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De casibus is an encyclopedia of historical biography and a part of the classical tradition of historiography. It deals with the fortunes and calamities of famous people starting with the biblical Adam, going to mythological and ancient people, then to people of Boccaccio's own time in the fourteenth century. The work was so successful it spawned what has been referred to as the De casibus tradition, influencing many other famous authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, John Lydgate, and Laurent de Premierfait. De casibus also inspired character figures in works like The Canterbury Tales,The Monk's Tale, the Fall of Princes (c. 1438),Des cas de nobles hommes et femmes (c. 1409), and Caida de principles (a fifteenth-century Spanish collection), and A Mirror for Magistrates (a very popular sixteenth-century continuation written by William Baldwin and others).
Boccaccio wrote the core of his work from about 1355 to 1360 with revisions and modifications up to 1374. For almost four hundred years this work was the better known of his material. The forceful written periodic Latin work was far more widely read then the now famous vernacularTuscan/Italian tales of Decameron. The Renaissance period saw the secular biography development which was spearheaded partly by the success of this work being a stimulus and driving force of the new biography-moral genre.
Boccaccio's perspective focuses on the disastro awaiting all who are too favoured by luck and on the inevitable catastrophes awaiting those with great fortune. He offers a moral commentary on overcoming misfortune by adhering to virtue through a moral God's world. Here the monastic chronicle tradition combines with the classical ideas of Senecan tragedy.
De casibus stems from the tradition of exemplary literature works about famous people. It showed with the lives of these people that it was not only biographies, but also snapshots of their moral virtues. Boccaccio relates biographies of famous people that were at the height of happiness and fell to misfortune when they least expected it. This sad event is sometimes referred to as a "de casibus tragedy" after this work. William Shakespeare created characters based on this phenomenon, as did Christopher Marlowe.
In order, directly translated from Latin edition.
^Vittorio Zaccaria, Introduzione, in Giovanni Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium volume 9 of Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio under guidance of Pier Giorgio Ricci and Vittorio Zaccaria, ed. Vittore Branca, 12 volumes I Classici Mondadori (Milan:Arnoldo Mondadori editor, 1983)
^Louis Brewer Hall, "Introduction," De casibus illustrium virorum (Gainesville: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1962), v.