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Boccaccio's tomb
Boccaccio’s tomb

Giovanni Boccaccio is buried in a small church in the town of Certosa on those hills beyond the towers of San Gimignano that you see above. He is the author of one of the greatest bestsellers of all time: The Decameron. In the midst of the terrible Black Death, the bubonic plague that was raging through all of Europe in 1348, a group of Florentines withdrew to a country home outside the city to try to escape the death and destruction all around them. They entertained themselves and us with one hundred wonderful stories that make up the stories of The Decameron.



1265 Birth of Dante. (d. 1321)
1267 Birth of Giotto. (d. 1337)
1300 May Day, fight in Il Corso (Florence). Gov decides to exile fighters (Dante in gov that makes decision).
1301 Florence government moves into huge new Palace. (Palazzo Vecchio).
1302 Dante exiled from Florence. Wanders in northern Italy.
1303 (Sept) Incident at Anagni. Officers of French king seize the Pope. Shows power of France.
1304 (Jul 20) birth of Petrarch in Via dell'Orto, Arezzo (house still there). (Jul 29)exiled Whites of Florence (Dante) try force and fail. Dante never sees Flo again.
1305 Papacy moves to Avignon till 1377 ("Babylonian Captivity"-Petrarch). Giotto painting the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel in Padua.
1310 Emperor Henry VII comes to Italy, Florence rejects him. Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna now in Uffizi.
1311 Petrarch and family to Pisa, meet Emperor. Little Petrarch (7 years old) meets Dante (46 ) at Pisa. Duccio's Maestá installed on altar of Cathedral of Siena.
1312 Petrarch's family settles in Avignon. Petrarch lives early years in France.
1313 Birth of Boccaccio.(d. 1375) Death of Dante's friend Emperor Henry VII.
1314 Dante's Inferno completed. Ms. copies in circulation. Hundreds of copies survive.
1321 (Sept 14) Death of Dante in Ravenna. (b. 1265)
1323 Death of Marco Polo (travel diaries, journeys. reminds of Dante's Ulysses!).
1325 Petrarch makes his first recorded book purchase for what will be the largest personal library in the 14th century: Augustine's City of God for 12 florins. The book is now in the library of the University of Padua with Petrarch's notation of its purchase and price.
1326 After father's death Petrarch settles in Avignon. Buys house in Vauclause.
1329 First set of Flo Baptistry doors by Andrea Pisano. (Pisa ahead of Flo in sculpture).
1337 Petrarch's first visit to Rome. deeply impressed with ruins. Beginning of new thinking about ancient Rome (are we the same or different?). Petrarch returns to France, settles in Vauclause near Avignon.
1337 Beginning of 100 Years War, terrible destruction in France. Death of Giotto.
1339 Lorenzetti's "Good and Bad Government" fresco for Palazzo Communale, in Siena while financial chaos in the banking world of Florence when the King of England fails to make his payments on huge loans from Florentine banks for the costs of 100 Years War. Reverberates back to Florence and all over the international Florentine banking world. (Boccacio's father working for Bardi bank one of those hit by the default; the family has to come home to Florence).
1341 Petrarch crowned Poet Laureate of Italy. in the Senatorial Palace on the Capitoline, Rome, and made a citizen of Rome.
1343 Birth of Chaucer.(d. 1400).
1345 Petrarch finds copy of Cicero's collected letters to Atticus in Verona. Letters show Cicero actively engaged in politics. Petrarch meets with Dante's son Pietro while in Verona (suppose they talked poetry).
1346 Battle of Crécy, English defeat best of French chivalry. power shift, shows growing dominance of England in 14th C.
1348 Black Death hits Italy. Petrarch's Laura dies in the plague. Boccaccio begins his Decameron.
1350 Petrarch's first visit to Florence; met at city gate by Boccaccio.
1353 Petrarch packs up and leaves Vaucluse. Return permanently to Italy (to Milan first).
1355 (Jan)Holy Roman Emperor Charles V comes to Italy. Meets with Petrarch privately and debates the merits of the life of solitude Versus the life of action. Emperor invites Petrarch to come with him to Rome (Pet declines). Emp Charles is crowned in Milan with the ancient crown as "King of Italy," title and crown going back to Lombard days.
1356 Battle of Poitiers, total Eng triumph, capture King of France John II. Hundred Years War has now totally devastated France. France in decline, Eng & Italy in the ascendance. (July)Petrarch goes on diplomatic journey to Prague to meet with his friend Holy Roman Emperor Charles on behalf of the Visconti of Milan. Long difficult journey but emperor greets Petrarch like friend.
