Penelope from BL Royal 20 C V, f. 61v
Detail of a miniature of Penelope weaving, and the slaughter of her suitors. Image taken from f. 61v of Des cleres et nobles femmes, De claris mulieribus in an anonymous French translation (index De claris mulieribus, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomées). Written in French.
Giovanni Boccaccio, 1313 – 1375, was an Italian writer and poet and an important Renaissance humanist. He wrote mostly in the Italian vernacular, as well as some works in Latin, and is particularly noted for his realistic dialogue which differed from that of his contemporaries. Boccaccio spent his childhood in Florence. His father had no sympathy for Boccaccio’s literature inclinations and sent him to Naples, to an office of the Bardi, who were money lenders, to learn business. In Naples, Boccaccio became a consul (or senior officer) of the Arte del Cambio (the Guild of the moneychangers and money lenders) and met with the learned men of the court and the friends and admirers of Petrarch. It was about 1340 when Boccaccio returned to Florence due to the bankruptcy of the Bardi and brought in a store of literary work already he already completed. After 10 years and financial challenges, in 1350 he became a Florentine ambassador and visited Rome, Ravenna, Avignon and Brandenburg. During this period he formed a lasting friendship with Francesco Petrarch. In 1358 he completed his main work, the Decameron. During the plague at Florence in 1348, seven ladies and three gentlemen left the city for a country villa and over a period of ten days told one hundred stories. Boccaccio selected the plots of his stories mostly from the fabliaux which had passed into Italy from France, medieval stories that had classical form. The influence of the Decameron on European literature is enormous. Chaucer and Shakespeare both borrowed from it.
De Mulieribus Claris or De Claris Mulieribus (Latin for "Concerning Famous Women") is a collection of biographies of historical and mythological women by the Florentine author Giovanni Boccaccio, composed in 1361–62. It is notable as the first collection devoted exclusively to biographies of women in Western literature. Boccaccio claimed to have written the 106 biographies for the posterity of the women who were considered renowned, whether good or bad. He believed that recounting the deeds of certain women who may have been wicked would be offset by the exhortations to virtue by the deeds of good women. He writes in his presentation of this combination of all types of women that he hoped it would encourage virtue and curb vice. Women who were active in the public sphere, rulers, and warriors, however, were largely shown as suffering troubles for entering into the masculine sphere, which was characterized by control of political and social power. Boccaccio wrote this work in Certaldo probably between the summer of 1361 or as late as December 1362. He dedicated his work to Andrea Acciaioli, Countess of Altavilla, in Naples at the end of 1362 even though he continued to revise it up until his death in 1375. He first considered dedicating his slim volume to Joanna I of Naples. De Mulieribus Claris was "among the most popular works in the last age of the manuscript book". The 106 Famous Women biographies are of mythological and historical women, as well as some of Boccaccio's Renaissance contemporaries. The brief life stories follow the same general exemplary literature patterns used in various versions of De viris illustribus. The biography pattern starts with the name of the person, then the parents or ancestors, then their rank or social position, and last the general reason for their notoriety or fame with associated details. This is sometimes interjected with a philosophical or inspirational lesson at the end. De cleres et nobles femmes (French) enjoyed great popularity throughout the 15th-century in France. 