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Giovanni Boccaccio

Giovanni Boccaccio Giovanni Boccaccio[2†]

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) was an Italian author and poet, a friend, and correspondent of Petrarch, and an important Renaissance humanist[1†][2†]. He was born in Tuscany and died in Certaldo, Tuscany[1†][2†]. Boccaccio is best remembered as the author of the earthy tales in the Decameron[1†]. With Petrarch, he laid the foundations for the humanism of the Renaissance and raised vernacular literature to the level and status of the classics of antiquity[1†][2†].

Boccaccio’s life was full of difficulties and occasional bouts of poverty[1†][3†]. His early works include The Love Afflicted (c. 1336), a prose work in five books, and The Book of Theseus (c. 1340), an ambitious epic of 12 cantos[1†][3†]. His most notable works are The Decameron, a collection of short stories which in the following centuries was a determining element for the Italian literary tradition, especially after Pietro Bembo elevated the Boccaccian style to a model of Italian prose in the sixteenth century, and On Famous Women[1†][2†].

He wrote his imaginative literature mostly in Tuscan 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[1†][2†]. The influence of Boccaccio’s works was not limited to the Italian cultural scene but extended to the rest of Europe, exerting influence on authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, a key figure in English literature, or later on Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega and the Spanish classical theatre[1†][2†].

Boccaccio, together with Dante Alighieri and Petrarch, is part of the so-called “Three Crowns” of Italian literature[1†][2†]. He is remembered for being one of the precursors of humanism, of which he helped lay the foundations in the city of Florence, in conjunction with the activity of his friend and teacher Petrarch[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Giovanni Boccaccio was born in Tuscany, either in Certaldo or Florence, in 1313[1†][4†]. His father, Boccaccio di Chellino, was a Tuscan merchant[1†][4†]. His mother’s details are largely unknown, but she may have been French[1†][4†]. Boccaccio passed his early childhood rather unhappily in Florence[1†]. His father had no sympathy for Boccaccio’s literary inclinations and sent him to Naples to learn business, probably in an office of the Bardi, who dominated the court of Naples by means of their loans[1†][5†].

In Naples, Boccaccio experienced the aristocracy of the commercial world as well as all that survived of the splendours of courtly chivalry and feudalism[1†]. He also studied canon law and mixed with the learned men of the court and the friends and admirers of Petrarch, through whom he came to know the work of Petrarch himself[1†]. These years in Naples were also the years of Boccaccio’s love for Fiammetta, a woman who would be an important character in his literary work in the first half of his career, including the Decameron[1†][4†].

It was probably in 1340 that Boccaccio was recalled to Florence by his father, involved in the bankruptcy of the Bardi[1†]. Despite these challenges, Boccaccio continued to pursue his literary ambitions, laying the foundations for his future contributions to literature[1†][4†].

Career Development and Achievements

Giovanni Boccaccio’s career was marked by a series of significant achievements that established him as a key figure in the literary world[1†][2†]. His early works include “The Love Afflicted” (c. 1336), a prose work in five books, and “The Book of Theseus” (c. 1340), an ambitious epic of 12 cantos[1†][3†].

Boccaccio’s most notable works are “The Decameron”, a collection of short stories, and "On Famous Women"[1†][2†]. The Decameron, in particular, was a determining element for the Italian literary tradition, especially after Pietro Bembo elevated the Boccaccian style to a model of Italian prose in the sixteenth century[1†][2†].

Boccaccio wrote his imaginative literature mostly in Tuscan vernacular, as well as other works in Latin[1†][2†]. He 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[1†][2†].

The influence of Boccaccio’s works was not limited to the Italian cultural scene but extended to the rest of Europe, exerting influence on authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, a key figure in English literature, or later on Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega and the Spanish classical theatre[1†][2†].

Boccaccio, together with Dante Alighieri and Petrarch, is part of the so-called “Three Crowns” of Italian literature[1†][2†]. He is remembered for being one of the precursors of humanism, of which he helped lay the foundations in the city of Florence, in conjunction with the activity of his friend and teacher Petrarch[1†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Giovanni Boccaccio’s literary career was marked by a prolific output of works that spanned various genres and themes. His early works were primarily poetry, including Teseida, Filostrato, La caccia di Diana, and Filocolo[6†]. Another notable work from this period is Amorosa Visione, a fifty-canto poem intended to serve as an allegorical work[6†].

However, Boccaccio is perhaps best known for his masterpiece, The Decameron[6†][1†][2†]. This collection of short stories had a significant influence on literature throughout Europe[6†][2†]. The Decameron became a determining element for the Italian literary tradition, especially after Pietro Bembo elevated the Boccaccian style to a model of Italian prose in the sixteenth century[6†][2†].

