Giovanni Boccaccio was born in 1313 in Florence. He was the illegitimate son of a well-to-do merchant, Boccaccino di Chellino. The identity of his mother is unknown today, probably because Boccaccio was formally recognized and adopted by his father, and went to live with him. In 1319, Boccaccio's father married a young bride, Margherita dei Mardoli. When Giovanni was fourteen, his father was sent to Naples by a large Florentine banking company. He went with his father, and did not return to Florence until he was twenty-eight.
Although it is now his best-known work, the Decameron was only one of many works that Boccaccio wrote. Many of his early books were written during his years in the aristocratic circles at the court in Naples, including Caccia di Diana, Filocolo, Filostrato, and Teseida. His works earned him respect as a writer and an intellectual. As well, Boccaccio was familiar with a wide range of styles of writing, and did not limit himself to the classics, as many scholars of the time period did, including his friend Petrarch.
Bocaccio was as "familiar with historical tales, chivalric romances, certain types of sermons and the bawdy French fabliaux, as he was with Ovid and Homer". He also drew from literary tradition, and popular and oral literature. With such a vast knowledge of all types of storytelling, it is no wonder that Boccaccio managed to write a collection of tales which still entertains people today. The number of influences that he drew upon in his writing must have helped to increase the enjoyment of his readers, for there would be something for all to enjoy, even taking differing tastes into account.
Considering all of Boccaccio's prestige as a writer, he is often seen today as one of the early master storytellers. Indeed, the role of storyteller is one that Boccaccio consciously immersed himself in, even going so far as to change his name in order to enhance this role. His last name, Boccaccio, is slightly different from his father's, Boccaccino, and with purpose. The word "boccaccia" means "ugly mouth" and this can be seen as a metaphor for the many masks that a storyteller must wear.
As well, Boccaccio's stories in the Decameron are not always kind, sometimes quite the opposite; yet he tells the story nonetheless, no matter how unflattering it may be. We cannot know to what degree Boccaccio interpreted his assumed name, but it is likely that he would have included another of his name's connotations, "one who puts on masks".
It appears that Boccaccio was creative, determined, and personable. Although his father intended his son to become a merchant, Boccaccio had other ideas, and at age eighteen, managed to convince his father to let him leave the business. Boccaccino agreed on the condition that Giovanni agree to study canon law. The study of law required a strong knowledge of Latin, a language which Boccaccio was already fairly proficient. He spent much time at the royal library in Naples, and his charming personality must have enabled him to make useful connections, for he was befriended by the royal librarian, and became a regular visitor at the Angevin court. He was probably first introduced to the court by his friend Niccolò Acciaiuoli, who eventually became the seneschal for Catherine de Valois Courtenay.
Giovanni Boccaccio must have been comfortable consorting with the wealthy, privileged class, even with people with royal titles. However, as a bastard son with humble roots on his mother's side, Boccaccio may have been accepted by the lower ranks of society. This gave him an interesting place in society, for he was probably able to interact with people of all levels of income and education. His vast knowledge of the ways of life for people of all levels of society accounts for the wide range of characters in his masterpiece, the Decameron.