Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–75) is best known as the author of the Decameron, for which he created a lieta brigata of young men and women narrating a series of popular stories in Italian. Yet during his lifetime and long afterward Boccaccio was celebrated as a leading figure in the revival of classical Latin in such literary and historical works as his Eclogues, The Genealogy of the Gods, and On Famous Women. In The Downfall of the Famous (De casibus virorum illustrium) Boccaccio also composed a work that followed classical models and provided civic and ethical guides for his readers. In this he joined the efforts of his role model, Francesco Petrarch, whose own Latin De viris illustribus and unfinished Africa set the standard for early modern humanists.
Boccaccio began The Downfall of the Famous circa 1355 and completed his authoritative version in 1374. In all he presented over ninety biographies of famous men and women in nine books. These ranged from Adam and Eve through biblical, ancient Near Eastern, and Greek lives to his prime examples — famous Romans — before concluding with medievals. He drew on a wide variety of sources, from the Bible, through classical Greek and Roman works, to medieval histories and Arthurian romances. He ended with material drawn from stories told him, and his own eye-witness, at the court of Naples.
This edition is based on the elegant 1965 translation by Louis Brewer Hall. Hall’s edition was selective, concentrating on classical lives. But Hall did include Boccaccio’s frames: his “visions” of a parade of historical figures passing before him and engaging in lively moral debates; and his direct musings on fame, private and public vice and virtue, and good and bad fortune. In fact, Fortuna emerges as this work’s most important character and theme. Along with contemporaries like Giovanni Villani, Boccaccio saw history and biography as moral arts, underscoring the civic virtues and personal failings of famous men and women, Fortune balancing every success with its inevitable reversal.
Newly typeset and paginated, this volume presents Hall’s complete English translation. It adds numerous historical, biographical, interpretive, and bibliographical notes reflecting a half-century of new Boccaccio scholarship.
276 pages. Hall’s introduction and translation with new preface, notes, bibliography, index, and 5 illustrations.