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Famous Women

Famous Women

Giovanni Boccaccio

Edited and translated by Virginia Brown

ISBN 9780674003477

Publication date: 04/26/2001

After the composition of the Decameron, and under the influence of Petrarch’s humanism, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) devoted the last decades of his life to compiling encyclopedic works in Latin. Among them is Famous Women, the first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women.

The 106 women whose life stories make up this volume range from the exemplary to the notorious, from historical and mythological figures to Renaissance contemporaries. In the hands of a master storyteller, these brief biographies afford a fascinating glimpse of a moment in history when medieval attitudes toward women were beginning to give way to more modern views of their potential.

Famous Women, which Boccaccio continued to revise and expand until the end of his life, became one of the most popular works in the last age of the manuscript book, and had a signal influence on many literary works, including Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Castiglione’s Courtier. This edition presents the first English translation based on the autograph manuscript of the Latin.


  • In 1362, Boccaccio…wrote specifically ‘for the ladies,’ this time in Latin…[on] a subject as stately as the city’s soaring ruins and luminous marble statues: “Famous Women”…(biographies of 106 women, beginning with “Eve Our First Mother” and ending with the monarch to whose lady-in-waiting he dedicated the book, Queen Joanna “of Sicily and Jerusalem”)… In a pungent new translation by Virginia Brown, [Boccaccio’s] famous women hold up very well indeed. This beautiful little book…spearheads a new publication program designed to make accessible important works of Renaissance Latin to modern readers…the success of Famous Women suggests that the ladies read their Boccaccio as we are invited to read him: with forbearance for his foibles and delight in the tales he tells with such gusto and skill.

    —Ingrid D. Rowland, New York Times Book Review


  • Virginia Brown is Senior Fellow, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto.

Book Details

  • 560 pages
  • 5-1/4 x 8 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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