Giovanni Boccaccio would be a more than appropriate figure to assume the honorary status of Patron Saint of the First Amendment. If, that is, he had not lived well before America, the Constitution or the very idea of freedom of speech ever...
Giovanni Boccaccio was born to a Tuscan merchant, Boccaccio di Chellino and an unidentified mother who was probably French in the summer of 1313. He had an unhappy childhood in Florence, mostly because Boccaccio's father had no intention of humoring his son's literary inclinations. Boccaccio's father sent him to Naples in 1328 to study business, and while there he learned about the aristocracy of the commercial world, as well as the chivalry and feudalism that were deeply intertwined with it. Boccaccio fell in love with Fiammetta while he lived in Naples, and the character of Fiammetta in The Decameron resembles the Fiammetta in Boccaccio's life.
After the bankruptcy of Bardi, the merchant that Boccaccio worked under, Boccaccio returned to Florence and lived a life full of difficulty and poverty. He did, however, bring with him a collection of completed work: "Diana's Hunt," his earliest work, and "The Love Afflicted," and "The Love Struck." Love and chivalry feature prominently in the stories, not unlike most stories at the time. Boccaccio's work stood out from the rest because of the way he incorporated his own observations of everyday life, as well as his beautiful and ornamental Italian. His works were an inspiration for Chaucer and Shakespeare, speaking to the value and timelessness of his work.
He struggled to be financially stable, and he little is known of his life in the period after his return to Florence. Boccaccio lived in Florence during the Black Death in 1348, which is an underlying theme in The Decameron. Boccaccio most likely wrote The Decameron from 1348 - 1353, and it is considered his masterpiece. While working on The Decameron, Boccaccio was appointed as the Florentine ambassador to the lords of Romagna in 1350, municipal councillor and also ambassador to Louis, duke of Bavaria, in the Tirol in 1351; and ambassador to Pope Innocent VI in 1354.
During Boccaccio's later years, he viewed Petrarch as his master after meeting him in Florence in 1350. Through an exchange of knowledge, ideas, and materials, the two of them laid the foundations for humanism. He was a founding father of humanism and a Renaissance man. He attempted to rediscover and reinterpret ancient texts, but also improve literature in modern languages by setting standards for it. As one source says about Boccaccio and the Renaissance, "the literary culmination of the Italian Renaissance would be historically incomprehensible" without Boccaccio.
As he became weaker physically, Boccaccio began living an increasingly austere life, and he nearly burned his library - fortunately he was dissuaded by Petrarch from doing so. Boccaccio accomplished all of this while living an impoverished life, and he was only able to support himself by transcribing his own works or those of others. In 1363, he retired to the village of Certaldo out of poverty, and in 1373 he began readings of Dante's Divine Comedy. His health continued to decline, and in 1375, Boccaccio died.