1359 Boccacio visits Petrarch. House in Milan near Sant' Ambrogio.
1361 Milan sends Petrarch amb to France. Petrarch sees France devastated. Petrarch treated like cultural genius in Paris. Petrarch visit to France shows new Italian cultural preeminence.
1362 Agreement betw Petrarch and Venice: his personal library to become first public library in Europe since Classical times.
1367 At urging of his friend Petrarch, Pope Urban V returns to Rome, Turns around comes back to France in a year.
1368 Duke Lionel of England marries Violonte Visconti in Milan Cathedral. Chaucer, Petrarch and Froissart all attend.
1373 Gov of Florence hires Boccaccio to lecture on Dante at the Badia. Beginning of lectures on Dante that continue in Florence to this day. Chaucer in Florence, probably met Boccaccio but he never mentions Boccaccio in his papers (yet borrows so much from him, why no mention?).
1374 Death of Petrarch at Arqua near Padua. (b. 1304)
1375 Death of Boccaccio at Certaldo outside Florence. (b. 1313)
1377 Pope Gregory XI returns papacy to Italy permanently. End of "Babylonian Captivity."
1378 Schism within Roman Catholic Church(till 1415). French cardinals go home to France elect another pope. Two Popes. (later three!)
1387 Milan conquers Verona. Milan on the march, look out Florence!
1390 Siena and Pisa join Milan alliance; Flo increasingly isolated.
1392 Coluccio Salutati finds more letters of Cicero. Strengthen image of Cicero as active citizen immersed in civic affairs. Salutati delighted with info. This contrasts with Petrarch's reaction to letters found in 1345.
1396 Florence hires Manual Chrysoloras: Teaches Greek to Florentines at gov expense..
1399 Siena and Perugia formally turns gov over to Visconti of Milan. Florence in danger.
1400 Milan close to conquering all of northern Italy thus bringing whole of north under one ruler for the first time since Roman times. Florence increasingly hysterical as Milan pushes south. Death of Chaucer.
1401 Competition for Bronze north doors of Baptistery. Brunelleschi vs Ghiberti, on subject of Sacrifice of Isaac. Ghiberti wins the commission.
1402 (Jun)Milan defeats Florence-Bologna army. All northern Italy now open to Milanese control. Never before has any other city-state in Italy come so close to unified control of all of the north.
1402 (Sep) Gian Galleazzo Visconti ruler of Milan dies, Milanese conquest stops. Soon the whole Milanese empire disintegrates. Florence independence saved; closest she ever comes to losing freedom (until modern times).


The Decameron

This outline of Boccaccio's Decameron was prepared by William H. Fredlund. Page numbers in parenthesis are keyed to the Penguin Classics edition of The Decameron, translated by G. H. McWilliam, (2nd ed., 1995). Locations of stories: Montferrat, Lunigiana, Genoa, Florence, Rome, Alexandria, Verona, Amalfi, Ravello, Treviso, Paris, Naples, Sicily, Babylon, Portugal, Cyprus, Athens, Ancona, Pisa, London, Milan, Tunisia, Egypt. Vocations of story characters: monk, abbot, friar, desert holy man, French merchant, steward-servant, Jewish merchant, king, queen, duke, duchess, baron, count, countess, sultan, prior, banker, courtly lady, doctor, lawyer, judge, poor worker, engaged bride-to-be, horse dealer, gardener, male and female servants.

Boccacio's Prologue (1)
The author suffers from love.
We can relieve love in conversation with friends.
Herein is contained the stories of love.
First Day,
An address to the ladies for whom the book is written.
A reference to the hill? Echoes of Dante?
The opening will seem ponderous and serious.
Describe The Black Death in Florence (5-13).
The meeting of ladies in Santa Maria Novella (13)
The ladies make a plan.
The group of ten withdraws to the villa in the country (19).
The villa in Via Boccaccio of present day Florence.
They decide to tell stories each day (23).
Ser Cepperello's Confession
First Day, First Story (24)
Ser Cepperello of Prato, a notary.
Why is this the first story of whole book?
Relation to Galeotto?
Appearance vs. reality.
Is this a "cynical" story?
Deathbed confession a lie.
Fame as a saint (so are all saints a lie?).
Church, prayers, sin, confessions, saints.
Real faith vs. phony faith.
Mendacity, honesty, credulity.
Appearances and reality.
Moral: is there a moral to the story?
Abraham in Rome
First Day, Second Story (37)
Abraham the Jew
Jehannot de Chevigny of Paris
Abraham evaluates Christianity.
