By Ela Vasilescu – Writer
Boccaccio, Italian writer, poet, correspondent of Petrarch, and an important Renaissance humanist is mostly known for his famous works The Decameron and On Famous Women. Noted for his realistic dialogue, which differed from that of his contemporaries, medieval writers who usually followed formulaic models for character and plot, he reflects both his bourgeois mercantile background and the chivalric ideals of the Neapolitan court in his works. The details of Boccaccio’s birth are uncertain. He is born (July or August) in Certaldo or in Florence to an unknown woman and Boccaccino di Chellino, a wealthy merchant who officially and without hesitation recognizes him. At an early age, Giovanni begins to study Latin, but his father did not encourage his literary interests, and by 1328 Boccaccio was in Naples to learn commerce. Of these years he wrote: “I remember that, before having completed my seventh year, a desire was born in me to compose verse, and I wrote certain poetic fancies… it happened that I am not a merchant, I have not turned out to be a canonist, and have not become a distinguished poet”. Introduced to the cultivated society of the court at Naples, he learns astronomy and mythology and is introduced to Greek language and culture. It is in the refined and learned environment of Naples that he matured and became a writer. Caccia di Diana, 18 cantos in terza rima chronicling the events of the Neapolitan court under fictitious and allegorical names is Boccaccio’s earliest composition followed by Filocolo, a prose romance inspired by Fiammetta that retells the tale of the noble lovers Florio and Biancofiore and contains a vivid portrayal of Neapolitan society. The great pestilence of 1348 may have afforded Boccaccio the occasion to write his masterpiece; it provides the framework for the collection of 100 stories. While the Black Death rages in Florence, seven young ladies and three young lovers meet by chance in S. Maria Novella and agree to flee from the city to their country villas during the epidemic. They meet daily in the cool shade, where each one tells a story on a preset subject, and each day ends with a ballad. The storytelling continues for 10 days, hence the title Decameron. In October 1350, he was delegated to greet Francesco Petrarch as he entered Florence and also to have the great man as a guest at his home during his stay. The meeting between the two was extremely fruitful and they remained friends from then on, Boccaccio calling Petrarch his teacher and magister. Petrarch was a great influence on Boccaccio and when hearing of the death of Petrarch (19 July 1374), Boccaccio wrote a commemorative poem, including it in his collection of lyric poems, the Rime. A year later he dies in Certaldo where he retreated struck by illness after a final unsuccessful attempt to establish himself in Naples in 1370. Boccaccio strove to raise Italian prose to an art form nurtured in both medieval rhetoric and classical Latin prose; he had immense admiration for his great Italian contemporaries Dante and Petrarch, as well as for the classical authors. For his Latin works and his role in reviving Hellenistic learning in Florence, he may be considered one of the earliest humanists.