Boccaccio was born in Paris, in 1313, the illegitimate son of a Florentine merchant and a French noblewoman. Reared in Florence, he was sent to study accounting in Naples around 1323. He abandoned accounting for canon law and gave that up for classical and scientific studies. He took part in the life of the court of Robert d’Anjou, king of Naples. The king is supposed to have had an illegitimate daughter, Maria de Conti d’Aquino. Although there is no proof of her existence, she is said to have been Boccaccio’s mistress and to have inspired a great deal of his work. She is, perhaps, the Fiammetta immortalized in his writings.
Returning to Florence about 1340, Boccaccio performed various diplomatic services for the city government, and in 1350 he met the poet and humanist Petrarch, with whom he had a close friendship until Patriarch’s death in 1374. In 1362 a friend, who promised him the patronage of Queen Joanna of Naples, invited Boccaccio to Naples. A cold reception at the court of the queen led him to seek the hospitality of Petrarch, who was then in Venice. However, he returned to his estate in Certaldo (near Florence). Boccaccio’s last years, in which he turned to religious meditation, were brightened by his appointment in 1373 as lecturer on Dante. His series of lectures was interrupted by his illness in 1374, and he died the next year.
Boccaccio’s most important work is Il Decamerone (Ten Days’ Work), which was begun in 1348 and completed in 1353; it was first translated into English, as The Decameron, in 1620. This collection of 100 stories is set within a framework. A group of friends, seven women and three men, all “well bred, of worth and discretion,” to escape an outbreak of the plague have taken refuge in a country villa outside Florence. There they entertain one another over a period of ten days with a series of stories told by each member. At the conclusion of the 100th tale, the friends return to their homes in the city.