#24 – The Father Of The Renaissance (part three)
August 18, 2018
#26 – Boccaccio Part Two
September 14, 2018

#25 – Boccaccio Part One

  • Let’s talk about the other, slightly more creepy and rapey father of the Renaissance.
  • For books in the vernacular to appear in considerable quantities, there must be a demand for them.
  • There must exist a class of people who have had enough education to be considered literate and to have an interest in reading for leisure, but who are more fluent in the vernacular than in Latin.
  • In Italy, these were the merchants.
  • Interestingly, the rise of the merchant class was also a consequence of the increase in literacy and the use of the vernacular.
  • Until the twelfth century merchants tended to travel around through Europe, conducting their business on the spot.
  • But two major developments changed this.
  • The first was the development of better accounting techniques which would eventually lead to the invention of double-entry accounting.
  • The second were the increased possibilities for correspondence.
  • With these new developments, merchants could stay at home and conduct business through agents.
  • This meant that merchants no longer had to be on the road all the time, and therefore had time for leisure.
  • Although these merchants were literate, their education had been mainly focused on numeracy and most of them had no knowledge of Latin.
  • For them, the vernacular was the only language in which to read or write
  • In civil government big changes also occurred.
  • City councils in the north of Italy increasingly began to rely on written records, and the legal system also.
  • This meant that there was an ever greater demand for notaries, lawyers and judges.
  • This administrative literacy developed earlier in Italy than elsewhere.
  • In the middle of the thirteenth century, Italian city-government was highly bureaucratic, and minute records were being kept of council meetings and court proceedings, most of them in the vernacular.
  • The combination of higher levels of literacy in society and the acceptance of the vernacular as a written language led to the development of literature in the vernacular.
  • Giovanni Villani, the Florentine chronicler, states that in 1339 in Florence, eight to ten thousand boys received elementary education.
  • On a total of about 90.000 inhabitants, this would mean that 10% of the population was receiving some education at any given time.
  • Villani further states that one fourth of the boys would go on to one of six abacco schools in the city to learn commercial mathematics, and a further 550 to 600 of the pupils would receive further education at one of four grammar schools in Florence.
  • In 1288, a schoolmaster in Milan, Bonvicinus de Ripa, estimated that there where at least seventy ‘teachers of beginning letters’ and a further eight ‘professors of grammar’.
  • Giovanni Boccaccio
  • Interesting guy.
  • One of the father’s of the Renaissance.
  • But also… a little creepy and rapey.
  • Little known fact: originally pronounced Bukakkio
  • He invented bukakke
  • If you don’t know what the means…
  • It’s when a Mommy and a Daddy and a Daddy and a Daddy and a Daddy and a Daddy and a Daddy all decide that Mommy needs some special facial moisturiser
  • Most people haven’t heard of him.
  • If you’ve studied literature, you might know him as one of the world’s greatest story-tellers, as the author of the Decameron.
  • But only students of humanism know him also as one of the pioneers of the Revival of Learning and as one of the world’s greatest lovers.
  • Like Petrarch, he turned his love experiences into literary masterpieces.
  • We mentioned him earlier as a friend of Petrarch
  • This encounter turned Boccaccio himself from a career of writing vernacular prose tales in the medieval tradition, such as his famous Decameron, to a career dominated by classical studies.
  • Boccaccio’s greatest service to Renaissance humanism was that he recognized the originality and greatness of Petrarch and became the central figure in a group of avowed disciples at Florence.
  • Through his efforts, Petrarch’s ideas first gained a foothold in the city.
  • He was born in Paris 16 June 1313
  • The son of a Florentine banker, Boccaccino, the little known brother of Capuccino, and, as Will Durant puts it – “a French lass of doubtful name and morals”
  • Not long after, his father moved back close to Florence to the town of Certaldo and seems to have married another woman, Margerhita, a step-mother who didn’t like him, especially after she had her own son.
  • She was like Caitlin Stark, and he was Jon Snow.
  • At the age of ten (1323) or fifteen (1328), he was sent to Naples, where he was apprenticed to a career of finance and trade.
  • Which he hated as much as Petrarch hated the law.
  • Apparently the secret to being one of the fathers of the Renaissance was to hate a white collar job.
  • After six years studying finance and trade, his father eventually agreed to let him quit his finance studies if he agreed to study canon law.
  • Which he did for another six years, before he gave that up too, because he really only wanted to be a poet.
