The first collection of biographies in Western literature devoted exclusively to women, Famous Women affords 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. Virginia Brown's acclaimed translation, commissioned for The I Tatti Renaissance Library, is the first English edition based on the autograph manuscript of the Latin.
In a pungent new translation by Virginia Brown, [Boccaccio's] famous women hold up very well indeed...The success of Famous Women suggests that [Renaissance] 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.
For good or evil, as wife, mother, or whore, these women have the splendor of clarity; their individual destinies are sharply defined.
Whatever his intentions--and it may be that feminism was a long-term outgrowth of the humanism that he pioneered--Boccaccio launched a lasting genre that urged women, as well as men, to reach for glory, and gave them examples to live by.
Virginia Brown is Senior Fellow, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto.