Giovanni Boccaccio

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Boccaccio, Giovanni

(jōvän`nē), 1313–75, Italian poet and storyteller, author of the Decameron. Born in Paris, the illegitimate son of a Tuscan merchant and a French woman, he was educated at Certaldo and Naples by his father, who wanted him to take up commerce and law. In Naples he met (1336) the woman (dubiously identified as Maria d'Aquino, illegitimate daughter of King Robert) whom he was to immortalize in prose and verse as Fiammetta. She is reputed to have introduced him at court and to have urged him to write (c.1340) his early Filocolo, a long vernacular prose romance. Other early works include the poem Filostrato, which infused the legendary story of Troilus and CressidaTroilus and Cressida
, a medieval romance distantly related to characters in Greek legend. Troilus, a Trojan prince (son of Priam and Hecuba), fell in love with Cressida (Chryseis), daughter of Calchas.
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 with the atmosphere of Neapolitan court life; the Teseide, a poem in the style of the Aeneid; the psychological romance La Fiammetta (written c.1344); the pastoral Ninfale d'Ameto; and the allegorical Amorosa visione, imitative of Dante.

Boccaccio was recalled to Florence in 1341, and there he met (1350) the great poet PetrarchPetrarch
or Francesco Petrarca
, 1304–74, Italian poet and humanist, one of the great figures of Italian literature. He spent his youth in Tuscany and Avignon and at Bologna.
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, who became a lifelong friend. Emulating Petrarch, he became a Latin and Greek scholar and worked vigorously to reintroduce Greek works. In his middle years Boccaccio wrote (1348–53) his great secular classic, the Decameron, a collection of 100 witty and occasionally licentious tales set against the somber background of the Black Death. The tales treat a wide variety of characters and events and brilliantly reveal humanity as sensual, tender, cruel, weak, self-seeking, and ludicrous. With the Decameron the courtly themes of medieval literature, while still much in evidence, began to give way to the voice and mores of early modern society. Writing in Italian rather than Latin and in prose rather than poetry, Boccaccio achieved stylistic mastery in the Decameron, which became a model for later efforts toward a distinctively Italian literary style. After completing the tales, Boccaccio experienced a severe emotional crisis, during which he wrote the satire Corbaccio, a savage attack on women.

In the next years there followed several works in Latin, the language of high culture. These included Bucolicum carmen [pastoral songs], the huge De casibus virorem illustrium and De mulieribus claris (the first biographies of famous men, the second of famous women), the mythological treatise De genealogiis, and the geographical dictionary De montibus. Boccaccio's old age was troubled by poverty and ill health, but his activity continued. He was commissioned (1371) by the commune of Certaldo to read daily from his beloved Dante, and in 1373 in Florence he began the lectures which became his famous Commento on the Inferno. There are several translations of the Decameron and also many anthologies and collections of particular stories in translation.

Bibliography

See biography by T. C. Chubb (1969); studies by V. Branca (1976), T. G. Bergin (1981), and J. Sauli (1982).

Boccaccio, Giovanni

 

Born 1313 in Paris; died Dec. 21, 1375, in Certaldo, near Florence. Italian writer.

Boccaccio was one of the first humanistic writers of the Renaissance. He began writing in the tradition of chivalric literature, which attracted him because of its secular motifs and its use of themes from classical literature, a literature close to Boccaccio in its earthly humanistic spirit. The narrative poem Filostrato (1338, published in 1498), the novel Filocolo (begun in 1336, published in 1472), and the narrative poem Teseida (1339, published in 1475) deal with episodes from classical mythology, but their most important characteristic is the description of psychological experiences. Boccaccio’s closeness to Dante became apparent in the pastoral L’Ameto (1341, published in 1478) and especially in the narrative poem Vision of Love (1342, published in 1521). In the narrative poem The Nymphs of Fiesole (1345, published in 1477), which was inspired by The Metamorphoses of Ovid, contemporary reality shines through the images of classical mythology. The idea of the narrative poem is a defense of man’s right to earthly love. In the novella Fiammetta (1343, published in 1472), Boccaccio describes real people, his contemporaries. In this novella he reveals a woman’s inner world and in so doing anticipates the European psychological novel.

Boccaccio’s best work was the Decameron (1350–53, published in 1471), a collection of realistic short stories united by their common humanistic and Renaissance spirit and constituting an artistic whole. Boccaccio tells of seven young women and three young men who have retreated to a villa in the country during the plague which raged in Florence in 1348. For ten days they tell each other stories, and it is this which gives the work its name. (“Decameron” is Greek for a ten-day diary.) One of the book’s major themes is criticism of the Catholic Church and satiric mockery of the clergy—the monks and the papal court. Boccaccio rejects the asceticism of the Middle Ages and defends the right of human beings to enjoy life on earth. He glorifies sensual love and man’s natural drives. The Decameron gives a broad and realistic picture of life in Italy during the period of the trecento. In coming out against feudal privileges and class inequality Boccaccio developed the idea that human nobility should be measured by deeds, not by birth. The book is imbued with the spirit of freethinking and cheerful humor. As the successor to Dante and Petrarch, he continued the development of a national Italian literature written in the vernacular. He himself used the Florentine dialect.

Boccaccio later experienced a crisis concerning his humanistic ideals, a crisis which was reflected in The Raven (1354–55, published in 1487), a narrative poem written in the form of a vision, in which he satirized women. He wrote commentaries on 17 songs from Dante’s Divine Comedy and was the first to write his biography, The Life of Dante Alighieri (c. 1360, published 1477). Boccaccio was also the author of the treatises in Latin The Genealogy of the Gentile Gods, About Famous Women, and The Lives of Great People.

WORKS

Opere, a cura di Cesare Segre. Milan, 1963.
Tutte le opere, a cura di V. Branca, vols. 1, 2, 6. [Milan-Verona] 1964–67. (Publication continues.)
Opere, [vols.] 1–8. Bad, 1937–40.
In Russian translation:
F’iammetta. F’esolanskie nimfy. Moscow, 1968.
Dekameron. Moscow, 1970. (Translated from Italian by N. Liubimov, with an introduction by R. Khlodovskii.)

REFERENCES

Veselovskii, A. Bokkachcho, ego sreda i sverstniki, vols. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1893–94.
Dzhivelegov, A. K. Nachalo ital’ianskogo Vozrozhdeniia, 2nd ed. Moscow [1925].
Istoriia zarubezhnoi literatury: Rannee srednevekov’e i Vosrozhdenie, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1959.
De Sanktis,F’. Istoriia ital’ianskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow, 1963.
Mokul’skii, S. S. Ital’ianskaia literature: Vozrozhdenie i Prosveshchenie. Moscow, 1966.
Dzh. Bokkachcho: Biobibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Moscow, 1961. [Compiled with an introduction by T. V. Dziuba.]
Gustarelli, A. Giovanni Boccaccio. Milan, 1946.
Gustarelli, A. Ipersonaggi del Decameron boccaccesco. [Milan, 1955.]
Wright, H. G. Boccaccio in England. [London] 1957.
Branca, V. Bibliografia boccaccesca completamente aggiornata. Milan, 1939.

A. L. SHTEIN

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