Boccaccio, Giovanni


Boccaccio, Giovanni
(1313–1375)
   Boccaccio was an Italian poet and writer of prose fiction, largely influenced by DANTE and his close friend PETRARCH, and with those two is considered one of the three great writers of the Italian trecento (i.e., 14th century). His DECAMERON is one of the seminal works of world literature, and the most important work of prose fiction to come out of the Italian Middle Ages.
   Giovanni Boccaccio was the illegitimate son of a Florentine merchant named Boccaccino di Chelo and an unknown mother, probably of humble origin. He was born, probably in Florence or his father’s native town of Certaldo, in 1313, and some time before 1320 his father recognized and legitimized him and brought him to live in his household. Boccaccio was trained in mathematics, accounting, and general business practices, and in 1327 he accompanied his father as his apprentice to the city of Naples. Here his father was a councillor and chamberlain in the court of King Robert of Anjou, representing the interests of the great Bardi banking house of Florence.
   The young Boccaccio was unhappy as a banker, and later in life he expresses his regret at his early education’s ignoring rhetoric and the great classical poets. He did prevail upon his father to allow him to attend the University of Naples from about 1331 to 1336 in order to study canon law. Here Boccaccio studied under Dante’s friend CINO DA PISTOIA, a connection that must have contributed to his lifelong reverence for his great Tuscan predecessor. Having made some connections at court, Boccaccio was also able to explore the substantial Royal Library in Naples, an opportunity that may have filled some of the earlier gaps in his education. In the meantime, Boccaccio’s father left Naples in 1332 to pursue business interests in Paris, leaving the young Boccaccio on his own. About this time Boccaccio began his poetic career. His earliest work, Caccia di Diana (Diana’s Hunt, ca. 1334), was written in TERZA RIMA in emulation of Dante. His first major work, FILOCOLO (Love’s labor, ca. 1336), is significant as the first prose ROMANCE in Italian, and it retells the French story of FLOIRE ET BLANCHEFLOR (whom Boccaccio calls Florio and Biancofiore). In the first book of Il Filocolo, Boccaccio describes his first meeting with the woman he calls Fiametta (Maria d’Aquino) in the Church of San Lorenzo on Easter Saturday. He depicts her as the love of his life and his inspiration (like Dante’s Beatrice or Petrarch’s Laura). She appears in many of his later works including the Teseida and the Elegia di Madonna Fiametta, and she is one of the storytellers in the Decameron. But no historical verification of the existence of such a person has been found, and it is possible that she was simply a literary fiction.
   Before 1341, Boccaccio also wrote Il FILOSTRATO (The Love-struck).Written in eight-line stanzas of OTTAVA RIMA, the poem tells the story of the love affair of the Trojan prince Troiolo and his beloved Creseida, and was the chief source for Chaucer’s TROILUS AND CRISEYDE (ca. 1385). It was certainly Boccaccio’s major achievement thus far, but soon after its composition, financial crisis changed Boccaccio’s life. In 1341, with the Bardi company in dire financial straits, Boccaccio was forced to leave Naples and return to Florence.
   In Florence Boccaccio faced his own economic difficulties. He was never able to obtain the support of a wealthy patron, as Dante and Petrarch had been able to do. On the brink of poverty, he finished his Teseida (Book of Theseus), an epiclength romance in ottava rima concerning the love of Arcita and Palemone for the beautiful Emilia that was the source of Chaucer’s KNIGHT’S TALE.
   But ultimately Boccaccio, recognizing that courtly romances of the sort he had been writing were not appropriate for the bourgeois audience of Florence, began to write didactic allegories. His Commedia delle ninfe (Comedy of the Florentine nymphs, ca. 1341–42) is an allegory of virtues with alternating prose and lyrical sections, similar to Dante’s VITA nUOVA, while his Amorosa Visione (“Vision of Love,” ca. 1343) depicts love as an ennobling force. Composed in terza rima, the verse recalls the DIVINE COMEDY. Boccaccio followed this with his Elegia di Madonna Fiametta (“Elegy of Lady Fiametta,” ca. 1343–44), a narrative made up of letters purported to be from the pen of Fiametta, jilted by her lover. It is a work with a legitimate claim to be the world’s first epistolary novel. But Boccaccio’s greatest achievement in these years was his Decameron, a collection of 100 short stories or novelle told over a period of 10 days by seven Florentine ladies and three gentlemen who have fled from Florence to the hills of Fiesole to escape the BLACK DEATH. The work is justly famous for its grim and realistic firsthand account of the plague in Florence in its prologue. But the Decameron has remained popular and readable largely because of its great variety of tales and styles, from FABLIAUX to romances and moral tales. Boccaccio began the text shortly after 1348 and finished in roughly 1350–52.
   The year 1350 marked a significant turning point in Boccaccio’s life, for it was then that he began his friendship with Petrarch, having convinced his idol to stop in Florence on his way to Rome for the jubilee of 1350. Over the next 24 years, they corresponded regularly. Boccaccio also traveled to see Petrarch three times. Petrarch’s influence changed the direction of Boccaccio’s literary development: He became more devoted to humanistic scholarship and didactic purpose, and began to write almost exclusively in Latin. He wrote De casibus virorum illustrium (The fates of illustrious men, ca. 1355–60), which influenced Chaucer’s MONK’S TALE, and De claris mulieribus (Famous Women, ca. 1361), which was a source both for Chaucer’s LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN and CHRISTINE DE PIZAN’s BOOK OF THE CITY OF LADIES. At the same time he worked on Genealogia deorum gentilium (The genealogy of the gentile gods, ca. 1350–65), a study of classical mythology. Boccaccio’s new passion for humanistic letters was fed at the same time by the scholar Leontius Pilatus, whom he met in Milan while visiting Petrarch in 1359. Pilatus taught Boccaccio Greek, and Boccaccio was able to secure an appointment for him as professor of Greek at the University of Florence— the first such appointment since antiquity. By this time the commune of Florence had recognized Boccaccio’s usefulness, and he was being sent on diplomatic missions, to Ludwig of Bavaria in 1351, to the papal court at Avignon in 1354 and 1365, and at Rome in 1366. He also served in the Condotto, the department of military funding. Such appointments mitigated to some extent his financial situation; he is also known to have taken minor orders in the late 1350s. Sometime in the late 1360s, however, Boccaccio’s health began to decline. He made a final trip to his old home in Naples in 1370, but returned ill and exhausted in 1371. Scholars have suggested that his prolonged illness may have been a case of dropsy or scabies, or a combination of both. He was severely ill in 1372, but late that year began a series of lectures on Dante sponsored by the commune of Florence. Boccaccio’s interest in Dante had never wavered, and he had already written his Trattatello in laude di Dante (In praise of Dante) in two different versions published in 1351 and 1360. He was to revise the text one more time in conjunction with his lectures in 1373.
   Petrarch died in 1374, and Boccaccio himself, worn out by long illness, followed on December 21, 1375. His contribution to the study of the classics, including Greek, his efforts in recovering and preserving the reputation of his beloved Dante, his influence on important fellow writers like Chaucer and Christine de Pizan, and most important, his own literary contributions, especially to the development of prose fiction with his Decameron, make Boccaccio a major figure in the history of world literature.
   Bibliography
   ■ Bergin, Thomas G. Boccaccio. New York:Viking Press, 1981.
   ■ Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Book of Theseus. Translated by Bernadette McCoy. New York: Medieval Text Association, 1974.
   ■ ———. The Decameron: A Norton Critical Edition. Edited and translated by Mark Musa, and Peter E. Bondanella. New York: Norton, 1977.
   ■ ———. Famous Women. Edited and translated by Virginia Brown. Cambridge,Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.
   ■ ———. The Filostrato of Giovanni Boccaccio. Translated by N. E. Griffin, and A. B.Myrick.New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1967.
   ■ Branca, Vittore. Boccaccio: The Man and His Works. Translated by Richard Monges. Cotranslated and edited by Dennis J.McAuliffe. Foreword by Robert C. Clements. New York: New York University Press, 1976.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • BOCCACCIO, GIOVANNI° — (1313–1375), Italian author, whose greatest work, Il Decamerone, contains a number of Jewish elements. The son of a Florentine merchant, Boccaccio was apprenticed in his youth to a merchant in Naples and may have come into contact with some of… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni — Boccaccio, Giovanni, Giovanni, ein liebenswürdiger Dichter und der beste Prosaist Italiens, wurde als der Sohn eines italienischen Kaufmannes 1313 zu Paris geboren, zeitig nach Florenz gebracht, wo er sich dem Handel widmen sollte, sich aber in… …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni — • Biography and overview of the author s major works Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006 …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni — (1313 1375)    One of the three great Italian authors of the 14th century (along with Dante and Petrarch) who established the Tuscan dialect as Italy s literary language. Born near Florence to a merchant employed by the Bardi bank and a woman… …   Historical Dictionary of Renaissance

