Giovanni Boccaccio, 1313-1375
The Italian poet, Giovanni Boccaccio was most probably born in Tuscany, the illegitimate son of a merchant of Certaldo, who launched him on a commercial career, during which he spent some time at Paris. As a young man, Boccaccio abandoned commerce and the study of canon law. At Naples he began to write stories in verse and prose, mingled in courtly society, and fell in love with the noble lady whom he made famous under the name of Fiammetta. Up to 1350 Boccaccio lived at Florence and at Naples, producing prose tales, pastorals, and poems. The Teseide is a version in ottava rima of the medieval romance of Palamon and Arcite, which was partly translated by Chaucer in the Knight's Tale, and is the subject of Fletcher's Two Noble Kinsmen. The Filostrato deals with the loves of Troilus and Cressida, also in great part translated by Chaucer. After 1350 Boccaccio became a diplomat entrusted with important public affairs, and a scholar devoted to the new learning. During this period, in which he formed a lasting friendship with Francesco Petrarch, Boccaccio, as Florentine ambassador, visited Rome, Ravenna, Avignon and Brandenburg.
In 1358 he completed his great work, the Decameron, begun some ten years before. During the plague at Florence in 1348, seven ladies and three gentlemen left the city for a country villa and over a period of ten days told one hundred stories. In graceful Italian, Boccaccio selected the plots of his stories from the popular fiction of his day, and especially from the fabliaux which had passed into Italy from France, the matter being medieval while the form is classical. Boccaccio's originality lay in his narrative skill and in the rich poetical sentiments which adorns his borrowed materials. The two great tendencies which run through European literature, the classical and the romantic, work together in the Decameron.
The influence of the Decameron on European literature has been lasting, not merely in Italy, but in France and England. Chaucer and Shakespeare both borrowed from it. The Decameron has also been the subject of poems by Keats, Tennyson, Longfellow, Swinburne and George Eliot.
During his last years Boccaccio lived principally in retirement at Certaldo, and would have entered into holy orders, moved by repentance for the follies of his youth, had he not been dissuaded by Petrarch. Boccaccio died at Certaldo, December 21, 1375.
The best Internet resource on Boccaccio is The Decameron Web at Brown University.
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copyright © 2000 Steven Kreis