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Company:
Roger Lichfield
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The Decameron, Vol. 1
Version:
1.0
Post Date:
2016-12-05 04:24:49
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$0.99

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Son of a merchant, Boccaccio di Chellino di Buonaiuto, of Certaldo in Val d’Elsa, a little town about midway between Empoli and Siena, but within the Florentine “contado,” Giovanni Boccaccio was born, most probably at Paris, in the year 1313. His mother, at any rate, was a Frenchwoman, whom his father seduced during a sojourn at Paris, and afterwards deserted. So much as this Boccaccio has himself told us, under a transparent veil of allegory, in his Ameto. Of his mother we would fain know more, for his wit has in it a quality, especially noticeable in the Tenth Novel of the Sixth Day of the Decameron, which marks him out as the forerunner of Rabelais, and prompts us to ask how much more his genius may have owed to his French ancestry. His father was of sufficient standing in Florence to be chosen Prior in 1321; but this brief term of officebut two monthswas his last, as well as his first experience of public life. Of Boccaccio’s early years we know nothing more than that his first preceptor was the Florentine grammarian, Giovanni da Strada, father of the poet Zanobi da Strada, and that, when he was about ten years old, he was bound apprentice to a merchant, with whom he spent the next six years at Paris, whence he returned to Florence with an inveterate repugnance to commerce. His father then proposed to make a canonist of him; but the study of Gratian proved hardly more congenial than the routine of the countinghouse to the lad, who had already evinced a taste for letters; and a sojourn at Naples, where under the regime of the enlightened King Robert there were coteries of learned men, and even Greek was not altogether unknown, decided his future career. According to Filippo Villani his choice was finally fixed by a visit to the tomb of Vergil on the Via Puteolana, and, though the modern critical spirit is apt to discount such stories, there can be no doubt that such a pilgrimage would be apt to make a deep, and perhaps enduring, impression upon a nature ardent and sensitive, and already conscious of extraordinary powers. His stay at Naples was also in another respect a turning point in his life; for it was there that, as we gather from the Filocopo, he first saw the blonde beauty, Maria, natural daughter of King Robert, whom he has immortalized as Fiammetta. The place was the church of San Lorenzo, the day the 26th of March, 1334. Boccaccio’s admiring gaze was observed by the lady, who, though married, proved no Laura, and forthwith returned his love in equal measure. Their liaison lasted several years, during which Boccaccio recorded the various phases of their passion with exemplary assiduity in verse and prose. Besides paying her due and discreet homage in sonnet and canzone, he associated her in one way or another, not only with the Filocopo (his prose romance of Florio and Biancofiore, which he professes to have written to pleasure her), but with the Ameto, the Amorosa Visione, the Teseide, and the Filostrato; and in L’Amorosa Fiammetta he wove out of their relations a romance in which her lover, who is there called Pamfilo, plays Aeneas to her Dido, though with somewhat less tragic consequences. The Proem to the Decameron shews us the afterglow of his passion; the lady herself appears as one of the “honourable company,” and her portrait, as in the act of receiving the laurel wreath at the close of the Fourth Day, is a masterpiece of tender and delicate delineation.

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