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Petrarch

Petrarch

The Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374), or Francesco Petrarca, is best known for the Iyric poetry of his Canzoniere and is considered one of the greatest love poets of world literature. A scholar of classical antiquity, he was the founder of humanism.

Petrarch has been called the first modern man. He observed the external world and analyzed his own interior life with a new awareness of values. Painfully conscious of human transience, he felt it his mission to bridge the ages and to save the classical authors from the ravages of time for posterity. He also longed for fame and for permanence in the future. Petrarch attained a vast direct knowledge of classical texts, subjecting them to critical evaluation and prizing them as an expression of the living human spirit. His attitude provided the first great stimulus to the cultural movement that culminated in the Renaissance.

Petrarch's life was marked by restlessness, yet one of its constant motives was his devotion to cherished friends. Equally constant was an unresolved interior conflict between the attractions of earthly life, particularly love and glory, and his aspirations toward higher religious goals.

Early Years and Education

Petrarch was born on July 20, 1304, in Arezzo, where his family was living in political exile. His parents were the Florentine notary Ser Petracco and Eletta Canigiani. His childhood was spent at Incisa and Pisa until 1312, when his family moved to Avignon, then the papal residence. A housing shortage there obliged Petrarch, his younger brother Gherardo, and their mother to settle in nearby Carpentras, where he began to study grammar and rhetoric. Beginning in 1316, Petrarch pursued legal studies at the University of Montpellier. But already he preferred classical poets to the study of law. During one surprise visit Petrarch's father discovered some hidden books and began to burn them; however, moved by his son's pleading, he spared Cicero's Rhetoric and a copy of Virgil from the fire. About this time Petrarch's mother died.

In 1320 Petrarch and Gherardo went to Bologna to attend the law schools. They remained in Bologna—with two interruptions caused by student riots—until their father's death in 1326. Free to pursue his own interests, Petrarch then abandoned law and participated in the fashionable social life of Avignon.

Laura and the Canzoniere

On April 6, 1327, in the church of St. Clare, Petrarch saw and fell in love with the young woman whom he called Laura. She did not return his love. The true identity of Laura is not known; there is, however, no doubt regarding her reality or the intensity of the poet's passion, which endured after her death as a melancholy longing. Petrarch composed and revised the love lyrics inspired by Laura until his very last years. The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarum fragmenta, contains 366 poems (mostly sonnets, with a few canzoni and compositions in other meters) and is divided into two sections: the first is devoted to Laura in life (1-263) and the second to Laura in death (264-366). Petrarch became a model for Italian poets. The influence of his art and introspective sensibility was felt for more than 3 centuries in all European literatures.

When the income of Petrarch's family was depleted, he took the four Minor Orders required for an ecclesiastical career, and in the fall of 1330 he entered the service of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna. In 1333, motivated by intellectual curiosity, Petrarch traveled to Paris, Flanders (where he discovered two of Cicero's unknown orations), and Germany. Upon returning to Avignon, he met the Augustinian scholar Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro, who directed him toward a greater awareness of the importance of Christian patristic literature. Until the end of his life, Petrarch carried with him a tiny copy of St. Augustine's Confessions, a gift from Dionigi. In 1336 Petrarch climbed Mt. Ventoux in Provence; on the summit, opening the Confessions at random, he read that men admire mountains and rivers and seas and stars, yet neglect themselves. He described this experience in spiritual terms in a letter that he wrote to Dionigi (Familiares IV, 1).

Major Works in Latin

Petrarch's reputation as a man of letters and the canonries to which he was appointed at various times assured him the ease and freedom necessary for his studies and writing. He participated during this period in the polemic concerning the papal residence, expressing in two Epistolae metricae his conviction that the papacy must return to Rome. Early in 1337 Petrarch visited Rome for the first time. The ancient ruins of the city deepened his admiration for the classical age. In the summer he returned to Avignon, where his son, Giovanni, had been born, and then went to live at Vaucluse (Fontaine-de-Vaucluse) near the source of the Sorgue River. There he led a life of solitude and simplicity, and he also conceived his major Latin works. In 1338 Petrarch began his De viris illustribus, and about that time he also started his Latin epic on Scipio Africanus, the Africa. In Vaucluse, Petrarch probably also worked on his Triumphus Cupidinis, a poetic "procession, " written in Italian, in which Cupid leads his captive lovers. In 1340 Petrarch received invitations simultaneously from Paris and Rome to be crowned as poet. He chose Rome. His coronation on April 8, 1341, was a personal victory and a triumph for art and knowledge as well.