  • He apparently made that decision while standing at the tomb of Virgil in Naples.
  • Tomb is still there but apparently there are no human ashes inside – they were lost while being moved in the Middle Ages.
  • He’d fallen in love with Ovid and Virgil.
  • And then, like Petrarch, he fell in love with a married woman.
  • Or in lust with her anyway.
  • This was during the years studying Canon Law.
  • So he was in his early 20s.
  • And, like Petrarch, he first saw her in a church.
  • Apparently this is why people went to church back in the day.
  • Church was the nightclub of the Middle Ages.
  • This time we actually know who the woman was.
  • Her name was Maria d’Aquino.
  • He wrote a number of love poems to her and about her, but is very careful not to mention her name outright, for obvious reasons.
  • He reveals it in things like acrostics.
  • Where the first letter (or syllable, or word) of each line (or paragraph, or other recurring feature in the text) spells out a word.
  • But he didn’t use write her name using an acrostic.
  • In the Amorosa Visione the initial letters of its fifteen hundred triplets composing two sonnets and a ballad in honour of Fiammetta
  • And in the acrostic he even called her by her true name.
  • Even more than that – inside the hidden poem, the initial letters of the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth lines form the name of Maria as well.
  • An acrostic INSIDE an acrostic!
  • That’s INCEPTION level madness.
  • Only she – and his closest friends – would have known who he was talking about.
  • She was a royal bastard, an illegitimate daughter of Robert the Wise, King of Naples and Count of Provence.
  • According to Boccacio, Maria’s mother was a Provençal noblewoman, Sibila Sabran, wife of Count Thomas IV of Aquino.
  • She was born after Countess Sibila and King Robert committed adultery at his coronation festivities in 1310, but was given the family name of her mother’s husband who accepted her as his own child.
  • Not long after she was born, her mother died.
  • Her father sent her to be educated in a convent, and she was married at fifteen to a Neapolitan nobleman.
  • She wasn’t happy about it, but apparently King Robert pushed her into it.
  • She agreed to it on the condition that, if she wanted to, she could return to her convent.
  • As it turned out, she didn’t like her husband much, or he didn’t keep her juices flowing, so she started to sleep with a wide range of men.
  • According to one biographer of Boccaccio: “And then she also found that stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
  • She excuses herself for having betrayed the husband who loved her so much, and can say: “What is lawfull pursued is apt to be considered of small account, even though it be most excellent, but what is difficult of attainment, even if contemptible, is held in high esteem.”
  • She had a succession of lovers who would also buy her nice things.
  • Apparently she would make each of them think they were the only one she loved.
  • According to Boccaccio,
  • She said “and I have laughed at them all, choosing, however, those who took my fancy and who were judged apt to give me pleasure. But no sooner was the fire spent than I broke the vase which contained the water and flung away the pieces.”
  • One of those lovers was Boccaccio.
  • But he had to work at getting into her pants.
  • It took him years.
  • When he first laid eyes on her in church, he wrote
  • there appeared to my eyes the wondrous beauty of a young woman, come thither to hear what I too heard attentively. I had no sooner seen her than my heart began to throb so strongly that I felt it in my slightest pulses; and not knowing why nor yet perceiving what had happened, I began to say, ‘Ohimè, what is this?’… But at length, being unable to sate myself with gazing, I said, ‘O Love, most noble Lord, whose strength not even the gods were able to resist, 90 I thank thee for setting happiness before my eyes!’… I had no sooner said these words than the flashing eyes of that lovely lady fixed themselves on mine….” 91 Fiammetta, for it was she, was tall and slanciata ; her hair, he tells us, “is so blonde that the world holds nothing like it; it shades a white forehead of noble width, beneath which are the curves of two black and most slender eyebrows … and under these two roguish eyes … cheeks of no other colour than milk.”
  • When was this?
  • It might have been 1331.
  • When he was only 18.
  • Twelve days later, he happened to visit the convent where she had brought up.
  • And she was there.
  • Apparently convents were kind of like a peaceful resort where you could go and hangout and party when you needed to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city.
  • While he was there, he told her lots of romantic love stories and she commissioned him to write a novel in the courtly style based on a very popular tale about two lovers that was going around at the time: Floris and Blancheflour
  • This ends up as his novel, The FILOCOLO.

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