Matteo Maria Boiardo (boh-YAHR-doh), count of Scandiano, was the essence of Italian nobility, a successful courtier, soldier, and scholar. Born near Reggio nell’ Emilia in 1440 or 1441, he found a patron in a wealthy family and was educated at the University of Ferrara. In 1478, he was appointed governor of Reggio. He held several high military posts and took part in the wars against the Venetians. Boiardo did most of his writing to amuse the court of Duke Hercules d’Este at Ferrara, and he was acclaimed as the “Italian Homer.”
The primary influence on Boiardo’s Italian sonnets and lyrics, the Amorum Liber, or book of loves, was the writing of the ancients, chiefly Herodotus and Apuleius. A skilled scholar in Latin and Greek, he wrote several eclogues in Latin as well as a comedy, Timone, in five acts. His major work was the Orlando innamorato, of which he wrote only the first two books, the rest being written by Niccolo degli Agostini after Boiardo’s death in 1494. Boiardo’s verse romance—apparently adapted from a popular romance sung by cantastorie, or story-singers, of the time—is outstanding in early Italian literature and has a richness of characterization and a variety of scene that provided a basis for the more famous Orlando furioso of Ludovico Ariosto. Boiardo’s poem is remarkably ironic and farcical; it is his own rather cynical treatment of the romance and its courtly love tradition. It is nonetheless quite humorous and fresh, if rough in comparison to the more stately Ariosto.
Ariosto’s work, written in puristic Tuscan tradition, became the more popular after its appearance in 1515. In 1541, Francesco Berni’s revised edition of Orlando innamorato was better received. Some modern critics have claimed that Boiardo’s poem is superior to Ariosto’s, a judgment made possible by the discovery of Boiardo’s manuscripts in the nineteenth century. In any event, the poem, along with Boiardo’s many sonnets and shorter poems, is part of the grand tradition of fifteenth century poetry, as was his courtly life a model of the existence of the fifteenth century Italian nobleman.