Middle Years

On returning from Rome, Petrarch stopped at Parma. There, on the wooded plateau of Selvapiana, he continued his Africa with renewed inspiration. In April 1343, shortly after Petrarch had returned to Avignon, Gherardo became a Carthusian monk. That same year Petrarch's daughter, Francesca, was born. Gherardo's decision to become a monk deeply moved Petrarch, leading him to reexamine his own spiritual state. Though his Christian faith was unquestionably sincere, he felt incapable of his brother's renunciation. His inner conflict inspired the Secretuma dialogue in three books between St. Augustine and Petrarch. In it Petrarch expressed his awareness of his failure to realize his religious ideal and his inability to renounce the temporal values that motivated his life. That year Petrarch also began a treatise on the cardinal virtues, Rerum memorandarum libri.

In the fall of 1343 Petrarch went to Naples on a diplomatic mission for Cardinal Colonna. He recorded his travel impressions in several letters (Familiares V, 3, 6). Upon his return he stopped at Parma, hoping to settle at Selvapiana. But a siege of Parma by Milanese and Mantuan troops forced him to flee to Verona in February 1345. There, in the cathedral library, he discovered the first 16 books of Cicero's letters to Atticus and his letters to Quintus and Brutus. Petrarch personally transcribed them, and these letters of Cicero stimulated Petrarch to plan a formal collection of his own letters.

From 1345 to 1347 Petrarch lived at Vaucluse and undertook his De vita solitaria and the Bucolicum carmen the latter a collection of 12 Latin eclogues. Early in 1347 a visit to Gherardo's monastery inspired Petrarch to write his De otio religioso. In May of that year an event occurred in Rome that aroused his greatest enthusiasm. Cola di Rienzi, who shared Petrarch's fervent desire for the rebirth of Rome, gained control of the Roman government through a successful revolution. Petrarch encouraged Cola with his pen, exhorting him to persevere in his task of restoring Rome to its universal political and cultural missions. Petrarch then started out for Rome. But Cola's dictatorial acts soon brought down upon himself the hostility of the Pope and the antagonism of the Roman nobles. News of Cola's downfall, before the year was over, prompted Petrarch to write his famous letter of reproach (Familiares VII, 7), which tells of his bitter disillusionment.

The Black Death and Milanese Period

Rather than proceed to Rome, Petrarch remained in Parma, where in May 1348 news of Laura's death reached him. The Black Death deprived Petrarch of several of his close friends that year, among them Cardinal Colonna. His grief is reflected in the poems he then wrote to Laura and in his letters of this period, one of the most desolate letters being addressed to himself (Ad se ipsum). Three eclogues and the Triumphus mortis (following the Triumph of Love and the Triumph of Chastity) were also inspired by the pestilence.

Because of the losses Petrarch had suffered, a period of his life seemed to have ended. In 1350 he began to make the formal collection of his Latin prose letters called Familiares. Since 1350 was a Year of Jubilee, Petrarch also made a pilgrimage to Rome. On his way he stopped in Florence, where he made new friends, among whom was Giovanni Boccaccio. After a brief stay in Rome, Petrarch returned northward and arrived in Parma in January 1351. In the meantime, Pope Clement VI was soliciting Petrarch's return to Avignon, and Florence sent Boccaccio with a letter of invitation promising Petrarch a professorship at the university and the restitution of his father's property. Petrarch chose Provence, where he hoped to complete some of his major works. He arrived in Vaucluse in June 1351, accompanied by his son. In Avignon that August he refused a papal secretaryship and a bishopric offered to him. Petrarch was impatient to leave the papal "Babylon" and wrote a series of violent letters against the Curia (Epistolae sine nomine).

In the spring of 1352, Petrarch returned to Vaucluse, resolved to leave Provence. The following spring, after visiting Gherardo, he crossed the Alps and greeted Italy (Epistolae metricae III, 24). For 8 years he stayed in Milan under the patronage of Giovanni Visconti and later Galeazzo II Visconti, enjoying seclusion and freedom for study while using his pen to urge peace among Italian cities and states. He worked on the Canzoniere, took up old works (De viris illustribus), and began the treatise De remediis utriusque fortunae. Petrarch was also entrusted with diplomatic missions that brought him into direct relationship with heads of state, including the emperor Charles IV.

Padua, Venice, and Arquà

In June 1361 Petrarch went to Padua because the plague (which took the life of his son and the lives of several friends) had broken out in Milan. In Padua he terminated the Familiares and initiated a new collection, Seniles. In the fall of 1362 Petrarch settled in Venice, where he had been given a house in exchange for the bequest of his library to the city. From Venice he made numerous trips until his definitive return to Padua in 1368. During this period a controversy with several Averroists gave rise to an Invective on his own ignorance.

