Giovanni Boccaccio

Giovanni Boccaccio (UK: /bəˈkætʃioʊ/, US: /boʊˈkɑːtʃ(i)oʊ, bə-/, Italian: [dʒoˈvanni bokˈkattʃo]; 16 June 1313 – 21 December 1375)[1] was an Italian writer, poet, correspondent of Petrarch, and an important Renaissance humanist. Boccaccio wrote a number of notable works, including The Decameron and On Famous Women. He wrote his imaginative literature mostly in the Italian vernacular, as well as other works in Latin, and is particularly noted for his realistic dialogue which differed from that of his contemporaries, medieval writers who usually followed formulaic models for character and plot.

Giovanni Boccaccio
Boccaccio by Morghen
Born16 June 1313
Certaldo, Republic of Florence
Died21 December 1375
(aged 62)
Certaldo, Republic of Florence
OccupationWriter, poet
PeriodLate Middle Ages
RelativesBoccaccino di Chellino (father)
Margherita de' Mardoli (stepmother)


The details of Boccaccio's birth are uncertain. He was born in Florence or in a village near Certaldo where his family was from.[2][3] He was the son of Florentine merchant Boccaccino di Chellino and an unknown woman; he was likely born out of wedlock.[4] Boccaccio's stepmother was called Margherita de' Mardoli.[5]

Early life

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[4] (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.[6]

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.

Adult years

Boccaccio's statue in Uffizi

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).[7] 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[8] in 1343. The pastoral piece "Ninfale fiesolano" probably dates from this time, also. In 1343, Boccaccio's father remarried to Bice del Bostichi. His children by his first marriage had all died, but he had another son named Iacopo in 1344.

Giovanni Boccaccio and Florentines who have fled from the plague
Giovanni Boccaccio and Florentines who have fled from the plague

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[9][10] 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 Italian; 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.

De claris mulieribus
Circes: illustration of one of the women featured the 1374 biographies of 106 famous women, De Claris Mulieribus, by Boccaccio – from a German translation of 1541

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.[13] 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.[14] Boccaccio and Petrarch were also two of the most educated people in early Renaissance in the field of archaeology.[15]

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 always in praise of women and love. 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.[16] 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.[17]

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.


Genealogia deorum gentilium
Genealogia deorum gentilium, 1532
Alphabetical listing of selected works
  • Amorosa visione (1342)
  • Buccolicum carmen (1367–1369)
  • Caccia di Diana (1334–1337)
  • Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine (Ninfale d'Ameto, 1341–1342)
  • Corbaccio (around 1365, this date is disputed)
  • De Canaria (within 1341–1345)
  • De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (c. 1360). Facsimile of 1620 Paris ed., 1962, Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, ISBN 978-0-8201-1005-9.
  • De mulieribus claris (1361, revised up to 1375)
  • The Decameron (1349–52, revised 1370–1371)
  • Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta (1343–1344)
  • Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante (1373–1374)
  • Filocolo (1336–1339)
  • Filostrato (1335 or 1340)
  • Genealogia deorum gentilium libri (1360, revised up to 1374)
  • Ninfale fiesolano (within 1344–46, this date is disputed)
  • Rime (finished 1374)
  • Teseida delle nozze di Emilia (before 1341)
  • Trattatello in laude di Dante (1357, title revised to De origine vita studiis et moribus viri clarissimi Dantis Aligerii florentini poetae illustris et de operibus compositis ab eodem)
  • Zibaldone Magliabechiano (within 1351–1356)

See Consoli's bibliography for an exhaustive listing.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Bartlett, Kenneth R. (1992). The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance. Toronto: D.C. Heath and Company. ISBN 0-669-20900-7 (Paperback). Page 43–44.
  2. ^ Giovanni Boccaccio; Mariangela Causa-Steindler; Thomas Mauch. The elegy of Lady Fiammetta. p. XI.
  3. ^ James Patrick. Renaissance and Reformation.
  4. ^ a b Bartlett, Kenneth R. (1992). The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance. Toronto: D.C. Heath and Company. ISBN 0-669-20900-7 (Paperback). Page 43.
  5. ^ Prudence Allen. The Concept of Woman: The Early Humanist Reformation, 1250-1500, Part 1, page 277.
  6. ^ New Standard Encyclopedia, 1992. "Boccaccio, Giovanni"; Volume B, p. 316. Chicago: Standard Educational Corporation
  7. ^ "Complete list of Boccaccio works at Decameron". Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Boccaccio, Giovanni ''La Fiammetta'' (1342), Project Gutenburg". 2003-11-01. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  9. ^ "Boccaccio, Giovanni ''The Decameron'', Volume I, Project Gutenburg". 2003-02-01. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  10. ^ "Boccaccio, Giovanni ''The Decameron'', Volume II, Project Gutenburg". 2004-08-03. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  11. ^ "Encyclopedia of medieval literature – Boccaccio, Giovanni". Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  12. ^ King, Margaret L. "The Renaissance in Europe". Laurence King Publishing, 2003, p.54.
  13. ^ "The chronological archives of his complete works". Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  14. ^ Works of Giovanni Boccaccio text, concordances and frequency lists
  15. ^ "Boccaccio's Archaeological Knowledge". JSTOR 498505.
  16. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica 2007, ''Petrarch and Boccaccio's mature years.''". Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  17. ^ "Library of Liberty". Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  18. ^ Consoli, Joseph P. (1992) Giovanni Boccaccio: an Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-3147-4.


