Dante and Boccaccio: Suggestions for Further Research

In order to establish himself as an author, Boccaccio had to confront the lessons and challenges posed by the two great poets of his time: Dante and Petrarch.

Boccaccio's attitude toward Dante (who died in 1321 when Boccaccio was only eight) is one of veneration, but it is also critical. Dante's example is fundamentally important for the poetic apprenticeship of the young Boccaccio, particularly after his return to Florence from Naples, in 1341. In the Florentine works of the following years Boccaccio is clearly emulating Dante. Later on, when Boccaccio has already been conquered by the humanistic creed of Petrarch, he will also nurture a faithful devotion to the cult of Dante, becoming an active commentator and popularizer of Dante's Comedy. And yet, in order to fully appreciate and evaluate this paramount literary relationship, one has to focus on Boccaccio's texts, starting with the Decameron.

A good introduction to this topic is Franco Fido's essay, "Dante personaggio mancato del libro galeotto," ("Dante as a missing character of the book surnamed Prince Gallehault" -- go to bibliography). A good place to start your own exploration of this topic is the preface of the Decameron (Proemio), where Boccaccio expresses his own ideas about the meaning, goals and readership of his work. From the beginning, Boccaccio establishes a direct relationship between his work and Dante's Comedy, more precisely with a direct reference to the episode of Paolo and Francesca (Inf. V, 73-140). This episode marks Dante's critical overcoming of the "Sweet New Style" poetics of love. This reference is essential in order to understand why Boccaccio gives the Decameron its "other name" or "surname," that of "Prince Gallehault."

Suggestions for further research: Who was Gallehault? In what works does he appear as a character? What literary tradition is Dante (and Boccaccio through him) implicitly referring to in Inf. V? In what sense is Boccaccio at the same time paying homage to Dante and being critical of him? What are the consequences of this intertextual connection for an understanding of Boccaccio's ideas on love and for his ideas on literature? What are its implications for us readers?


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