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Giovanni Boccaccio (June 16, 1313 – December 21, 1375) was an Italian writer and humanist. He is one of the parents, together with Dante and Petrarca, of Italian literature. He also composed several works in Latin. He is remembered above all as the author of the Decameron.
Giovanni Boccaccio was born in July 1313, illegitimate son of the merchant Boccaccio (Boccaccino) di Chellino, agent of the powerful mercantile company of the Bardi. Nothing is known with certainty about the identity of his mother. It is discussed where Boccaccio was born: he could have been born in Florence, in Certaldo or, even, according to some sources, in Paris, a place where his father had to travel often because of his work. It is known that his childhood was spent in Florence, and that he was welcomed and educated by his father, and even continued living in the father’s house after 1319, when the merchant married Margherita dei Mardoli. Boccaccio lived in Florence until 1325 or 1327, when he was sent by his father to work in the office that the Bardi company had in Naples.
Since Boccaccio showed little inclination towards business, the father decided in 1331 to direct him towards the study of canon law. After a new failure, he devoted himself entirely to letters, under the tutelage of outstanding scholars of the Neapolitan court, such as Paolo da Perugia and Andalò di Negro. He frequented the refined atmosphere of the court of Robert of Anjou, of whom his father was a personal friend. Between 1330 and 1331 the stilnovista poet Cino da Pistoia, taught Right in the University of Naples, that had a remarkable influence in the young Boccaccio.
On the morning of March 30, 1331, Holy Saturday, when the author was seventeen, he met a Neapolitan lady whom he fell passionately in love with-the encounter is described in his work Filocolo-, which he immortalized with the name of Fiammetta («Llamita») and to which he courted without rest with songs and sonnets. It is possible that Fiammetta was Maria de Aquino, illegitimate daughter of the king and wife of a gentle man of the court, although no documents have been found to confirm it. Fiammetta opened the doors of the court to Boccaccio and, more importantly, encouraged him in his incipient literary career. Under his influence Boccaccio wrote his novels and youthful poems, from the Filocolo to the Filostrato, the Teseida, the Ameto, the loving vision and the Elegy of Madonna Fiammetta. It is known that it was Fiammetta that put an end to the relationship between the two, and that the rupture caused Boccaccio a deep pain.
In December 1340, after at least thirteen years in Naples, he had to return to Florence because of a serious financial setback suffered by his father. Between 1346 and 1348 he lived in Ravenna, in the court of Ostasio da Polenta, and in Forlì, as guest of Francesco Ordelaffi; there he met the poets Nereo Morandi and Checco di Melletto, with whom he later corresponded.
In 1348 he returned to Florence, where he witnessed the plague he describes in the Decameron. In 1349 his father died, and Boccaccio settled permanently in Florence, to take care of what was left of his father’s estate. In the city of Arno he became a character appreciated for his literary culture. The Decameron was composed during the first stage of his stay in Florence, between 1349 and 1351. His success earned him being appointed by his fellow citizens for the performance of several public offices: ambassador to the lords of Romaña in 1350, camerlengo of the Municipality ( 1351) or ambassador of Florence in the papal court of Avignon, in 1354 and in 1365.
In 1351 he was entrusted with the task of moving to Padua, where Petrarch lived, whom he had met the previous year, to invite him to settle in Florence as a teacher. Although Petrarca did not accept the proposal, between both writers was born a sincere friendship that would last until the death of Petrarch, in 1374.
The quiet life of a scholar that Boccaccio carried in Florence was abruptly interrupted by the visit of the Sienese monk Gioacchino Ciani, who exhorted him to abandon literature and profane arguments. The monk made such an impression on Boccaccio that the author came to think of burning his works, of what was fortunately dissuaded by Petrarca.
In 1362 he moved to Naples, invited by Florentine friends, hoping to find an occupation that would allow him to resume the active and serene life he had led in the past. However, the city of Naples at the time of Joan I of Anjou was very different from the prosperous, cultured and serene city she had known in her youth. Boccaccio, disappointed, left soon. After a brief stay in Venice to greet Petrarch, around the year 1370 he retired to his home in Certaldo, near Florence, to live isolated and thus be able to devote himself to religious meditation and study, activities that only interrupted some brief trips to Naples in 1370 and 1371. In the last period of his life he received from the city of Florence the commission to make a public reading of Dante’s Divine Comedy, which he could not conclude because of the illness that caused his death on the 21st of December 1375.
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