  • Patrick, James A.(2007). Renaissance And Reformation. Marshall Cavendish Corp. ISBN 9780761476504.

Further reading

  • On Famous Women, edited and translated by Virginia Brown. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001 ISBN 0-674-00347-0 (Latin text and English translation)
  • The Decameron, ISBN 0-451-52866-2
  • The Life of Dante, translated by Vincenzo Zin Bollettino. New York: Garland, 1990 ISBN 1-84391-006-3
  • The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta, edited and translated [from the Italian] by Mariangela Causa-Steindler and Thomas Mauch; with an introduction by Mariangela Causa-Steindler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990 ISBN 0-226-06276-7.

External links

Boccaccio '70

Boccaccio '70 is a 1962 Italian anthology film produced by Carlo Ponti and directed by Mario Monicelli, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica, from an idea by Cesare Zavattini. It is an anthology of four episodes, each by one of the directors, all about a different aspect of morality and love in modern times, in the style of Giovanni Boccaccio.

Boccaccio (1920 film)

Boccaccio is a 1920 film directed by Michael Curtiz.

Boccaccio (crater)

Boccaccio is a crater on Mercury. It has a diameter of 151.95 kilometers. Its name was adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1976. Boccaccio is named for the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio, who lived from 1313 to 1375.

Boccaccio (operetta)

Boccaccio, oder Der Prinz von Palermo (Boccaccio, or the Prince of Palermo) is an operetta in three acts by Franz von Suppé to a German libretto by Camillo Walzel and Richard Genée, based on the play by Jean-François Bayard, Adolphe de Leuven, Léon Lévy Brunswick and Arthur de Beauplan, based in turn on The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.

The opera was first performed at the Carltheater, Vienna, on 1 February 1879.

An English translation was done by Oscar Weil and Gustav Hinrichs around 1883.


Il Corbaccio, or "The Crow", is an Italian literary work by Giovanni Boccaccio, traditionally dated c. 1355.

De Casibus Virorum Illustrium

De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (On the Fates of Famous Men) is a work of 56 biographies in Latin prose composed by the Florentine poet Giovanni Boccaccio of Certaldo in the form of moral stories of the falls of famous people, similar to his work of 106 biographies De Mulieribus Claris.

De Mulieribus Claris

De Mulieribus Claris or De Claris Mulieribus (Latin for "Concerning Famous Women") is a collection of biographies of historical and mythological women by the Florentine author Giovanni Boccaccio, composed in 1361–62. It is notable as the first collection devoted exclusively to biographies of women in Western literature. At the same time as he was writing On Famous Women, Boccaccio also compiled a collection of biographies of famous men, De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (On the Fates of Famous Men).

Decameron Nights

Decameron Nights is a 1953 anthology Technicolor film based on three tales from The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, specifically the ninth and tenth tales of the second day and the ninth tale of the third. It stars Joan Fontaine and, as Boccaccio, Louis Jourdan.

Decameron Nights (1924 film)

Decameron Nights is a 1924 British-German silent drama film directed by Herbert Wilcox and starring Lionel Barrymore, Ivy Duke and Werner Krauss. It is based on the novel Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.

Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta

Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta, or The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta in English, is a novel by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio, probably written between 1343 and 1344. Written in the form of a first-person confessional monologue, it describes the protagonist, Fiammetta's, passion for Panfilo, a Florentine merchant, and takes place in Naples. It has been characterised as the first psychological novel in Western literature. It consists of a prologue and nine chapters.

Forest of Love

Bosco d'amore (internationally released as Forest of Love) is a 1981 Italian drama film directed by Alberto Bevilacqua. It is loosely based on a novel of Giovanni Boccaccio.It entered the competition at the 38th Venice International Film Festival.

Griselda (Vivaldi)

Griselda (Italian pronunciation: [ɡriˈzɛlda]) is a dramma per musica in three acts that was composed by Antonio Vivaldi. The opera uses a revised version of the 1701 Italian libretto by Apostolo Zeno that was based on Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron (X, 10, "The Patient Griselda"). The celebrated Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni was hired to adapt the libretto for Vivaldi. The opera was first performed in Venice at the Teatro San Samuele on 18 May 1735.

Il Filostrato

Il Filostrato is a poem by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio, and the inspiration for Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and, through Chaucer, the Shakespeare play Troilus and Cressida. It is itself loosely based on Le Roman de Troie, by 12th-century poet Benoît de Sainte-Maure.