Petrarch's Paduan patron, Francesco da Carrara, gave him some land at Arquà in the Euganean Hills near Padua. There Petrarch built a house to which he retired in 1370. He received friends, studied, and wrote, and there his daughter, Francesca, now married, joined him with her family. Despite poor health, Petrarch attempted a trip to Rome in 1370, but he had to turn back at Ferrara. Except for a few brief absences, Petrarch spent his last years at Arquà, working on the Seniles and on the Canzoniere, for the latter of which he wrote a concluding canzone to the Virgin Mary. The Posteritati, a biographical letter intended to terminate the Seniles, remained incomplete at Petrarch's death. He revised his four Triumphs (of Love, Chastity, Death, and Fame), adding two more (of Time and of Eternity). Petrarch died on the night of July 18/19, 1374, and he was ceremonially buried beside the church of Arquà.

Further Reading

The major critical biography of Petrarch is Ernest H. Wilkins, Life of Petrarch (1961). A more entertaining work is Morris Bishop, Petrarch and His World (1963). A standard study of Petrarch's poetry is Ernest H. Wilkins, The Making of the "Canzoniere" and Other Petrarchan Studies (1951). Petrarch's correspondence can be studied in James H. Robinson and Henry W. Rolfe, Petrarch: The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898; rev. ed. 1914); Ernest H. Wilkins, Petrach's Correspondence (1960); and Morris Bishop, Letters (1966). □

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Petrarch (1304–1374)

Petrarch (13041374)

Italian poet and scholar who idealized the classical world and introduced a new, humanist sensibility to the secular literature of Italy. Born in Arezzo, in Tuscany, he was the son of a notary of Florence who had been exiled from the city. In 1312, the family moved to Avignon, the city of southern France that was serving as the seat of the Catholic popes. He studied at the University of Montpellier, also in France, and the University of Bologna, where he trained as a lawyer. His interest in poetry was strongly discouraged by his father, who on one occasion seized and burned several volumes of ancient Latin authors found in his son's possession.

After the death of his father Petrarch gave up the study of law and returned to Avignon. In 1330 he joined the household of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, a member of an aristocratic Roman family. Granted the freedom to travel and study, Petrarch journeyed to France, Germany, and the Low Countries in 1333, searching in churches, libraries, and monasteries for forgotten classical manuscripts. He began writing poetry and in 1342 produced a set of sonnets and canzoni (songs) in a volume entitled Canzoniere, a collection that would grow to nearly four hundred poems in a variety of formssonnets, ballads, and madrigalsthrough several later revisions. In his early works Petrarch describes a mysterious and distant love, Laura, whom he had first seen in 1327 in Avignon's Church of Saint Clare. Although his love was unrequited, the figure of Laura would haunt Petrarch's poems and letters for the rest of his life.

As his family was not wealthy, and he had no interest in public life or a career in the law, Petrarch took the vow of Holy Orders as a young man. His work as a representative and diplomat for Cardinal Colonna allowed him the freedom and the income to pursue his true interest: classical scholarship. He was one of the first medieval writers to closely study the ancient Roman authors and take these pagan writers seriously as a model for his own works and philosophy. In the late 1330s he was living the life of a hermit in the mountainous region of Vaucluse, in the French Alps, where he began working on scholarly and historical works, including the epic poem Africa on the career of the Roman general Scipio Africanus. In the meantime, the poems of Canzoniere won renown throughout Europe. In 1341, Petrarch was crowned as a poet laureate in Rome, becoming the first writer to enjoy this honor since the time of the Roman Empire.

Still in the service of the cardinal, Petrarch was sent on a mission to Naples in 1343. On his return to France, he traveled through Verona, where he discovered unknown letters of Cicero in the library of the cathedral. Transcribing the manuscripts, he deliberated on a collection of his own letters as a personal testament to his life and philosophy. Returning to Vaucluse, he wrote a biographical work, De Vita Solitaria (Of the Solitary Life). In the late 1340s the Black Death struck Europe, eventually killing many of Petrarch's friends and acquaintances, including Laura, the love of his life, as well as Cardinal Colonna and Petrarch's son Giovanni. The plague inspired The Triumph of Death, which he followed with The Triumph of Love and The Triumph of Chastity.