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni — born 1313, Paris, France died Dec. 21, 1375, Certaldo, Tuscany Italian poet and scholar. His life was full of difficulties and occasional bouts of poverty. His early works include The Love Afflicted (с 1336), a prose work in five books, and The… …   Universalium

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni — (1313 1375)    Considered one of the greatest Italian poets in history, Boccaccio was born either in the Tuscan town of Certaldo or in Florence. He spent his youth in Naples where his father worked as representative of the Bardi bank. There he… …   Dictionary of Renaissance art

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni — ► (1313 75) Escritor renacentista italiano. El centro de su obra es el culto al amor y a la inteligencia. En sus obras juveniles, Filocolo (1336), Filostrato (1338), trata el amor desde su perspectiva autobiográfica. Recoge temas mitológicos,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Boccaccio,Giovanni — Boc·cac·cio (bō käʹchē ō , chō ), Giovanni. 1313 1375. French born Italian poet and writer whose classic work, the Decameron (1351 1353), is a collection of 100 tales set against the melancholic background of the Black Death. * * * …   Universalium

  • BOCCACCIO, GIOVANNI —    the celebrated Italian raconteur, born near Florence; showed early a passion for literature; sent by his father to Naples to pursue a mercantile career; gave himself up to story telling in prose and verse; fell in love with Maria, a beautiful… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni —  (1313–1375) Italian writer …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.