1. Eve, the first woman in the Bible 2. Semiramis, queen of the Assyrians 3. Opis, wife of Saturn 4. Juno, goddess of the Kingdoms 5. Ceres, goddess of the harvest and queen of Sicily 6. Minerva 7. Venus, queen of Cyprus 8. Isis, queen and goddess of Egypt 9. Europa, queen of Crete 10. Libya, queen of Libya 11 and 12. Marpesia and Lampedo, queens of the Amazons 13. Thisbe, a Babylonian maiden 14. Hypermnestra, queen of the Argives and priestess of Juno 15. Niobe, queen of Thebes 16. Hypsipyle, queen of Lemnos 17. Medea, queen of Colchis 18. Arachne of Colophon 19 and 20. Orithyia and Antiope, queens of the Amazons 21. Erythraea or Heriphile, a Sibyl 22. Medusa, daughter of Phorcus 23. Iole, daughter of the king of the Aetolians 24. Deianira, wife of Hercules 25. Jocasta, queen of Thebes 26. Almathea or Deiphebe, a Sibyl 27. Nicostrata, or Carmenta, daughter of King Ionius 28. Procris, wife of Cephalus 29. Argia, wife of Polynices and daughter of King Adrastus 30. Manto, daughter of Tiresias 31. The wives of the Minyans 32. Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons 33. Polyxena, daughter of King Priam 34. Hecuba, queen of the Trojans 35. Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy 36. Clytemnestra, queen of Mycenae 37. Helen, wife of King Menelaus 38. Circe, daughter of the Sun 39. Camilla, queen of the Volscians 40. Penelope, wife of Ulysses 41. Lavinia, queen of Laurentum 42. Dido, or Elissa, queen of Carthage 43. Nicaula, queen of Ethiopia 44. Pamphile, daughter of Platea 45. Rhea Ilia, a Vestal Virgin 46. Gaia Cyrilla (Tanaquil), wife of King Tarquinius Priscus 47. Sappho, woman of Lesbos and poet 48. Lucretia, wife of Collatinus 49. Tamyris, queen of Scythia 50. Leaena, a courtesan 51. Athaliah, queen of Jerusalem 52. Cloelia, a Roman maiden 53. Hippo, a Greek woman 54. Megullia Dotata 55. Veturia, a Roman matron 56. Thamyris, daughter of Micon 57. Artemisia, queen of Caria 58. Verginia, virgin and daughter of Virginius 59. Eirene, daughter of Cratinus 60. Leontium 61. Olympias, queen of Macedonia 62. Claudia, a Vestal Virgin 63. Virginia, wife of Lucius Volumnius 64. Flora, goddess of flowers and wife of Zephyrus 65. A young Roman woman 66. Marcia, daughter of Varro 67. Sulpicia, wife of Quintus Fulvius Flaccus 68. Harmonia, daughter of Gelon, son of Hiero II of Syracuse 69. Busa of Canosa di Puglia 70. Sophonisba, queen of Numidia 71. Theoxena, daughter of Prince Herodicus 72. Berenice, queen of Cappadocia 73. The Wife of Orgiagon the Galatian 74. Tertia Aemilia, wife of the elder Africanus 75. Dripetrua, queen of Laodice 76. Sempronia, daughter of Gracchus 77. Claudia Quinta, a Roman woman 78. Hypsicratea, Queen of Pontus 79. Sempronia, a Roman Woman 80. The Wives of the Cimbrians 81. Julia, daughter of the dictator Julius Caesar 82. Portia, daughter of Cato Uticensis 83. Curia, wife of Quintus Lucretius 84. Hortensia, daughter of Quintus Hortensius 85. Sulpicia, wife of Cruscellio 86. Cornificia, a poet 87. Mariamme, queen of Judaea 88. Cleopatra, queen of Egypt 89. Antonia, daughter of Antony 90. Agrippina, wife of Germanicus 91. Paulina, a Roman woman 92. Agrippina, mother of the Emperor Nero 93. Epicharis, a freedwoman 94. Pompeia Paulina, wife of Seneca 95. Poppaea Sabina, wife of Nero 96. Triaria, wife of Lucius Vitellius 97. Proba, wife of Adelphus 98. Faustina Augusta 99. Symiamira, woman of Emesa 100. Zenobia, queen of Palmyra 101. Joan, an Englishwoman and Pope 102. Irene, Empress of Constantinople 103. Gualdrada, a Florentine maiden 104. Constance, Empress of Rome and queen of Sicily 105. Camiola, a Sienese widow 106. Joanna, queen of Jerusalem and Sicily