Il Filostrato is a narrative poem on a classical topic written in "royal octaves" (ottava rima) and divided into eight cantos. The title, a combination of Greek and Latin words, can be translated approximately as "laid prostrate by love". The poem has a mythological plot: it narrates the love of Troilo (Troilus), a younger son of Priam of Troy, for Criseida (Cressida), daughter of Calcas (Calchas).

Although its setting is Trojan, Boccaccio's story is not taken from Greek myth, but from the Roman de Troie, a twelfth-century French medieval re-elaboration of the Trojan legend by Benoît de Sainte-Maure known to Boccaccio in the Latin prose version by Guido delle Colonne (Historia destructionis Troiae).

The plot of the Filostrato can be read as a roman à clef of Boccaccio's love of "Fiammetta". Indeed, the proem suggests it. The atmosphere of the poem is reminiscent of that of the court of Naples, and the psychology of the characters is portrayed with subtle notes. There is no agreement on the date of its composition: according to some, it may have been written in 1335, whereas others consider it to date from 1340.

Boccaccio also used the name for one of the three men occurring in the character of narrators in The Decameron.

Isabella, or the Pot of Basil

Isabella, or the Pot of Basil (1818) is a narrative poem by John Keats adapted from a story in Boccacio's Decameron (IV, 5). It tells the tale of a young woman whose family intend to marry her to "some high noble and his olive trees", but who falls for Lorenzo, one of her brothers' employees. When the brothers learn of this they murder Lorenzo and bury his body. His ghost informs Isabella in a dream. She exhumes the body and buries the head in a pot of basil which she tends obsessively, while pining away.

The poem was a precursor to The Eve of Saint Agnes. Both are set in the Middle Ages and concern passionate and dangerous romances. It was published in 1820 along with the latter work and others.

The poem was popular with Pre-Raphaelite painters, who illustrated several episodes from it, notably Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt, Isabella and the Pot of Basil by John William Waterhouse and Isabella (also known as Lorenzo and Isabella) by John Everett Millais. Later, John White Alexander depicted the poem in his 1897 Isabella and the Pot of Basil, currently held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Frank Bridge also wrote a symphonic poem of the same name in 1907.


Teseida (full title: Teseida delle Nozze d’Emilia, or The Theseid, Concerning the Nuptials of Emily) is a long epic poem written by Giovanni Boccaccio c.1340–41. Running to almost 10,000 lines divided into twelve books, its notional subject is the career and rule of the ancient Greek hero Theseus (Teseo), although the majority of the epic tells the story of the rivalry of Palemone and Arcita for the love of Emilia. It is the main source of "The Knight's Tale" in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and therefore is the original source of The Two Noble Kinsmen, a collaboration by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. The exact sources of Boccaccio's knowledge about the ancient Greek world are unknown, but is likely that he gained the knowledge through his close friendship with Paolo de Perugia, a medieval collector of ancient myths and tales.Jeanne de la Font gained fame in the sixteenth century by writing a French verse adaption of Teseida.

The Decameron (1971 film)

The Decameron (Italian: Il Decameron) is a 1971 film by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, based on the novel Il Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. It is the first movie of Pasolini's Trilogy of life, the others being The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights.

The tales contain abundant nudity, sex, slapstick and scatological humor. The film was entered into the 21st Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear Extraordinary Jury Prize.

The Filocolo

The Filocolo (orig. Il Filocolo) is a novel written by Giovanni Boccaccio between 1335-36. It is considered to be the first novel of Italian literature written in prose. It is based on a very popular story of the time, Florio e Biancifiore.

"The Franklin's Tale" of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is based on The Filocolo.

This work dates from Boccaccio's youth; it was written during his stay in Naples in 1336.

The two protagonists are Florio, son of the King of Spain, and Biancifiore, an orphan. Having grown up together they are in love, and they are forced to undergo many adventures and misfortunes that divide them. In the end, after Florio's many journeys in search of his love under the pseudonym of Filocolo, they are reunited.

During a stay in Naples, Florio, thwarted by a tempest at sea, is walking near the tomb of Virgil, where he finds himself attracted by the melody coming from a neighbouring garden. Here he encounters Caleone (who represents Boccaccio himself), who is part of a "noble brigade" and invites Florio to join them. Another member of the group is Fiammetta (Maria d'Aquino) who is elected their queen. Each of the group in turn proposes a question of love. This section is particularly significant because it foreshadows the scheme of the Decameron.

The material is drawn from popular tradition; the adventures of Florio and Biancifiore were as well known in Europe as those of Tristan and Isolde. In Italy there was a popular poem in ottava rima entitled Cantare di Florio e Biancifiore. Boccaccio, however, made a distinctive version of the story, inaugurating his new prose style.

The Tricky Game of Love

The Tricky Game of Love (Czech: Hry lásky šálivé) is a Czech comedy film directed by Jiří Krejčík. Consisted of two sequences, the work was released on October 22, 1971 in Czechoslovakia.

Wondrous Boccaccio

Wondrous Boccaccio (Italian: Maraviglioso Boccaccio) is a 2015 Italian film directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. It is loosely based on stories from The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.

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