In addition to The Decameron, Boccaccio wrote several other notable works, including Amorous Fiammetta, Bucolicum carmen, De casibus virorum illustrium, De claris mulieribus, and De genealogia deorum gentilium[6†][1†]. Each of these works contributed to Boccaccio’s reputation as a versatile writer who amalgamated different literary trends and genres, creating original works under the banner of experimentalism[6†][2†].

Here is a list of some of his main works with information on their first year of publication:

Unfortunately, the exact years of first publication for these works are not readily available[6†][1†][2†][6†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Giovanni Boccaccio’s work has had a profound impact on literature, not only in Italy but also across Europe[7†]. His narratives, particularly in The Decameron, have been praised for their earthy realism, wit, and psychological insight[7†][1†][7†]. His work laid the foundations for the humanism of the Renaissance and raised vernacular literature to the level and status of the classics of antiquity[7†][1†][7†].

Boccaccio’s work is characterized by its versatility, encompassing various genres and themes. His narratives are marked by a keen observation of human nature and society, often laced with irony and satire[7†]. His characters are vividly drawn, and his stories are noted for their engaging plots and thematic depth[7†].

Boccaccio’s influence extends beyond his own time. His work has served as a source of inspiration for many notable European and English authors, from Marguerite de Navarre and Lope de Vega Carpio to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Alfred, Lord Tennyson[7†]. Geoffrey Chaucer, for instance, found ample material for his Troilus and Criseyde in Boccaccio’s Filostrato, and The Book of Theseus served as the source for Chaucer’s "The Knight’s Tale"[7†].

In addition to his narrative works, Boccaccio’s encyclopedic works in Latin resulted in his being regarded as one of the most prominent Trecento humanists[7†]. Indeed, it was as a Latin humanist, rather than as a raconteur of vernacular tales, that Boccaccio was primarily remembered during the first century following his demise[7†].

In conclusion, Boccaccio’s work represents a significant milestone in the development of literature. His narratives, characterized by their realism and psychological insight, have left a lasting impact on the literary tradition[7†].

Personal Life

Giovanni Boccaccio was born to a Tuscan merchant, Boccaccio di Chellino (called Boccaccino), and a mother who was probably French[1†]. He spent his early childhood in Florence, which was rather unhappy[1†]. His father worked for the Compagnia dei Bardi and, in the 1320s, married Margherita dei Mardoli, who was of a well-to-do family[1†][2†][8†]. Boccaccio may have been tutored by Giovanni Mazzuoli and received from him an early introduction to the works of Dante[1†][2†][8†].

During his time in Naples, Boccaccio fell in love with Fiammetta[1†][9†]. The character of Fiammetta in The Decameron somewhat resembles the Fiammetta of his earlier works[1†]. Attempts to identify Fiammetta with a supposedly historical Maria, natural daughter of King Robert and wife of a count of Aquino, are untrustworthy[1†].

After the bankruptcy of Bardi, the merchant that Boccaccio worked under, Boccaccio returned to Florence and lived a life full of difficulty and poverty[1†][9†]. He was at Ravenna between 1345 and 1346, at Forlì in 1347, in Florence during the ravages of the Black Death in 1348, and in Florence again in 1349[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Giovanni Boccaccio’s work marked a shift away from Medieval Romances to literary realism[10†]. He demonstrated that prose could capture the complexity of humans and their situations[10†]. While poetry remained the dominant mode of literary expression, after the Decameron, literary prose became more popular and widely accepted[10†].

Boccaccio’s greatest legacy is his poems in the vernacular[10†][11†]. In later life, he turned to Christianity and repudiated many of his earlier works[10†][11†]. His Decameron was an important influence on Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales[10†][11†].

His influence was not limited to Italy but extended to the rest of Europe, exerting influence on authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, a key figure in English literature, or later on Miguel de Cervantes, Lope de Vega and the Spanish classical theatre[10†][1†]. Boccaccio, together with Dante Alighieri and Petrarch, is part of the so-called “Three Crowns” of Italian literature[10†][1†].

Boccaccio’s work was a shift away from Medieval Romances to literary realism[10†]. He demonstrated that prose could capture the complexity of humans and their situations[10†]. While poetry remained the dominant mode of literary expression, after the Decameron, literary prose became more popular and widely accepted[10†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Giovanni Boccaccio: Italian poet and scholar [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Giovanni Boccaccio [website] - link
  3. Britannica - Giovanni Boccaccio summary [website] - link
  4. World History - Giovanni Boccaccio [website] - link
  5. Medieval Life and Times - Boccaccio [website] - link
  6. Medieval Chronicles - Giovanni Boccaccio [website] - link
  7. eNotes - Giovanni Boccaccio Analysis [website] - link
  8. New World Encyclopedia - Boccaccio [website] - link
  9. GradeSaver - Giovanni Boccaccio Biography [website] - link
  10. DailyHistory.org - How did Boccaccio influence the Renaissance [website] - link
  11. brock2boccaccio.weebly.com - Boccacio - Legacy [website] - link
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