (1344 – 46?) the story of a fresh and gentle love in the enchanted environs of the Fiesolan countryside. In 1348 he began to prepare and lay out the Decameron (1348 – 51?), the work that splendidly crowns his youthful experiences and sums up his narrative and romantic preludes in a superb summa of medieval storytelling. The setting is this: to escape the horrors of the plague of 1348, seven young ladies and three young men retire to a Fiesolan hillside to pass away the time, each one is to tell a story every day, except Friday and Saturday, on a theme and in the order decreed by the one in charge for that day. A hundred novelle, interspersed with depictions of the group's aristocratic way of life, are thus recounted in ten days. In this powerful and multiform narrative work, Boccaccio displayed the "human comedy" of a society captured in both daily and extraordinary battles against ill-fortune. It is, in other words, the extraordinary epic of Boccaccio's own mercantile class.
According to the most acceptable aesthetic canons of his time, moreover, Boccaccio attached to his varied and iridescent images a didactic value beyond the mere story. Through the ten days into which his 100 stories are arranged he wished to display the extent of man's capacity for good and evil. To this end he pictured man on an imaginary journey that begins with a bitter condemnation of vice (First Day) and concludes with an exaltation of virtue (Tenth Day), after being tested by the three great forces that, as instruments of Providence, are at work in the world (Fortune, Second and Third Days Love, Fourth and Fifth Genius, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth the Ninth Day is a transitional episode).
External Trouble Interior Growth. His father's death in 1349 plunged Boccaccio even more deeply into family difficulties, but his established literary fame impelled his fellow citizens to entrust him with various civic tasks. In 1350 they sent him as ambassador to the Lords of Romagna and — a more pleasant duty — to present ten gold florins to Sister Beatrice, the nun daughter of Dante, as indemnity for damages sustained by her family. He was named chamberlain for the commune in 1351 and then representative of the republic (in the negotiations for the acquisition of Prato) and ambassador to Ludwig of Bavaria in 1354 and 1365 he was ambassador to Innocent VI and Urban V at Avignon and in 1367 presented the homage of Florence to Urban V on his return to Rome. But these honorable missions failed to extricate him from the deplorable condition into which the Bardi bankruptcy had cast him. In the hope of bettering his affairs, and prompted by the pleasant memories of his youthful years and the friendship of Niccol ò Acciaiuoli who had become the real arbiter of the Angevin court, he betook himself to Naples in 1355, 1362, and again in 1370 – 71. Nothing came of these ventures, and he returned disillusioned and embittered to Certaldo, where he had withdrawn probably as early as 1361 – 62.
The material and temporal circumstances of these years, however, are of far less importance than his humanistic development, his cultural interests, and the religious evolution of his thought. These attitudes were already present in the poems and letters of about 1350, but they emerge clearly after his encounter with pe trarch, the most fortunate and decisive encounter for Italian and European culture of the 14th century.
Petrarch's Influence. Boccaccio met Petrarch for the first time in 1350, having eagerly gone some miles out-side Florence to greet him and invite him to be his house guest. Boccaccio spent weeks of unforgettable, animated discourse at Petrarch's home in Padua in the spring of 1351 he was again his guest in 1359 at Milan, in 1363 at Venice, and in 1368 at Padua. They engaged in a voluminous correspondence, constantly exchanged books and literary information, and from 1350 on were generally seiuncti licet corporibus unum animo (though physically separated, one in spirit) as Petrarch wrote. After 1360 especially, Boccaccio's house became one of the chief centers of early Italian humanism, the retreat wherein Coluccio Salutati, Giovanni Villani, Luigi Marsili, and many other early humanists received inspiration, the scriptorium from which flowed marvelous literary discoveries (from Varro to Martial, from Tacitus to Apuleius) and the new interest in Greek that Boccaccio first, among the literary men of the time, had mastered through his dogged, industrious relationship with Leonzio Pilato (1360 – 62).
These early humanistic attitudes continued to characterize the works of his maturity, which he corrected and recorrected to his death, and established in various editions. The Genealogia Deorum gentilium (1350 – 75) is a great dictionary of mythology, a monument of prehumanistic culture the Bucolicum carmen (1351 – 66?) is a collection of eclogues that are allegorical or allusive to contemporary political events, on the model of Dante and Petrarch. De montibus, silvis, fontibus (1355 – 74?) is an inventory of classical and contemporary geographical culture De casibus virorum illustrium (1356 – 74?), is designed to show the transience of earthly goods and the ruin in store for those who climb too high, with examples drawn from all epochs. De mulieribus claris (1360 – 75?) sketches the lives of the most noted heroines of antiquity and the Middle Ages up to Queen Giovanna of Naples.
