Boccaccio: Friendship and Passion

I’ve been reading Edward Hutton’s remarkable biography of Boccaccio, Giovanni Boccaccio–A biographical study recently. Actually I’ve been proofing it for the Project Gutenberg’s distributed proofreading project, so it should be free for downloading soon.

From Petrarch’s Letter to Boccaccio on literary friendship:

“In days gone by,” he says in a letter to Boccaccio,[2] “I was hurrying across Central Italy in midwinter; you hastened to greet me, not only with affection, the message of soul to soul, but in person, impelled by a wonderful desire to see one you had never yet beheld, but whom nevertheless you were minded to love. You had sent before you a piece of beautiful verse, thus showing me first the aspect of your genius and then of your person. It was evening and the light was fading, when, returning from my long exile, I found myself at last within my native walls. You welcomed me with a courtesy and respect greater than I merited, recalling the poetic meeting of Anchises with the king of Arcadia, who, “in the ardour of youth,” longed to speak with the hero and to press his hand.[3] Although I did not, like him, stand “above all others,” but rather beneath, your zeal was none the less ardent. You introduced me, not within the walls of Pheneus, but into the sacred penetralia of your friendship. Nor did I present you with a “superb quiver and arrows of Lycia,” but rather with my sincere and unchangeable affection. While acknowledging my inferiority in many respects, I will never willingly concede it in this either to Nisus or to Pythias or to Llius.–Farewell.”

Thus began a friendship that lasted nearly twenty-five years. They were, says Filippo Villani, “one soul in two bodies.”

Here’s a passage describing Boccaccio’s earthy (yet genuine) passion for Fiametta

but when Fiammetta died, the very centre of his world was shaken.[1] He could not follow her through Hell and Purgatory into the meadows of Paradise as Dante had followed Beatrice: he was of the modern world. For Dante, earth, heaven, purgatory, and hell were but chambers in the universe of God. For Boccaccio there remained just the world…. Because Boccaccio’s love for Fiammetta was not a passion wholly or almost wholly spiritual, as we may suppose Dante’s to have been for Beatrice, we are eager to deny it any permanence or strength. Why? Perhaps a passion almost wholly sensual if really profound is more persistent than any desire in which the mind alone is involved.

(See also Wikipedia entry on Boccaccio). I’ve been reading Mark Musa’s astonishing edition of Canzoniere, finished Boccaccio’s sad biographical sketch of Dante and will be beginning Decameron very soon. On a slightly unrelated note, I bought but have not yet picked up Julia Voznesenskaya’s Woman’s Decameron, although the very idea of it (tales told in a Leningrad maternity ward) is tantalizing enough.

It’s hard to explain, but I feel a special connection with Renaissance Italy, the time of Petrarch, etc. Last year I did preliminary research on Venice and Padua for a short story project, and was finding it amazing. Remember, when I taught in Albania, I lived just 30 kilometers from the coast of Italy, yet never visited it. Opportunities, opportunities.