Although he had achieved fame as a scholar and poet, Petrarch found himself uninterested in the status or profit that would come with an important appointment. He turned down several offers of high posts in the Catholic Church and as a professor at the University of Avignon. Instead, he lived in Milan, where he enjoyed the patronage of Giovanni Visconti, the ruler of the city, and then in the city of Padua, where he also had the patronage of a nobleman and where he built a country house in which to live out his years.

Petrarch's important works in Latin include On Contempt for the Worldly Life, Metrical Epistles, On Solitude, and the Eclogues. He was the first author to find inspiration in Christian piety as well as classical scholarship; his life was devoted to balancing the intellectual life of a scholar and the spiritual pursuits of a man of the church. This outlook had great influence on other writers of Italy and Europe and looked forward to the humanism of Renaissance art and scholarship.

See Also: Dante Alighieri; humanism

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Petrarch

Petrarch (pē´trärk) or Francesco Petrarca (fränchĕs´kō pāträr´kä), 1304–74, Italian poet and humanist, one of the great figures of Italian literature. He spent his youth in Tuscany and Avignon and at Bologna. He returned to Avignon in 1326, may have taken lesser ecclesiastic orders, and entered the service of Cardinal Colonna, traveling widely but finding time to write numerous lyrics, sonnets, and canzoni. At Avignon in 1327 Petrarch first saw Laura, who was to inspire his great vernacular love lyrics. His verse won growing fame, and in 1341 he was crowned laureate at Rome. Petrarch's friendship with the republican Cola di Rienzi inspired the famous ode Italia mia. In 1348 both Laura and Colonna died of the plague, and in the next years Petrarch devoted himself to the cause of Italian unification, pleaded for the return of the papacy to Rome, and served the Visconti of Milan. In his last years Petrarch enjoyed great fame, and even after his death and ceremonial burial at Arquà his influence continued to spread. One of the greatest humanists, he was among the first to realize that Platonic thought and Greek studies provided a new cultural framework, and he helped to spread this Renaissance point of view through his criticism of scholasticism and through his wide correspondence and personal influence. His discovery of Latin manuscripts also furthered the new learning. In his Secretum, a dialogue, Petrarch revealed the conflict he felt between medieval asceticism and individual expression and glory. Yet in his poetry he ignored medieval courtly conventions and defined true emotions. In his portrait of Laura he surpassed the medieval picture of woman as a spiritual symbol and created the image of a real woman. He also perfected the sonnet form and is considered by many to be the first modern poet. He influenced contemporary historiography through his epic Africa, which brought attention to the virtues of the Roman republic. Petrarch had less pride in the "vulgar tongue" than in Latin, which he had mastered as a living language. Consequently he considered his Trionfi [triumphs] and the well-known lyrics of the Canzoniere [song book] less important than his Latin works, which include, besides Africa,Metrical Epistles,On Contempt for the Worldly Life,On Solitude,Eclogues, and the Letters. However, he reached poetic heights in both tongues, and his delicate, melodious, and dignified style became an important model for Italian literature for three centuries. Early translators of Petrarch's sonnets and songs include Chaucer, Spenser, Surrey, and Wyatt.

See his letters tr. by M. Bishop (1966); E. H. Wilkins, Life of Petrarch (1961) and Petrarch and the Renascence (1965). See studies by A. Scaglione (1976), S. Minta (1980), K. Foster (1987), and T. P. Roche, Jr. (1989).

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Petrarch

Petrarch (1304–74), Italian poet. His reputation is chiefly based on the Canzoniere (c.1351–3), a sonnet sequence in praise of a woman he calls Laura. Petrarch was also an important figure in the rediscovery of Greek and Latin literature; he wrote most of his works in Latin. In 1341 Petrarch was crowned Poet Laureate.

Petrarchan denotes a sonnet of the kind used by him, with an octave rhyming abbaabba, and a sestet typically rhyming cdcdcd or cdecde.

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Petrarch

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Petrarch (1304–1374)

PETRARCH
(13041374)

Petrarch, or Francesco Petrarca, the Italian humanist, poet, and scholar, was born in Arezzo into an exiled Florentine family. He was taken to Avignon in 1312, and there he spent most of his life until 1353, except for a period as a student of law at Montpellier and Bologna and several long journeys to Italy. After 1353 he lived in Italy, mainly in Milan, Venice, and Padua; he died in Arquà near Padua. Petrarch held several ecclesiastical benefices and also enjoyed the patronage of the Colonna and the Visconti.