Zeal for the Vernacular. Boccaccio's early humanism, both for these works and in his activity in promoting classical culture, seems less concerned with stylistic and rhetorical principles than does Petrarch's. It is less refined and tends to eclecticism but it is always supported by a zealous love for poetry, so much so that he feels himself "wholly intended for poetry from as far back as the maternal womb" (Genealogia, 15:10). Better than Petrarch, he — the first apostle of the Dantean cult — synthesizes the wonderful and uninterrupted tradition of the intellectual life, of poetry and culture, from antiquity to his own days. Though he was a chief discoverer of the treasures of ancient Hellas, his vision was not confined within the boundaries of the classics it encompassed Christian authors, certain medieval writers, and poets who wrote in the vernacular. It is not without significance that the Teseida, the most ambitious of his youthful works, was modeled both on the great Latin epics and on the typically medieval cantari that in the Decameron classical and later sources were drawn upon that in the description of the plague that opens this masterpiece he mixes Lucretian facts, gained at second hand, with a page from Paolo Diacono that his prose rhythms favor Livy more than Cicero, and even more the currently accepted rhetorics and artes dictandi.
It is further significant that, as in his youthful years he had constantly juxtaposed experiments in the vernacular with the required employment of Latin, so precisely during the most characteristically early humanistic years, when he became more directly involved with Greek literature, Boccaccio did not abandon his fond relationship with the muses of the new language and new literature. In witness of this stand the Epistola consolatoria a Pino de' Rossi, (1361 – 62), addressed to a friend exiled for political reasons that harsh invective against women that stands out in the Corbaccio (1366?) the Trattatello in laude di Dante (1358 – 63?) and many vernacular letters to friends. In the same period, too, he undertook to correct and rework the Amorosa visione (which occasioned the Trionfi of Petrarch) and the final version of the De-cameron (the Hamilton autograph). All of Boccaccio's activity, whether as writer or as forceful promoter of humanistic studies, is constantly marked by this notable bilingualism that is not merely verbal but mental and cultural, by this vigorous and vital mixture of ancient and contemporary methods and experiments, by this passion, not rhetorical but human, for poetry, for all poetry.
Precisely because of this profound passion, Boccaccio in those years gathered up and defined in the last two books of the Genealogia Deorum his aesthetic doctrine, a synthesis of the leading poetic ideas of the Middle Ages and of earlier discussions by the men of the generation before that — discussions that heralded the rapidly approaching debates during the chivalric years between 1300 and 1400. Against the doubts and uncertainties of many, Boccaccio shows the complete propriety and high mission of poetry ex sinu Die procedens, of poetry as the anima mundi.
Religious Maturity. Tactfully helped by the serene and profound Christianity of Petrarch, Boccaccio during these years also resolved into a firm religious sensibility the emotional instability of his youth. To consecrate this achievement he received minor orders and in 1360 permission to become a director of souls he dedicated himself enthusiastically to the study of Dante, on whose "sacred poem" he began to lecture at the church of San Stefano di Badia (1373 – 74). Just as he was publicly exalting the genius of Dante, the death of Petrarch (July 19, 1374) left a void in his heart. All his writings from then on only repeat the lament for the loss of his great friend, for his own spiritual loneliness. In these final years Boccaccio repudiated the worldliness of his Decameron and even tried to destroy the work's manuscripts. Despite such attempts, he remained for his contemporaries almost hieratically fixed in the role of last survivor of the "three crowns," the last champion of Italian letters.
