Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Boccaccio, Giovanni, the illegitimate son of a Florentine merchant and an unknown French lady, was born, probably at Certaldo, near Florence, in 1313. Little is certain as to his early life, but he appears to have been carefully brought up by his father, who destined him for commerce, but finding that career distasteful allowed him to study law. Giovanni, however, from the age of seven conceived a passion for the Muses, and in 1333, having given up legal pursuits for some mercantile position at Naples, he came in contact with Petrarch, afterwards his life-long friend, and he also (1341) fell in love with Maria, a natural daughter of the king. Both of these circumstances stimulated the young man to cultivate poetry and literature. Fiammetta, as he styled his lady-love, at once encouraged him, and supplied, like Beatrice and Laura, a source of inspiration, though of a less ideal kind. At her bidding he composed his first prose romance, Filocopo, relating the familiar adventures of Florio and Biancafiore in rather heavy style. Then followed the Teseide, a heroic poem dealing with the story of Palamone and Arcito, and remarkable as being the earliest example of the ottava rima, and as having provided material for Chaucer and Dryden. About 1341 Boccaccio was recalled to Florence by his father, and whilst parted from his mistress, wrote Anuto, half in prose, half in verse, introducing her among the characters, and L'Amorosa Visione, an acrostic of portentous dimensions, writing a poem to her under her real name. L'Amorosa Fiammetta, which next appeared, describes the emotions of the lady on parting with her swain. In 1344 he managed to get back to Naples, where the beautiful, brilliant, but dissolute Joanna I. was now reigning. The queen gave every encouragement to the young poet, and at the court he wrote most of the stories comprised in the Decamerone, as well as Filostrato, known to English readers through Chaucer's unacknowledged adaptation. Returning to Florence in 1350 on his father's death, he was well received and employed in various foreign missions. It was by his urgent advice that Petrarch was invited to take a leading position in the newly-founded university. He devoted himself eagerly to the study of the classics, learned Greek, and with his own hands laboriously copied many manuscripts rescued from the monks. In 1353 appeared the first edition of the Decamerone, putting before Italians a model of prose style that time has not yet impaired in any degree. Dante's Vita Nuova and the Cento Novelle Autiche had revealed already some of the power of the language, but Boccaccio was the first to impart to his native tongue that ease, flexibility, and subtle charm which made it so delightful a vehicle for description, narrative, or playful wit. The Decamerone, not in itself original as regards matter, has been to succeeding writers a quarry from which they have freely hewn the stones of which their own poetical structures have been built, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dryden, Keats, and Tennyson, among others, being indebted to this source. To a critic of Teutonic race and modern culture nothing seems more astounding and unintelligible than the way in which Boccaccio blends the deepest pathos with the cynicism of a voluptuary, and the appreciation of moral virtue with the grossest indecency. But it must be remembered that he lived in a licentious age when hypocrisy was less esteemed than at present, and, like Chaucer and Shakespeare, he will be found to have raised rather than lowered the ethical standard of his contemporaries. Until 1360 Boccaccio lived at Florence, and occasionally served the state in negotiations abroad. He then retired to Certaldo, and a religious change came over him, inducing him to take nominal orders in 1362. Next year he visited Naples again to write the exploits of the Seneschal Acciajuoli, but he was not well received, and does not seem to have performed his task. Until 1373 he was either at Florence or Certaldo, spending also much of his time in visits to Petrarch or other friends, and composing several Latin treatises on historical, mythological, and geographical subjects as well as II Ninfale Fiesolano, a love-story in verse, and a number of Rime. He was not wealthy, but he appears to have been a liberal buyer of books, and to have been quite independent of patrons. The University of Florence having founded a chair for the study of Dante, he delivered an able series of lectures on the Divina Commedia. The loss of Petrarch in 1374 was a severe shock to his friend, whose health was already failing, and he died at the close of 1375 with the consolations of the church. He was never married, but had several natural children, none of whom survived their father.