Petrarch's fame rests first on his Italian poems and second on his work as a scholar and Latin writer. His Latin writings include poems, orations, invectives, historical works, a large body of letters, and a few moral treatises. Among the treatises we may mention especially De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae (On the remedies of good and bad fortune; 1366), De Secreto Conflictu Curarum Mearum, better known as Secretum (On the secret conflict of my worries; completed before 1358), De Vita Solitaria (On the solitary life; 1356), and De Sui Ipsius et Multorum Ignorantia (On his own and many other people's ignorance; 1367).

Petrarch was no philosopher in the technical sense, and even his treatises on moral subjects are loosely written and lack a firm structure or method. Much of his thought consists of tendencies and aspirations rather than of developed ideas or doctrines, and it is inextricably linked with his learning, reading, tastes, and feelings. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to underestimate Petrarch's impact on the history of Western thought. He was the first great representative of Renaissance humanism, if not its founder; as a poet, scholar, and personality, he had a vast reputation during his lifetime and for several subsequent centuries. In many ways he set the pattern for the taste, outlook, and range of interests that determined the thought of Renaissance humanism down to the sixteenth century. Petrarch was regarded, by himself and by his contemporaries, not only as a poet, orator, and historian but also as a moral philosopher, and many of his attitudes were to receive from some of his successors the intellectual and philosophical substance which they seem to lack in Petrarch's own work.

One important aspect of Petrarch's thought that was to be developed by many later humanists was his hostility toward Scholasticismthat is, the university learning of the later Middle Ages. He attacked astrology as well as logic and jurisprudence and dedicated entire works to criticizing the physicians and the Aristotelian philosophers. These attacks, though sweeping and suggestive, are highly personal and subjective and rarely enter into specific issues or arguments. When Petrarch rejects the authority of Aristotle or of his Arabic commentator Averroes, he does so from personal dislike, not from objective grounds; when he criticizes such theories as the eternity of the world, the attainment of perfect happiness during the present life, or the so-called theory of the double truth (that is, of the separate validity of Aristotelian philosophy and of Christian theology), his main argument is that these doctrines are contrary to the Christian religion.

Yet the positive value that Petrarch opposed to medieval science was neither a new science nor mere religious faith but the study of classical antiquity. All his life Petrarch was an avid reader of the ancient Latin writers; he copied, collected, and annotated their works and tried to correct their texts and appropriate their style and ideas. He felt a strong nostalgia for the political greatness of the Roman Republic and Empire, and the hope to restore this greatness was the central political idea that guided him in his dealings with the pope and the emperor, with the Roman revolutionary Cola di Rienzo, and with the various Italian governments of his time.

Of the ancient Latin writers, Cicero and Seneca were among Petrarch's favorites. His polemic against dialectic and other branches of scholastic learning and his emphasis on moral problems seem to be modeled after the more moderate skepticism which Seneca expresses in his Moral Epistles with reference to the subtle dialectic of the older Stoics. To Seneca, Petrarch owes his taste for moral declamation and the Stoic notions that appear in his writingsthe conflict between virtue and fortune, the contrast between reason and the four basic passions, and the close link between virtue and happiness. Even greater is Petrarch's enthusiasm for Cicero, to whom he owes the form of the dialogue and much of his information on Greek philosophy. We might even say that Petrarch and other humanists owe to their imitation of Cicero and Seneca not only the elegance of their style, but also the elusive and at times superficial manner of their reasoning.

Petrarch could not fail to notice the numerous references to Greek sources in the writings of his favorite Roman authors. He made an attempt to learn Greek, and although he did not progress far enough to read the ancient Greek writers in the original, his awareness of Greek philosophy and literature did affect his outlook and orientation. He owned a Greek manuscript of Plato and read the Timaeus and Phaedo, which were available to him in Latin translations. He also gathered information on Plato in Cicero and other Roman authors and cited some Platonic doctrines. However, more important than these occasional references to specific theories is Petrarch's general conviction that Plato was the greatest of all philosophers, greater than Aristotle, who had been the chief authority of the later medieval thinkers. "Plato is praised by the greater men, whereas Aristotle is praised by the greater number." In his Triumph of Fame, Petrarch places Plato before Aristotle, and his lines appear to be a conscious correction of the praise Dante had given to the "master of those who know." Petrarch's Platonism was a program rather than a doctrine, but it pointed the way to later humanist translations of Plato and to the Platonist thought of the Florentine Academy.