Bibliography: Opere, ed. v. branca (Milan 1964 – ) Decameron, ed. v. branca (4th ed. Florence 1965) Eng. tr. j. m. rigg, 2v. (London 1947) The Filostrato, tr. n. e. griffin and a. b. myrick (Philadelphia 1929) Amorous Fiametta, tr. b. young, ed. k. h. josling (London 1929) The Nymph of Fiesole, tr. d. j. donno (New York 1960) The Life of Dante, tr. p. h. wicksteed (San Francisco 1922) Concerning Famous Women, tr. g. a. guarino (New Brunswick, NJ 1963). Three basic but old bibliographies are: a. bacchi della lega, Serie delle edizioni delle opere di Giovanni Boccaccio latine, volgari, tradotte e trasformate (Bologna 1875). g. traversari, Bibliografia Boccaccesca (Citt à di Castello 1907). v. branca, Storia della critica al "Decameron" con bibliografia boccaccesca.. (Rome 1939). On the MSS: see v. branca, Tradizione delle opere di Giovanni Boccaccio (Rome 1958) ed., Studi sul Boccaccio (Florence 1963 – ). The biographies by g. billanovich, Restauri boccacceschi (Rome 1945) and v. branca, Schemi letterari e schemi autobiografici nell'opera del Boccaccio (Florence 1946) are in strong reaction to the romance built up, on presumed autobiographical confessions, especially by v. crescini, Contributo agli studi di Boccaccio (Turin 1887), a. della torre, La giovinezza di G. Boccaccio (1313 – 1341 ) proposta d'una nuova cronologia (Citt à di Castello 1905), and h. hauvette, Boccace (Paris 1914). t. c. chubb, The Life of Giovanni Boccaccio (New York 1930) c. carswell, The Tranquil Hearth: Portrait of Giovanni Boccaccio (New York 1937). a. c. lee, The Decameron: Its Sources and Analogues (London 1909). e. g. parodi, Lingua e Letteratura, 2 v. (Venice 1957). u. bosco, Il Decameron: Saggio (Rieti 1929). b. croce, Poesia popolare e poesia d'arte (Bari 1933). v. branca, Boccaccio medievale (Florence 1956). h. g. wright, Boccaccio in England: From Chaucer to Tennyson (London 1957). g. getto, Vita di forme e forme di vita nel Decameron (Turin 1958). a. d. scaglione, Nature and Love in the Late Middle Ages: Chiefly an Essay in the Cultural Context of the Decameron (Berkeley 1963). r. witt, In the Footsteps of the Ancients (Leiden 2000). e. h. wilkins, Studies on Petrarch and Boccaccio (Padua 1978).
Key Facts & Information
- Giovanni Boccaccio was born in Italy in 1313. The exact date and place of his birth is uncertain. However, it is known that he spent his childhood in Florence.
- His father was a prominent merchant and his mother also belonged to an illustrious family.
- Boccaccio attended school in Florence and was taken into work at the age of 10. He was sent to Naples in 1327 to study business and law however, his growing interest in literature drew him away from studying these subjects. He eventually gave up on studying and dedicated himself entirely to writing.
- At a young age, Boccaccio started mingling with the elite of society. He began working with public offices in Florence and was sent on diplomatic missions to places such as Padua, the Romagna, and Avignon.
- When his father died in 1348, he returned to Florence and became guardian to his younger brother. Boccaccio’s lifelong friendship with Francesco Petrarch began two years later in 1350 as the writers often worked closely with each other.
- Boccaccio completed the great Decameron in 1353 which narrates one hundred stories of seven women and three men who reside in a country villa for 10 days after escaping the plague in Florence.
- Decameron has influenced Europe for the longest time and great writers such as Shakespeare and Chaucer are known to have borrowed from this masterpiece. Renowned poets such as George Eliot, Tennyson, Keats, Longfellow, and Swinburne have also written poems revolving around the Decameron.
- Boccaccio also produced an excellent piece of work on classical mythology from 1350 to 1374 entitled De genealogia deorum gentilium (‘On the Genealogy of the Gods of the Gentiles’) which was written in Latin and focused on classical mythology and culture.
- From 1354 to 1355, Boccaccio worked on writing The Corbaccio, about the problems of one-sided love. Boccaccio’s admiration for Dante compelled him to write the Biography of Dante (1355-1364).
- Another well known effort, On the Fates of Famous Men (1355-1374), describes the downfall of influential men. He also composed Concerning Famous Women, a noteworthy volume of biographies of famous women, written from 1360 to 1374.
- Disappointing relationships and deteriorating health made Giovanni depressive and his writing started showing signs of bitterness especially towards women.
- He attempted to burn and sell his work, letters, manuscripts and library while Petrarch convinced him not to burn his belongings but offered to purchase them from him. After his death, Boccaccio’s literary collections were presented to the monastery of Santo Spirito in Florence.
- Although never married, Boccaccio was a father to three children. He passed away on December 21, 1375.
Giovanni Boccaccio Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about Giovanni Boccaccio across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Giovanni Boccaccio worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Giovanni Boccaccio who was among the founders of the Renaissance. His greatest work, Decameron, has claimed fame for over 600 years and has cast an influence on other writers like Francesco Petrarch who translated the masterpiece into Latin. Boccaccio was also a humanist and is sometimes regarded as the founder of Humanism.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Authors Online
- Great Giovannis
- What’s in a Name?
- Giovanni’s Journey
- Renaissance Men
- Words from a Word
- Judge by the Cover
- Giovanni Speaks
- Flourishing Florence
- 10 Days, 100 Stories
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