We can consider Giovanni Boccaccio the first Professor of Dantology in history. The first timely pontiff of the Dantesque cult. The author of the Comedy – which he defined as divine – was the brightest and most brilliant star in his literary and poetic firmament.
The writer from Certaldo has always cultivated Dante interests, ever since he was a boy and – in Naples – wrote pometti in third rhyme, such as Diana’s Hunt (his poetic debut published in 1334). Of course, the adoption of the third rhyme implies the recognition of Dante’s literary patronage. Even in the twentieth century, a fine reader of Dante such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, re-proposes this meter (just think of the poems of Gramsci’s Ashes). The Decameron
Nel of he opus magum of him – the Decameron– the author – interested in recording and narrating the variety of the world and of men – inherits Dante’s multistylism and mixes heterogeneous narrative and stylistic ingredients together. But it would be enough to limit ourselves to a macro-evident fact. The book consists of 100 short stories, as many as the songs of the Commedia, a poem that narrates a journey undertaken by the author at 35, the same age Boccaccio was at the height of 1348, annus horribilis in which the story is set (you will remember the happy brigade that flees from that theatrum mortis which is the plagued city towards a locus amoenus where to re-establish – through literature – humanitas). I would add that Decameronian prose is strewn with Dante’s citations and stylistic features, testifying to a profound and protracted conversation until the end.
So imitatio Dantis is the most important rhetorical coordinate that orients Boccaccio in his literary writing. Dante
Boccaccio’s first biographer was also Alighieri’s first biographer. He wrote Il Trattatello in laude di Dante. This biography opened a collection of Dante’s works prepared by his hand (I copy the 14,233 verses of the poem three times in the Toledano, Riccardiano and Chigiano codices).
Just a quick hint at the way in which Boccaccio typeset Dante’s canticles: he breaks away from the Tuscan manuscript tradition and opts for a monocolonnar (and no longer bicolonnar) layout. This mise en page was until then reserved only for Latin classics (the great authors such as Virgil and Horace). In this way he distinguished Dante and the vulgar literary traditio
La Vita Dantis – in the manner of a real accessus ad Dantem – introduced the reader into Dante’s work. We wrongly consider it a minor work (perhaps minor compared to the Decameron, but it is an ungenerous comparison); just think that Ugo Foscolo – a highly influential man of letters – considered it his masterpiece, «Boccaccio’s most luminous work in terms of styles and thoughts».
Boccaccio has never met Alighieri. To write this biography he collected the testimonies of those who had attended him. It was in the places of the poem and in the cities that had hosted the exul immeritus.
In this way, the huge accumulated material allows him to draw a portrait of the poet, both physical and moral, behavioral. The face of Dante
How was Dante physically
What was his face
Of him (The face and geography of the soul; in our features the relationship we have with life is inscribed). Here is the descriptio Dantis boccacciana:
It was […] this poet of ours of mediocre stature, and then, when he had reached his mature age, he went somewhat stooped, and it was his going grave and meek, in very honest clothes always dressed in that suit that was at his proper maturity . His face was long, and his nose was aquiline, and his eyes, indeed big than petioles, his jaws large, and from the lip below him was the advanced one above; and his color was brown, and his hair and beard thick, black and frizzy, and his face always melancholy and pensive.
This passage will suggest Ugo Foscolo, who will remember it when – in the Tombs – he described Vittorio Alfieri.
And Vittorio often came to take inspiration
from these marbles ,
angry at the patrii Numi; he wandered mute
where the Arno is most deserted, the fields and the sky
desirous aiming; and then that no
living person waits for him to treat him,
here he rested the austere; and he had
the pallor of death and hope on his face.
Immediately after this description, Boccaccio inserts an anecdote that testifies to the precocious fortune of Dante’s verses: while the poet walked alone, some women – seated outside the door – began to look at him intently and one said to the others:
“Women, see the one who goes into the ‘hell, and he comes back when he pleases, and up here he brings news of those who are down there
. ” hot and for we were that down
there. ”
According to popular gullibility, if Dante was so dark in complexion it was because he had spent too much time in contact with the infernal soot! The works of the Supreme Poet
Apart from these hilarious anecdotes, the most interesting aspect of the Trattatello for the modern biographers of the great poet is to be found in the information relating to his works, more or less acceptable information, around which scholars still debate eagerly. .
The diligent biographer informs us that the poet would have written the first seven cantos of Hell when he was still in Florence. Exile forced him to put aside, to archive the incipient poem. Dante’s friends luckily found these cards containing the first seven songs in a chest and sent them to the poet who was in exile in Lunigiana, in order to allow him to go forward in writing the poem.
The incipit of the eighth canto of the Inferno contains a gerund which is probably a lexical indicator which corroborates Boccaccio’s thesis: “I say, by continuing, that much earlier”. It seems that the author resumes telling after a pause …
Other curiosities that emerge in these pages are the devaluation of the political component of Dante’s personality, understood as improper for the true sage and the anti-marital tirades: Dante – according to Boccaccio – would have done wrong to take a wife since these are an annoying disturbance and prevent men to focus in studies.
The other constant theme is the vehement and always resurgent accusation in Florence, a violent anathema hurled against the city of having exiled Dante, an unforgivable fault. Thus an oppositional polarity is created: on the one hand Florence stepmother and on the other Ravenna, the adoptive and benevolent mother where the poet spends his last years. The defense of the vulgar
A culturally very important theme that appears in these pages is Boccaccio’s passionate defense of Dante’s decision to use the vernacular instead of Latin for his poem. The classicists emunctae naris, the humanists of the first hour, censured Dante for this choice of him: a work of science could not be written in the vernacular. Boccaccio defends him with a sword:
He chose the vernacular “to make a more common utility to his citizens and to other Italians: knowing that, if he had written metrically in Latin, like the other poets of the past, he would only have been useful to men of letters; writing in the vernacular he never again made work, and did not take away the inability to be understood by literati, and showing the beauty of our language and his excellent art in that, and delight and understanding of himself he gave to the idiots, abandoned for back by each one. ”
In this way Dante was able to broaden the public of his readers; he allowed a great many people, illiterate, to profitably approach his work. The dissemination of Dante’s poetry
Here we touch on one of the most cordial and intelligent aspects of Boccaccio’s personality: his love for the dissemination of Dante’s poetry, which will materialize in the lecturae that – during the last years of his life – he held in the Florentine Abbey, in the current Pandolfini Chapel, where at the time the church of S. Stefano Protomartire stood. The Florentines clamored for a professor of Dantology and the municipality entrusted the task to Boccaccio, who should have read all one hundred songs but stopped – for health reasons – at canto XVII of the Inferno.
These readings had an extraordinary success and inaugurated a genre, a tradition that continues today (just think of Benigni’s readings in Piazza Santa Croce). Dante “Polar Star” by Boccaccio
In conclusion: Dante was the North Star of Giovanni Boccaccio. It oriented him in his literary navigatio. And Boccaccio – during his life – transmitted to many people the love for his Divine Comedy, defined by Eugenio Montale as «the last miracle of world poetry». Boccaccio transmitted the Dante virus to men; but a beneficial virus…
There is only one person that Boccaccio has not managed to contaminate, to infect. A person who has never converted to the cult of Dante despite Boccaccio’s affectionate solicitations. It is about a very dear friend of him, the friend of the heart: Francesco Petrarca. But this is another story…
Dario Pisano

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