Petrarch assigned second place to Aristotle, but he was far from holding him in contempt. He knew especially Aristotle's Ethics, and he repeatedly suggested that the original Aristotle may be superior to his medieval translators and commentators. Petrarch thus pointed the way to a new attitude toward Aristotle that was to take shape in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Aristotle was to be studied in the original Greek text and in the company of other Greek philosophers and writers; his medieval Latin translations were to be replaced by new humanist translations, and his medieval Arabic and Latin commentators were to give way to the ancient Greek commentators and to those modern Renaissance interpreters who were able to read and understand Aristotle in his original text. Thus, Petrarch was the prophet of Renaissance Aristotelianism, as he had been of Renaissance Platonism.

Although Petrarch opposed the classical authors to the medieval tradition, he was by no means completely detached from his immediate past. Christian faith and piety occupy a central position in his thought and writings, and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity. Whenever a conflict between religion and ancient philosophy might arise, he is ready to stand by the teachings of the former. The Secretum, in which Petrarch subjects his most intimate feelings and actions to religious scrutiny, is a thoroughly Christian work, and his treatise De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae is equally Christian, even specifically medieval. His treatise De Otio Religioso (On the leisure of the monks) belongs to the ascetic tradition, and even Petrarch's polemic against Scholasticism in the name of a genuine and simple religion continues or resumes that strand of medieval religious thought which found expression in Peter Damian and St. Bernard. In his treatise on his ignorance, Petrarch goes so far as to oppose his own piety to the supposedly irreligious views of his scholastic opponents. This shows that it was at least possible to reject Scholasticism and remain a convinced Christian, and to reconcile classical learning with religious faith.

In accordance with this attitude, Petrarch liked to read the early Christian writers, especially the Church Fathers, along with the pagan classics but without the company of the scholastic theologians. His favorite Christian author was St. Augustine, who occupies a position of unique importance in his thought and work. Aside from numerous quotations scattered in Petrarch's writings, it is sufficient to mention two notable instances. Petrarch's Secretum takes the form of a dialogue between the author and St. Augustine, who thus assumes the role of a spiritual guide or of the author's conscience. And in the famous letter in which Petrarch describes climbing Mont Ventoux, he expresses his feelings by a quotation on which his eyes chanced to fall in his copy of Augustine's Confessions: "And men go to admire the high mountains, the vast floods of the sea, the huge streams of the rivers, the circumference of the ocean, and the revolutions of the starsand desert themselves" (Confessions x, 8, 15).

Besides these and a few other general attitudes, there is at least one theoretical problem on which Petrarch formulates views akin to those of many later humanists. He keeps asserting that man and his problems should be the main object and concern of thought and philosophy. This is also the justification he gives for his emphasis on moral philosophy, and when he criticizes the scholastic science of his Aristotelian opponents, it is chiefly on the grounds that they raise useless questions and forget the most important problem, the human soul. This is also the gist of the words with which Petrarch describes his feelings when he had reached the top of Mont Ventoux. The words are Petrarch's, and they express his own ideas, but they are characteristically interwoven with quotations from Augustine and Seneca.

Petrarch expresses for the first time that emphasis on man which was to receive eloquent developments in the treatises of later humanists and to be given a metaphysical and cosmological foundation in the works of Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. This is the reason that the humanists were to adopt the name "humanities" (studia humanitatis ) for their studiesto indicate their significance for man and his problems. Yet behind Petrarch's tendency to set moral doctrine against natural science, there are also echoes of Seneca and St. Augustine and of Cicero's statement that Socrates had brought philosophy down from heaven to Earth. When Petrarch speaks of man and his soul, he refers at the same time to the blessed life and eternal salvation, adding a distinctly Christian overtone to his moral and human preoccupation. He thus comes to link the knowledge of man and the knowledge of God in a distinctly Augustinian fashion and also to discuss an important problem of scholastic philosophy that had its root in Augustine: the question of whether the will or the intellect is superior. In discussing this scholastic problem, Petrarch follows the Augustinian tradition, as other humanists and Platonists were to do after him, in deciding the question in favor of the will.

Petrarch, the great poet, writer, and scholar, is clearly an ambiguous and transitional figure when judged by his role in the history of philosophical thought. His thought consists in aspirations rather than developed ideas, but these aspirations were developed by later thinkers and were eventually transformed into more elaborate ideas. His intellectual program may be summed up in the formula that he uses once in the treatise on his ignorance: Platonic wisdom, Christian dogma, Ciceronian eloquence. His classical culture, his Christian faith, and his attack against Scholasticism all have a personal, and in a way modern, quality. At the same time everything he says is pervaded by his classical sources and often by residual traces of medieval thought. In this respect, as in many others, Petrarch is a typical representative of his age and of the humanist movement. He did not merely anticipate later Renaissance developments because he was unusually talented or perceptive; he also had an active share in bringing them about, because of the enormous prestige he enjoyed among his contemporaries and immediate successors.

