Giovanni Boccaccio

Giovanni Boccaccio (jōvän´nē), 1313–75, Italian poet and storyteller, author of the Decameron. Born in Paris, the illegitimate son of a Tuscan merchant and a French woman, he was educated at Certaldo and Naples by his father, who wanted him to take up commerce and law. In Naples he met (1336) the woman (dubiously identified as Maria d'Aquino, illegitimate daughter of King Robert) whom he was to immortalize in prose and verse as Fiammetta. She is reputed to have introduced him at court and to have urged him to write (c.1340) his early Filocolo, a long vernacular prose romance. Other early works include the poem Filostrato, which infused the legendary story of Troilus and Cressida with the atmosphere of Neapolitan court life; the Teseide, a poem in the style of the Aeneid; the psychological romance La Fiammetta (written c.1344); the pastoral Ninfale d'Ameto; and the allegorical Amorosa visione, imitative of Dante.

Boccaccio was recalled to Florence in 1341, and there he met (1350) the great poet Petrarch, who became a lifelong friend. Emulating Petrarch, he became a Latin and Greek scholar and worked vigorously to reintroduce Greek works. In his middle years Boccaccio wrote (1348–53) his great secular classic, the Decameron, a collection of 100 witty and occasionally licentious tales set against the somber background of the Black Death. The tales treat a wide variety of characters and events and brilliantly reveal humanity as sensual, tender, cruel, weak, self-seeking, and ludicrous. With the Decameron the courtly themes of medieval literature began to give way to the voice and mores of early modern society. Boccaccio achieved stylistic mastery in the Decameron, which became a model for later efforts toward a distinctively Italian style. After completing the tales, Boccaccio experienced a severe emotional crisis, during which he wrote the satire Corbaccio, a savage attack on the female sex.

In the next years there followed several works in Latin, the language of high culture. These included Bucolicum carmen [pastoral songs], the huge De casibus virorem illustrium and De mulieribus claris (the first biographies of famous men, the second of famous women), the mythological treatise De genealogiis, and the geographical dictionary De montibus. Boccaccio's old age was troubled by poverty and ill health, but his activity continued. He was commissioned (1371) by the commune of Certaldo to read daily from his beloved Dante, and in 1373 in Florence he began the lectures which became his famous Commento on the Inferno. There are several translations of the Decameron and also many anthologies and collections of particular stories in translation.

See biography by T. C. Chubb (1969); studies by V. Branca (1976), T. G. Bergin (1981), and J. Sauli (1982).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

FREE! Giovanni Boccaccio: A Biographical Study
Edward Hutton.
J. Lane, 1910
Boccaccio on Poetry: Being the Preface and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Books of Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum Gentilium
Charles G. Osgood; Boccaccio.
Bobbs-Merrill, 1956
Chaucer and Boccaccio: Antiquity and Modernity
Robert Edwards.
Palgrave, 2002
Chaucer, Boccaccio, and the Debate of Love: A Comparative Study of the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales
N. S. Thompson.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Adventures in Speech: Rhetoric and Narration in Boccaccio's Decameron
Pier Massimo Forni.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
Before the Knight's Tale: Imitation of Classical Epic in Boccaccio's Teseida
David Anderson.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988
The Genealogy of Women: Studies in Boccaccio's de Mulieribus Claris
Stephen D. Kolsky.
Peter Lang, 2003
Five Masters: A Study in the Mutations of the Novel
Joseph Wood Krutch.
Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, 1930
Librarian’s tip: "Giovanni Boccaccio" begins on p. 3
FREE! Essays on Medieval Literature
W. P. Ker.
MacMillan, 1905
Librarian’s tip: "Boccaccio" begins on p. 52
The Mythographic Art: Classical Fable and the Rise of the Vernacular in Early France and England
Jane Chance.
University of Florida Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: "Mercury in the Garden: Mythographical Methods in The Merchant's Tale and Decameron 7.9" begins on p. 199
Nature and Love in the Late Middle Ages
Aldo D. Scaglione.
University of California Press, 1963
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "The Decameron" and Chap. V "The Movement to and from Naturalism in Boccaccio's Career"
The Invention of the Renaissance Woman: The Challenge of Female Independence in the Literature and Thought of Italy and England
Pamela Joseph Benson.
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992
The Song of Troilus: Lyric Authority in the Medieval Book
Thomas C. Stillinger.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "The Form of Troilus: Boccaccio, Chaucer and the Picture of History"
Dictionary of Italian Literature
Peter Bondanella; Julia Conaway Bondanella; Jody Robin Shiffman.
Greenwood Press, 1996 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Boccaccio, Giovanni (1313-1375)" begins on p. 60
Boccacio in England, from Chaucer to Tennyson
Herbert G. Wright.
University of London Athlone Press, 1957
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