Rare Boccaccio Manuscript Found

Mon, 08/19/2013 - 06:30
"Boccaccio reading from the Decameron to Queen Johanna of Naples" - 1849, painting by Gustave Wappers words by Carol King An academic at England’s University of Manchester has discovered an important and previously unknown manuscript by the 14th-century Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio. Senior Lecturer in Italian Dr. Guyda Armstrong identified the uncatalogued manuscript by Boccaccio in the university’s John Rylands Library. An author and poet, Boccaccio wrote the influential works the ‘Decameron’, ‘On Famous Women’ and ‘Elegy of Madonna Fiammetta’.

 The uncatalogued manuscript, ‘Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes’, is a copy of a rare 1400 translation of the ‘De casibus virorum illustrium’, made by the French humanist and courtier Laurent de Premierfait. It has been at the library since 1963 but only a few curators knew of its existence. Armstrong identified its significance and library staff helped her identify its provenance. Armstrong said: “Boccaccio’s ‘De casibus’ is a collection of biographies of famous figures from history, whose title can be translated as either ‘The Fates of Famous Men’, or ‘The Fall of Famous Men’. It’s a book in the ‘mirror for princes’ genre, where the horrible histories of the past are used as a political guide for rulers, and is notable for its critique of tyranny.” 

 De Premierfait made two versions of his translation of the ‘De casibus’, one in 1400 and the other in 1409. Armstrong says the Rylands’ manuscript is a rare example of the first version, of which only a few copies exist. She wants to digitise the manuscript, so it can be shared online.