See also Aristotelianism; Aristotle; Augustine, St.; Augustinianism; Averroes; Bernard of Clairvaux, St.; Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Dante Alighieri; Dialectic; Dogma; Florentine Academy; Humanism; Medieval Philosophy; Patristic Philosophy; Peter Damian; Pico della Mirandola, Count Giovanni; Plato; Platonism and the Platonic Tradition; Renaissance; Seneca, Lucius Annaeus; Stoicism.

Bibliography

works by petrarch

Petrarch's Italian poems have been printed in numerous editions and translations; see also Roberto Weiss, Un inedito Petrarchesco (Rome, 1950). Of the Edizione nazionale of his collected works only six volumes have appeared, containing his poem Africa, a part of his lettersLe familiari, edited by V. Rossi and U. Bosco, 4 vols. (Florence: Sansoni, 19331942)and the Rerum Memorandarum Libri, edited by Giuseppe Billanovich (Florence: Sansoni, 1943). See also K. Burdach, Aus Petrarcas aeltestem deutschen Schuelerkreise (Berlin, 1929); Petrarcas "Buch ohne Namen" und die päpstliche Kurie, edited by P. Piur (Halle, Germany: Niemeyer, 1925); and Petrarcas Briefwechsel mit deutschen Zeitgenossen, edited by P. Piur (Berlin: Weidmann, 1933).

The collection of Prose, edited by G. Martellotti et al. (Milan and Naples, 1955), contains the Secretum, De Vita Solitaria, and selections from the invectives and other treatises. Le traité De Sui Ipsius et Multorum Ignorantia, edited by L. M. Capelli (Paris, 1906), is the only complete modern edition of this important treatise. For many other Latin works of Petrarch the old edition of his works, Opera (Basel, 1581), must still be used. See also Scritti inediti, edited by A. Hortis (Trieste, 1874).

English translations are available for the Secret, translated by William H. Draper (London, 1911); The Life of Solitude, translated by Jacob Zeitlin (Urbana, IL, 1924); On His Own Ignorance, translated by H. Nachod, who added the letter on the ascent of Mont Ventoux and excellent notes, in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, edited by Ernst Cassirer, Paul Oskar Kristeller, and John H. Randall Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 36133; the Testament, translated by Theodor E. Mommsen (Ithaca, NY, 1957); and for many lettersPetrarch, the First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters, 2nd ed., translated by James Harvey Robinson (New York, 1907), Petrarch's Letters to Classical Authors, translated by Mario E. Cosenza (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1910), and Petrarch at Vaucluse, translated by Ernest H. Wilkins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

works on petrarch

From the vast literature on Petrarch only a few works can be mentioned; for a bibliography, see N. Sapegno, Il trecento (Milan, 1948). For Petrarch's life and works see Edward H. R. Tatham, Francesco Petrarca, 2 vols. (London, 19251926); U. Bosco, Petrarca (Turin, 1946); Morris Bishop, Petrarch and His World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963); and, above all, numerous books and articles by Ernest H. Wilkins: Studies in the Life and Works of Petrarch (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1955), Petrarch's Eight Years in Milan (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1958), Petrarch's Later Years (Cambridge, MA: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1959), Petrarch's Correspondence (Padua, 1960), and Life of Petrarch (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961).

For Petrarch as a scholar see Pierre de Nolhac, Pétrarque et l'humanisme, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (Paris, 1907), and "de Patrum et Medii Aevi Scriptorum Codicibus in Bibliotheca Petrarcae Olim Collectis," in Revue des bibliothèques 2 (1892): 241279; numerous studies by Giuseppe Billanovich, especially Petrarca letterato, Vol. I, Lo scrittoio del Petrarca (Rome, 1947), and "Petrarch and the Textual Tradition of Livy," in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 14 (1951): 137208. See also J. H. Whitfield, Petrarch and the Renascence (Oxford: Blackwell, 1943).

For Petrarch's political thought see Theodor E. Mommsen, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, edited by Eugene F. Rice (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1959); Aldo S. Bernardo, Petrarch, Scipio and the Africa (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1962); Jules Alan Wein, Petrarch's Politics (unpublished thesis, Columbia University, 1960); and Mario E. Cosenza, Petrarch and the Revolution of Cola di Rienzo (Chicago, 1913).

