The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> Italian Literature
Giovanni Boccaccio

poet, novelist, etc.

Giovani Boccaccio

His Life

Details about Giovanni Boccaccio's birth are scanty and unverified, but it is believed he was born in Paris about 1313. His father was Boccaccio del fu Chellino, a banker from Certaldo and a man of some prominence in Florence who had gone into business in Paris. His mother is believed to have been a French woman, but her name and position in society are still debated. He was schooled in Florence until about age 10, when his father took him business. Giovanni and his father moved to Naples about 1327, and Giovanni was there apprenticed to a merchant and entered into the study of law. After six years of what Boccaccio called "wasted time," his father granted him an allowance that allowed him to pursue his true love -- literature.

About 1334, Boccaccio met Maria d'Acquino, a married daughter of King Robert, who became the inspiration for some of his early works. The two carried on an affair for a brief time, but she soon proved just as unfaithful to Boccaccio as to her husband, and the affair ultimately ended. In 1339, the bank his father worked for went bankrupt, leaving both men without a steady income. Returning to Florence in 1341, Boccaccio was able to scrape out a living by holding minor public offices and embarking on diplomatic missions. In 1373, he began a series of lectures in Florence on the poems of Dante, which continued until shortly before his death in Certaldo on December 21, 1375.

His Works

Boccaccio was one of the most versatile writers of his age. Among his more important works are four long poems, two novels, a Dantesque allegory, a life of Dante, a commentary on Dante, and four learned Latin treatises. He also wrote many short poems and numerous Latin letters and commentaries.

The Filostrato (1338-1340) became the direct inspiration of Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, and the Teseide (about 1341), a long poem in ottava rima, was the inspiration for the same poet's "Knight's Tale."

The Ninfale Fiesolano tells of the loves of Affrico and Mensola, two small streams that flowed by his father's house near Settignano.

The Filostrato, a retelling of the old French tale Fleur et Blanchefleur, is considered by many to provide one of the most detailed pictures of life in Naples in Boccaccio's lifetime, and his personal role in that life.

The Amorosa Visione has been called the first psychological novel, and also contains the most detail about Boccaccio's affair with Maria d'Acquino, whom he calls Fiammetta in the novel.

The Decameron, by far Boccaccio's best known work, is a novel set during an epidemic of bubonic plague. The book centers on seven ladies and three young men who decide to wait out the plague at a villa outside Naples. The ten people take turns acting as "king" or "queen" of the group for a day, and each day each person is expected to tell some kind of gay story to keep everyone's spirits up; the sum total of one hundred stories told gives the book its name. In addition to providing vivid insight into life during the plague in Florence, the stories told reveal more about life in general during the Middle Ages than any other work from that period.

Print Source

Collier's Encyclopedia New York: Crowell-Collier Educational Corporation, 1969

Internet Source

Catholic Encyclopedia

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Italian Literature

This page was last updated on 12/21/2018.