Abraham takes trip to Rome.
Sees depravity of the clergy.
Converts to Christianity.
Says only a true faith could survive such corruption.
Is this a "cynical" story?
Or could Boccaccio believe its conclusion?
Three Sons and Three Rings
First Day, Third Story (41)
Melchizedek the Jew
Saladin, Sultan of Egypt
Which faith is true asks Saladin?
Jewish, Christian, Saracen(Moslem)?
Story of three sons and three rings.
Ultimate secret not revealed.
You cant know God's secrets.
Cultivate your own garden.
Moral: dont worry about other faiths.
Monastic Secrets
First Day, Fourth Story (44)
The monk of Lunigiana
The abbot of Lunigiana
The monk enjoys sport with a girl in his cell.
The abbot borrows the monk's girl.
They strike a bargain.
The morals of the clergy.
A King Comes to Visit
First Day, Fifth Story (48)
The Marchioness of Montferrat
The King Philip of France
The king comes to Montferrat
The king schemes on the marchioness.
She knows it and is ready.
Marchioness serves only hens.
No cocks in this state.
Tells the king, women here are no
different than elsewhere, here they
are true and loyal to their husbands.
Moral: loyalty.
Too Much Soup
First Day, Sixth Story (51)
The Franciscan Inquisitor in Florence
The simple friar
Clever story reveals hypocrisy.
Will return 100 fold.
100 soup.....lots of soup.
Moral: scorn intolerance.
Can Grande and the Abbot of Cluny
First Day, Seventh Story (54)
Can Grande della Scala
Story of Abbot of Cluny.
Miserliness and generosity.
Moral: generosity.
The Art of Generosity
First Day, Eighth Story(59)
Ermino de' Grimaldi of Genoa
Richest man in Italy.
Guglielmo Borsiere, a worthy courtier.
Different than the courtiers of today.
Lauretta's angry comments(60):
Courtiers today.
Courtiers today are "asses."
Interesting issue.
Courtly love, courtly life.
and courtiers as seen in 14th century
(The "Frame" of Decameron vs the stories)
Moral: generosity (the painting).
A Gentlelady in Cyprus
First Day, Ninth Story (61)
King of Cyprus
Gentlewoman of Gascony
Woman rebukes the king for his passivity
in the face of wrongs.
The king accepts the rebuke and reforms.
Lady here is wise and brave.
Moral: Courage, moral strength.
An Old Doctor in Love
First Day, Tenth Story (63)
Master Alberto of Bologna, Doctor
Lady, Malgherida de' Ghisolieri
Wonderful story.
The old doctor falls in love with lovely lady.
Other ladies laugh at him.
Callousness of youth.
Question: what are the real values of life?
Youth? Beauty?
Does life and experience yield wisdom?
The Doctor wins!
Pampinea's angry denunciation (63)
of today's women, overly made up,
too much jewelry.
Moral: Its not the exterior that counts.
First Day, Conclusion (66)
What are we to make of this concluding word?
The song: "I take delight in my own beauty."
What is Boccaccio saying here with this song?
Doesn't it make the women singing sound egotistical?
Is this a comment by Boccaccio about them?
Their frivolousness,
in the face of the plague?
Doesn't the song by these women negate the
moral of selflessness in many of the stories?
(Stories 5, 7, 8, 10)
Has the author intentionally set up this contrast?
The "frame" vs the story world?
Saint Arrigo of Treviso
Second Day, First Story (71)
Martellino of Florence
Martellino pretends to be paralytic
and to be cured by Saint Arrigo's body.
Credulity about saints.
Taking advantage.
Making fun of saints.
Moral: ? Who is the bad guy here?
The Generous Widow
Second Day, Second Story (76)
Rinaldo d'Asti.
The robbers
The fair widow of Castel Guglielmo.
Rinaldo on way to Verona gets robbed.
He ends up cowering near wall in Castel Gug.
Widow in house hears and saves him.
Dresses him in her husbands fine clothes.
He turns out to be fine, tall, handsome.
"in the prime of manhood."
Moral:? "generosity?"
The Abbot and the Princess
Second Day, Third Story (82)
Alessandro of Florence.
The abbot-princess.
Alessandro journeying.
Falls in with abbot.
Abbott and Aless go to bed in an inn.
Abbott places hands on Aless chest.
Abbot takes his hand .
And places it on the abbot's
Bosom, and Aless finds:
"pair of sweet little rounded breasts."
A udience before Pope.
Abbot reveals truth.
The abbot in love.
Moral: True love wins?
