Thursday, August 29, 2013


"Here begins the book on Famous Women
Written by Giovanni Boccaccio of Certaldo
and Dedicated to Andrea Acciaciuoli of Florence
Countess of Altavilla

Long ago there were a few ancient authors who composed biographies of famous men in the form of compendia, and in our day that renowned man and great poet, my teacher Petrarch, is writing a similar work that will be even fuller and more carefully done.  This is fitting.  For those who gave all their zeal, their fortunes, and (when the occasion required it), their blood and their lives in order to surpass other men in illustrious deeds have certainly earned the right to have their names remembered forever by posterity.  What surprises me is how little attention women have attracted from writers of this genre, and the absence of any work devoted to their memory, even though lengthier histories show clearly that some women have performed acts requiring vigor and courage."

Jane – on your 16th birthday, blessed day – I would like to begin recording your story and try to recount your acts which required vigor, courage and nobility. 

Your summer feats this year have filled your mother and me with more admiration than we can easily say in words, gestures or pictures. 

So much of history can probably be summarized in the words “if they only knew.”  (So many things get lost.)

Well, we know.

Upper:  Penthesilia, Queen of the Amazons.

Lower:  Isis, goddess, arrives in Egypt. 

Miniatures illustrating Boccaccio's Famous Women (1374), painted in Cognac, France, 15th-16th centuries,  Bibliothêque Nationale, Paris. 

Text:  Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women (“Preface”), edited and translated by Virginia Brown, Cambridge, Harvard University Press (Il Tatti Renaissance Library), 2001.

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