Sunday, September 17, 2023

Giovanni Boccaccio

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 - 1375) was eight years old when Dante died, but he revered the man and wrote a biography about him. He even gave a series of lectures in Florence on Dante's works—a first for a non-Classical Era writer. He was more than just a fan of another, however, becoming a treasured poet in hid own right.

Like Dante, Bocaccio wrote in Tuscan vernacular rather than Latin, and he wrote in prose, telling stories that captured the imagination and inspired others, including Geoffrey Chaucer.

Boccaccio grew up in Florence. His father worked for the banking/trading company of the Bardi; Giovanni worked there for a brief time, deciding that it was not a profession to his liking. His father came head of a branch in Naples, taking the family there, and Giovanni persuaded his father to let him study law at what is now the University of Naples (where Thomas Aquinas had been 100 years earlier). Six years of studying canon law taught him that he liked that profession no more than he liked banking.

Two good things came from his time in Naples. One was his love for Fiametta. That was not her name; simply what he called her in his writings. If she existed, she was really Maria d'Aquino, illegitimate daughter of King Robert the Wise of Naples, whom he saw and with whom he fell in love. He wrote a novel about her, and mentions her in many other writings.

The other good thing from his time in Naples was that he began writing. He produced works such as Il Filostrato, about star-crossed lovers during the Trojan War (which became a source for Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida), and Teseida, nominally about Theseus but dominated by the rivalry of two young knights over a woman (and the source of Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales).

He also wrote the first Italian prose novel, Il Filocolo, the story (well-known in Europe) of Florio and Biancifiore, two lovers from different stations in life. Fiametta appears as the "queen" of a "noble brigade" who pose questions to each other about love.

Perhaps his best-known work is the Decameron ("Ten Days"), in which a group of young men and women flee who flee Florence during the Black Death to the hills outside, where they spend ten days telling stories. More on that tomorrow.

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