Born to a Neapolitan middle-class family, Basile was, during his career, a courtier and soldier to various Italian princes, including the doge of Venice. According to Benedetto Croce he was born in 1575, while other sources have February 1566. In Venice he began to write poetry. Later he returned to Naples to serve as a courtier under the patronage of Don Marino II Caracciolo, prince of Avellino. By the time of his death he had reached the rank of "count" Conte di Torrone. Basile's earliest known literary production is from 1604 in the form of a preface to the Vaiasseide of his friend the Neapolitan writer Giulio Cesare Cortese. The following year his villanella Smorza crudel amore was set to music and in 1608 he publish his poem Il Pianto della Vergine.
He is chiefly remembered for writing the collection of Neapolitan fairy tales titled Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille (Neapolitan for "The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones"), also known as Il Pentamerone published posthumously in two volumes by his sister Adriana in Naples, Italy in 1634 and 1636 under the pseudonym Gian Alesio Abbatutis. It later became known as the Pentamerone. Although neglected for some time, the work received a great deal of attention after the Brothers Grimm praised it highly as the first national collection of fairy tales.Many of these fairy tales are the oldest known variants in existence. They include the earliest known versions of "Rapunzel" and "Cinderella".