Landolfo and the Lucky Chest
Second Day, Fourth Story (91)
Landolfo Rufolo.
Merchant loses everything.
Turns to piracy.
Is shipwrecked.
Clings to chest(full of jewels).
Is helped by lady on Corfu.
Moral: this story seems particularly hard
in which to find a "moral."
Luck? Fortune?
Andreuccio in Naples
Second Day, Fifth Story (97)
This story is one of my favorites.
Is complex and somewhat long.
Lots of characters.
But fun and funny.
Andreuccio of Perugia.
A horse dealer.
Goes to Naples.
Gets fooled by clever woman.
Woman pretends to be his lost sister.
Hot night so Andreuccio removes clothes.
Goes to use facility.
Ends up in deep do do.
Aromatic Andreuccio.
The men and plundering the tomb.
Andreuccio in the tomb (the ring).
Escapes Naples, returns Perugia with ring.
What's the picture here of 14th century Naples?
14th century Italy?
Moral: corruption everywhere, keep your wits.
A Mother's Love
Second Day, Sixth Story: (111)
Madonna Beritola.
Of ruling family in Sicily loses everything.
Shipwrecked loses children.
Adopts the baby deer(whats this about?).
Currado Malespina finds and helps.
Takes her to his territory in Lunigiana.
Madonna Beritola joins household.
Her son Giannotto arrives-LOVE.
Sudden change of fortune.
Reversal of fortune, theme of day two.
All ends happily.
Moral: Who is good here; who is bad?
The Virgin Alatiel
Second Day, Seventh Story (125)
Alatiel, the daughter of the Sultan of Babylon.
Sultan sends his daughter off to be married.
Tragedies and horrors throw her off her route.
She sleeps with almost everybody in the world.
Then finally happily goes off to marry king as Virgin Alatiel.
Moral: Is Boccaccio making fun of virginity?
The Passionate Queen
Second Day, Eighth Story (148)
Count Walter of Antwerp.
W hile King of France away,
Queen of France falls madly in love with him.
Notice her interesting monologue about love(150).
He repulses her advances (great scene).
She gets mad and stages phony rape scene.
Accuses him, he escapes with family to Eng.
Various adventures in England.
Finally Queen confesses and King of France
restores Count Walter.
Moral: is Count a hero for Boccaccio?
He was "honorable."
The Wife and the Wager
Second day, Ninth Story (165)
Bernabó of Genoa.
Wife Zinevra of Genoa.
Trickster Ambrogiuolo.
The bet: I can get your wife into bed.
Bernabó arrogance; Ambrogiuolo's trick.
The order to kill wife; smart wife escapes.
This story shows us a very clever, sharp,
creative woman...certainly not passive.
Revelation of the truth before the Sultan.
Ambrogiuolo's sweet end.
Mr & Mrs go home to Genoa together.
Moral: Something about women here I think,
and a lot about Bernabó.
The Optimistic Old Judge of Pisa
Second Day. Tenth Story (178)
Messer Ricciardo, an old judge.
His passion for young Bartolomea.
Marries her; pirate Paganino steals her.
She discovers the joys of pirate life.
Decides to stay with Paganino.
Moral: This story is extraordinarily sexual.
The whole setup and the outcome all hinges on
sexual satisfaction for the woman. An interesting
look into post-Black Death mentality in Italy.
Boccaccio is laughing at Ricciardo and openly states
that this man shouldn't be marrying someone he
cant satisfy. There is nothing about love in this
story as far as I can see. It is sex.
Second Day, Conclusion
Second Day
Interesting to see the reaction of the group
to the last story. Boccaccio makes it clear
that it caused some blushing.
Third Day, Introduction.
Journey two miles to empty palace.
Journey to kind of "paradise."
Does this contrast with "hell" down in town?
What is the palace and what is Boccaccio saying?
Why the journey? no reason? just fun?
Notice the journey takes place on Sunday.
Echoes of Garden of Eden (p. 191).
And why? What's connection?
Where are the occupants?
Why palace "empty?"
Did the plague carry off the occupants?
Is paradise "empty" now in this dark age?
Are the ladies in a fairy land? Unreal?
The Lucky Gardener
Third Day, First Story
Masetto of Lamporecchio
Finds work at convent.
Pretends to be mute.
Nuns discover his attractions.
"Handsome physique and agreeable features"
Masetto expands his work beyond the garden.
Begins cultivating new territory.
Note the exhange between nuns about virginity (196)
Moral? Can't think of one unless it is something
about hard work.
A Late Night Haircut
Third Day, Second Story
King Agilulf of Lombardy.
and his Queen.
