Il Filostrato Essay - Critical Essays

Giovanni Boccaccio

Critical Evaluation

Giovanni Boccaccio took a minor incident in the story of the Trojan War and made it the center of his story. Geoffrey Chaucer is indebted to Boccaccio for Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1382). Though The Filostrato contains none of the psychological portraiture of Chaucer’s work, it has great literary merit and is probably superior to Chaucer’s work in its directness and passionate intensity.

The Filostrato, from a word coined by Boccaccio meaning “the one who is vanquished by love,” contains many of the traditional courtly love elements found in medieval romance, but it also develops a worldview based upon moral standards that are new to the genre. It can thus be seen as a transitional work, bridging the medieval and Renaissance periods.

One factor distinguishing Boccaccio from earlier writers of medieval romance is that he represents the bourgeois class that was a decisive force in the dissolution of the Middle Ages. His attitude toward courtly love is thus quite different from the mystical orientation of such writers as Dante Alighieri or the aristocratic tradition of the writers of French romances such as Chrétien de Troyes.

An indication of the new manner in which Boccaccio approaches courtly love can be found in the particular way in which he transforms the tale of Troilus (Troilo) and Cressida (Griseida) as originally found in the Roman de Troie of Benoît de Saint-Maure, who lived during the twelfth century. The story as narrated by Benoît was within the tradition of the medieval epic and represents a masculine and military orientation in which the prowess of arms plays the primary role. Women and love, if they appear at all, are of only secondary importance. When Benoît describes love, his emphasis is on Troilus and Diomede, and not on Cressida. Indeed, his story appears to be that of Diomede rather than of Troilus (Troilo). Boccaccio took the basic plot of Benoît and transformed it for his own purpose.

This purpose is related in the poem to The Filostrato, in which Boccaccio indicates that he will narrate the suffering of Troilo so that the lady to whom the poem is addressed will understand that Boccaccio himself is suffering as Troilo suffered. This lady is generally acknowledged to have been Maria d’Aquino, the natural daughter of the king of Naples, who absented herself from Naples, where Boccaccio was then residing. The Filostrato was designed to function as a love letter. This may have been an extraliterary reason for Boccaccio’s amplification of the role of Pandarus (Pandaro). The purpose of the work was to seduce Maria (and cause her to return to Naples) as Pandarus helps to seduce Cressida.

Superficially, The Filostrato appears to be a conventional tale of courtly love, and many familiar conceits...

(The entire section is 1168 words.)