Friday, 20 December 2013

Boccaccio anniversary

2013 is the 700th anniversary of the birth of the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) - poet, biographer, prose writer, lecturer, book collector, biographer of Dante and Petrarch, humanist.  

Boccaccio’s best known work is the 'Decameron', written between 1348 and 1352. It is a collection of 100 tales told by a group of young noble men and women who flee to the countryside to escape the Plague. Over 10 days they tell each other stories to distract and amuse themselves. The 'Decameron'’s combination of “realism, cheer and disorderliness” and its reputation as a book banned for its erotic content have ensured that it has remained popular through the centuries. It has been translated into many languages, turned into verse, and inspired other books, films, and electronic media.
Ref: 'Il decamerone Di M. Giovanni Boccaccio', Londra, 1757-[61], Sir George Grey Special Collections
The copy in Italian (shown above) was printed in the 1750s. The second book (shown below) was published in America. The verse is translated into English from a French verse translation made by Jean de la Fontaine in the 17th century.
Ref: 'Tales from Boccaccio / Englished from the French of Jean de la Fontaine'; illustrated by Richard Floethe. Mount Vernon: Peter Pauper Press, 1947, Sir George Grey Special Collections
The manuscript (hand-written) copy of 'De mulieribus claris' (translated as 'On famous women') depicted in the images below was made in the early 1460s, about 100 years after Boccaccio wrote the original and 10 years before the first printed copy was made.

Ref: Med MS G.133, 'De mulieribus claris', c.1464. Sir George Grey Special Collections
Ref: Med MS G.133, 'De mulieribus claris', c.1464. Sir George Grey Special Collections
Ref: Med MS G.133, 'De mulieribus claris', c.1464. Sir George Grey Special Collections
In this work Boccaccio pioneered a new form of biography, devoted exclusively to women, complementing the biographies of famous men which had been the norm till then. 106 contemporary, historical and mythological women were included in the book. In the last image above, you can see part of the list of these women, including Cleopatra (listed about half way down).

Some interesting facts and resources:
Author: Kate de Courcy, Sir George Grey Special Collections

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