The stable groom in love with the Queen.
The groom's night of love.
The King visits his surprised wife.
"Again so soon?"
The angry king.
The midnight Vidal Sassoon.
The king's cool strategy.
Moral: Once is enough?
True Confession
Third Day, Third Story
Filomena's comments on priests (205)
Likens them to "pigs"
Gentle lady of Florence.
Dull wool merchant husband.
Slow-witted priest.
Handsome neighbor.
Lady goes to confession.
Sends coded messages to her beloved.
Her communication system works well.
Handsome neighbor comes to call.
Moral: Confession is good for the body.
Whole lotta Shakin Going on
Third Day, Fourth Story
Friar Puccio of San Pancrazio(Flo)
Wife, Monna Isabetta
Handsome Dom Felice
Dom Felice falls for wife of Puccio.
"shapely little wife."
Convinces Friar Puccio to pray.
To pray assiduously.
Dom Felice teaches Isabetta other
religious duties.
Friar Puccio does the penance,
Felice & Isabetta "go to paradise."
Horsing Around
Third Day, Fifth Story
Messer Francesco Vergellesi of Pistoia.
The beautiful and virtuous wife of Francesco
Handsome Zima with the palfrey (small horse)
Francesco wants the palfrey.
Makes a deal with Zima.
Horse in exchange for few mins with wife.
The "dialogue."
Husband gets palfrey.
Goes to Milan, leaves wife alone.
Zima gets the wife.
Third Day, Sixth Story
Ricciardo Minutolo.
Catella, wife of F. Singhinolfo.
Ricciardo in love (or lust) with Catella.
Tricks her into meeting in baths.
Tricks her to make love to him.
The editor of this edition of the Decameron
calls this most unpleasant of collection.
I agree that it is nasty little story.
No humor. Both main characters are
unpleasant, humorless, selfish.
Terrible picture of the Neapolitan upper class.
I can't find any moral in the story.
Catella was "jealous" and driven by her love
but hardly deserves what she gets.
Is fascinating commentary on the Courtly Love
ethic. Story has much courtly love language
but nothing "Courtly" about it at all.
Love's Pilgrimage
Third Day, Seventh Story (237)
Tedaldo degli Elisei.
Aldobrandino Palermini.
Monna Ermellina.
The brothers Elisei.
This is one of the most complex
and interesting stories of all.
At its center is Tedaldo's long
monologue about friars of the day.
see pp. 243-246. This is an extraordinary
analysis of friars in mid-14th century.
Contrasted with friars of 13thC.(ie Francis
and Dominic and origins of preaching orders).
This a significant moral editorial by Boccaccio.
The story itself is beautiful, long, and complex.
Tedaldo in love with Ermellina.
"rejected" goes away; rumor he is dead.
Husband Aldobrandino prosecuted.
Dramatic heart of story is the great
scene of reconciliation effected by Tedaldo.
Moral: story seems particularly profound
and full of Christian values with the one
complicating factor that all of it hinges on
an adulterous relationship that lives
"happily ever after."
Ferondo in Purgatory
Third Day, Eighth Story (254)
The abbey in Tuscany.
Ferondo of Tuscany.
"a course and unimaginative fellow."
The saintly Abbot.
The beautiful wife of Ferondo.
Ferondo's journey to Purgatory.
The Abbot's journey to the wife.
What is interesting here is what B.
does to the image of Purgatory.
Gilette; She-doctor
Third Day, Ninth Story (264)
Bertrand, Count of Roussillon.
Gilette of Narbonne, daughter of doctor.
King of France (Gilette cures the fistula).
The gentle lady & daughter of Florence
Gilette in love with Bertrand since childhood.
Gilette cures the king.
Reward: Bertrand.
Bertrand not happy; goes off to Tuscany.
Gilette goes off to Roussillon (border Spain).
Administers County brilliantly.
(notice this you feminists!)
Follows Bertrand to Florence.
Makes the deal with lady.
Impersonation; impregnation.
The ring and the twins.
All live happily ever after.
Here is a fascinating image of 14th C. woman.
Smart, aggressive, gets what she wants!
Also she is totally in love and it never dies.
Is it courtly love? Don't think so.
It is practical and carnal. But eternal.
Putting the Devil in Hell
Third Day, Tenth Story (274)
A holy man, Rustico, in Sahara desert.
Alibech of Gafsa (Tunisia).
Alibech driven by search for piety,
Goes to desert of Egypt.
Finds holy man, Rustico.
The devil rears its ugly head.
Alibech learns how to put devil in hell.
Moral: ?