Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 638
*Naples. Seaport in southern Italy in which Giovanni Boccaccio spent several years before writing The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta. His book paints a glowing civic portrait of Naples, which he describes as “joyful, peaceful, rich, magnificent and under a single ruler.” Beautiful people reside here, and life in the upper class is ornamented with luxuries and spectacles. The noblewoman Fiammetta’s own beauty is displayed in the unidentified church in which she first meets the young Panfilo, in an echo of Petrarch’s first glimpsing of his beloved (and also married) Laura. Ironically, in this place of divine worship the tinder of the adulterous affair is kindled. It is in a Neapolitan convent that Fiammetta first realizes that another woman—a young nun—has also fallen for Panfilo’s charms.
Fiammetta’s bedchamber. Room in Fiammetta’s husband’s house in which she dreams her dreams and watches her beauty blossom before ever meeting Panfilo. Here she suffers her nightmare about a field in which she is bitten by a venomous snake that presages her failed affair. After her initially flirtatious but innocent meetings with Panfilo become carnal, her bedchamber becomes the sexual playground that only they share, away from prying eyes or nosy servants. Even her nurse, apparently, does not know what her lover looks like. Here Fiammetta meets the Roman goddess Venus and the Fury Tisiphone, with whom she has imagined conversations about her love and eventual grief. Eventually despairing of her love, she decides—within her bedchamber—upon suicide, which drives her into a kind of madness from which she is saved by her nurse and servants.
*Baia. Rugged seaside retreat on the Bay of Naples that Fiammetta and her husband visit in the hope that the local baths will help cure her of the depression into which she sinks after Panfilo leaves. However, since she and Panfilo have previously romped in this same resort, every rock and tree she sees there reminds her of him, and the effect of her visit is the opposite of what her cuckolded husband hopes for. Fiammetta’s spoiled looks, neglected dress, and grieving contrast with the ruddy beauty and boisterous gaiety of other vacationing aristocrats, who engage in hunting and gather together for amorous festivities and wedding ceremonies.
*Florence. Historic center of culture and political power in central Italy from which Panfilo comes and to which he returns to tend to his father’s business. The virtues of Naples are depicted in sharp contrast to the rowdiness of Florence, the “noble city of Etruria.” Florence is full of people who are cowards and big talkers, as well as haughty, jealous, and greedy men under not one ruler but as many as there are citizens.
In the early 1340’s Florence was torn by civil strife related to the failure of two major banks and a change in regime. In Boccaccio’s book, Neapolitan peacefulness is set against the turbulent Florentine society that conducts war both within and with others, perhaps suggesting that Panfilo’s apparently flighty character is a reflection of the unstable city. That Panfilo would choose to leave noble Naples—and Fiammetta—for rowdy Florence shocks Fiammetta. She worries about what might be happening to her beloved in that distant city and madly resents the hold Florence has on him. Though the book’s narrative never visits Florence itself, the city’s presence is keenly felt.
*Mediterranean Sea. Though Panfilo could travel from Naples to Florence and back by land, he makes the first leg of his journey by the sea, which symbolically and geographically separates him from Fiammetta. At first, Fiammetta worries about the dangers the sea holds for her love; after his return to Naples begins to appear unlikely, she wishes the sea’s perils on him.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 246
Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta. Edited and translated by Mariangela Causa-Steindler and Thomas Mauch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. The most elegant modern translation into American English. Introduction presents an overview of the author’s life, the elegy, and the various sources of its inspiration.
Boccaccio, Giovanni. The Elegy of Madonna Fiammetta Sent by Her to Women in Love. Translated by Roberta L. Payne and Alexandra Hennessey Olsen. New York: Peter Lang, 1992. Contains a fine, brief introduction to the work’s literary features. The translation is of a slightly different original text than Causa-Steindler and Mauch’s, and thus can serve for comparison.
Griffin, Robert. “Boccaccio’s Fiammetta: Pictures at an Exhibition.” Italian Quarterly 18, no. 72 (Spring, 1975): 75-111. An appraisal of the techniques by which Boccaccio uses Fiammetta to present a series of emotions. Discusses the elegy’s literary, linguistic, and classical features.
Iannucci, Amilcare A. “L’Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta and the First Book of the Asolani: The Eloquence of Unrequited Love.” Forum Italicum 10, no. 4 (1976): 345-359. Compares The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta with a later Italian Renaissance work. Highlights Boccaccio’s stylistic features.
Smarr, Janet Levarie. Boccaccio and Fiammetta: The Narrator as Lover. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1986. A chapter on The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta discusses the character of Fiammetta as she appears in other of Boccaccio’s works. Discusses the variety of perspectives found in the voices of reasoned narrators and impassioned characters, who often were the same person playing differing roles.
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