De Casibus Virorum Illustrium

De Casibus Virorum Illustrium
On the Fates of Famous Men

Illuminated recto from Parisian edition (1467)
Author(s) Giovanni Boccaccio
Language Latin
Date 13551374
Provenance Certaldo
Genre De viris illustribus

De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (On the Fates of Famous Men) is a work of 56 biographies in Latin prose composed by the Florentine poet Giovanni Boccaccio of Certaldo in the form of moral stories of the falls of famous people, similar to his work of 106 biographies On Famous Women.


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.[1] The work was so successful it spawned what has been referred to as the De casibus tradition,[2] influencing many other famous authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, John Lydgate, and Laurent de Premierfait.[3] De casibus also inspired character figures in works like The Canterbury Tales,[4] The Monk's Tale,[5] the Fall of Princes (c. 1438),[6] Des cas de nobles hommes et femmes (c. 1409),[7] 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).[8]


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 vernacular Tuscan/Italian tales of Decameron.[9] 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.[10] 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 snapshots of their moral virtues.[11] 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.[12]

Lives recounted

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In order, directly translated from Latin edition.[13]

Book One

Book Two

Book Three

Book Four

Book Five

Book Six

Book Seven

Book Eight

See also


Primary sources

Secondary sources


  1. History of Tragedy
  2. Narrative, Authority, and Power: The Medieval Exemplum and the Chaucerian by Larry Scanlon, p. 119, Cambridge University Press (1994), ISBN 0-521-04425-1
  3. Alan Coates, et al., A Catalogue of Books Printed in the Fifteenth Century now in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 596-617. ISBN 0-19-951373-2
  4. Chaucer's influences
  5. JSTOR: The Mediaeval Setting of Chaucer's Monk's Tale
  6. Richard A. Dwyer, "Arthur's Stellification in the Fall of Princes" Philological Quarterly, 57 (1978), pp. 155-171
  7. The Literary Encyclopedia
  8. 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)
  9. Louis Brewer Hall, "Introduction," De casibus illustrium virorum (Gainesville: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1962), v.
  10. De casibus virorum illustrium (work by Boccaccio) -- Britannica
  11. Medieval France: An Encyclopedia By William W. Kibler, p. 129, Routledge Publisher (1995), Paris, ISBN 0-8240-4444-4
  12. Medieval tragedy
  13. Giovanni Boccaccio, Tutte le opere Vol. 9: De casibus virorum illustrium ed. trans. V. Zaccarria (La Scuola: Mondadori, 1983).
  14. Laurent de Premierfait: The Translator of Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium
  15. The Manuscripts of Laurent de Premierfait's 'Du Cas des Nobles' (Boccaccio's 'De Casibus Virorum Illustrium')
  16. The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism - Cambridge University
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