In his pastoral romance, ‘Ameto, ovvero Commedia delie ninfe fiorentine,’ Boccaccio set a fashion in literature, namely the intermingling for purposes of narration of prose and verse, in which he was followed a century and a half later by Pietro Bembo, the Socrates of Castiglione’s renaissance Symposium, in his dialogue on love entitled Gli Asolani, and by Jacopo Sannazzaro in his still more famous Arcadia. The Ameto is one of Boccaccio’s early compositions, written about 1341, after his return from Naples, but before he had gained his later mastery of language. It is not unfairly characterized by Symonds as ’a tissue of pastoral tales, descriptions, and versified interludes, prolix in style and affected with pedantic erudition.’ It is, however, possible to underrate its merits, and it would be easy to overlook its historical importance. Ameto is a rude hunter of the neighbourhood of Florence. One day, while in the woods, he discovers a company of nymphs resting by a stream, and overhears the song of the beautiful Lia. His rough nature is touched by the sweetness of the music and he falls in love with the singer. Their meetings are interrupted by the advent of winter, but he finds her again at the feast of Venus, when shepherds, fauns, and nymphs forgather at the temple of the goddess. In this company Lia proposes that each of the nymphs present, seven in number, shall narrate the story of her love. This they in turn do, each ending with a song of praise to the gods; and Ameto feels his love burn for each in turn as he listens to their tales. When the last has ended a sudden brightness shines around and ’there descended with wondrous noise a column of pure flame, even such as by night went before the Israelitish people in the desert places,’ Out of the brightness cornes the voice of Venus:
Io son luce del cielo unica
Principio e fine di ciascuna cosa,
Del quai men fu, ne fia nulla vicina.
Ameto, though half blinded by the heavenly effulgence, sees a new joy and beauty shine upon the faces of the nymphs, and understands that the flame-shrouded presence is that, not of the wanton mater cupidinum, but of the goddess of divine fire who comes to reveal to him the mysteries of love. Cleansed of his grosser nature by a baptismal rite, in which each of the nymphs performs some symbolic ceremonial, he feels heavenly love replacing human in his heart, and is able to bear undazzled the radiance of the divine purity. He salutes the goddess with a song:
O diva luce, quale in tre
Ed una essenza il ciel governi e ’l mondo
Con giusto amore ed eterna ragione,
Dando legge alle stelle, ed al ritondo
Moto del sole, principe di quelle,
Siccome discerniamo in questo fondo.