Boccaccio's Poetic Anthropology: Allegories of History in the Genealogie deorum gentilium libri

David Lummus

Stanford University

When Giovanni Boccaccio undertook to compile the myths of Greco-Roman antiquity in the mid-fourteenth century, he was working within a long tradition of medieval commentaries on Ovid's mythological works (principally the Metamorphoses and the Fasti) and mythographical compendia, such as Alberic of London's De deis gentium. His Genealogie deorum gentilium libri, on which he worked until the final years of his life, also falls within the traditions of biblical exegesis and of philosophical commentary on texts, such as Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae and Virgil's Aeneid. The complex and eclectic nature of Boccaccio's learning, however, along with the antimodern organizational structure of the treatise, has led to the underestimation of its importance in the history of medieval and Renaissance approaches to ancient myth. As Charles Osgood's partial translation of the work demonstrates, the focus of critics has been limited to the final two books of the treatise, in which Boccaccio defends both poetry and his work from detractors. The fourteenth and fifteenth books of the Genealogie have been by far the most long-lived sections of the work. The straightforward defense of poetry through recourse to the topos of the poeta theologus places the work in a historical continuum that leads from Albertino Mussato and Francesco Petrarca to Coluccio Salutati, Marsilio Ficino, and Angelo Poliziano, not to mention the poetic theorists of the English Renaissance, such as Sir Philip Sidney.

David Lummus is Assistant Professor of Italian at Stanford University (e-mail: dlummus@stanford.edu).