For Petrarch's religious and philosophical ideas see Armando Carlini, Il pensiero filosofico religioso di Francesco Petrarca (Iesi, Italy, 1904); Elena Razzoli, Agostinismo e religiosità del Petrarca (Milan, 1937); P. P. Gerosa, L'umanesimo agostiniano del Petrarca (Turin, 1927); K. Heitmann, Fortuna und Virtus (Cologne, 1958); William Granger Ryan, Humanism and Religion in Petrarch (unpublished thesis, Columbia University, 1950); and N. Iliescu, Il canzoniere petrarchesco e Sant'Agostino (Rome, 1962).

Paul Oskar Kristeller (1967)

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Petrarch (1304–1374)

Petrarch (1304–1374)

Petrarch (1304–1374), Italian poet. Francesco Petrarca is best known for the lyric poetry of his Canzoniere and is considered one of the greatest love poets of world literature. A scholar of classical antiquity, he was the founder of humanism.

Petrarch has been called the first modern man. He observed the external world and analyzed his own interior life with a new awareness of values. Painfully conscious of human transience, he felt it his mission to bridge the ages and to save the classical authors from the ravages of time for posterity. He also longed for fame and for permanence in the future. Petrarch attained a vast direct knowledge of classical texts, subjecting them to critical evaluation and prizing them as an expression of the living human spirit. His attitude provided the first great stimulus to the cultural movement that culminated in the Renaissance.

Petrarch's life was marked by restlessness, yet one of its constant motives was his devotion to cherished friends. Equally constant was an unresolved interior conflict between the attractions of earthly life, particularly love and glory, and his aspirations toward higher religious goals.


Early Years and Education. Petrarch was born on July 20, 1304, in Arezzo, where his family was living in political exile. His parents were the Florentine notary Ser Petracco and Eletta Canigiani. His childhood was spent at Incisa and Pisa until 1312, when his family moved to Avignon, then the papal residence. A housing shortage there obliged Petrarch, his younger brother Gherardo, and their mother to settle in nearby Carpentras, where he began to study grammar and rhetoric. Beginning in 1316, Petrarch pursued legal studies at the University of Montpellier. But already he preferred classical poets to the study of law. During one surprise visit Petrarch's father discovered some hidden books and began to burn them; however, moved by his son's pleading, he spared Cicero's Rhetoric and a copy of Virgil from the fire. About this time Petrarch's mother died.

In 1320 Petrarch and Gherardo went to Bologna to attend the law schools. They remained in Bologna—with two interruptions caused by student riots—until their father's death in 1326. Free to pursue his own interests, Petrarch then abandoned law and participated in the fashionable social life of Avignon.


Laura and the Canzoniere . On April 6, 1327, in the church of St. Clare, Petrarch saw and fell in love with the young woman whom he called Laura. She did not return his love. The true identity of Laura is not known; there is, however, no doubt regarding her reality or the intensity of the poet's passion, which endured after her death as a melancholy longing. Petrarch composed and revised the love lyrics inspired by Laura until his very last years. The Canzoniere, or Rerum vulgarum fragmenta, contains 366 poems (mostly sonnets, with a few canzoni and compositions in other meters) and is divided into two sections: the first is devoted to Laura in life (1–263) and the second to Laura in death (264–366). Petrarch became a model for Italian poets. The influence of his art and introspective sensibility was felt for more than 3 centuries in all European literatures.

When the income of Petrarch's family was depleted, he took the four Minor Orders required for an ecclesiastical career, and in the fall of 1330 he entered the service of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna. In 1333, motivated by intellectual curiosity, Petrarch traveled to Paris, Flanders (where he discovered two of Cicero's unknown orations), and Germany. Upon returning to Avignon, he met the Augustinian scholar Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro, who directed him toward a greater awareness of the importance of Christian patristic literature. Until the end of his life, Petrarch carried with him a tiny copy of St. Augustine's Confessions, a gift from Dionigi. In 1336 Petrarch climbed Mt. Ventoux in Provence; on the summit, opening the Confessions at random, he read that men admire mountains and rivers and seas and stars, yet neglect themselves. He described this experience in spiritual terms in a letter that he wrote to Dionigi (Familiares IV, 1).


Major Works in Latin. Petrarch's reputation as a man of letters and the canonries to which he was appointed at various times assured him the ease and freedom necessary for his studies and writing. He participated during this period in the polemic concerning the papal residence, expressing in two Epistolae metricae his conviction that the papacy must return to Rome. Early in 1337 Petrarch visited Rome for the first time. The ancient ruins of the city deepened his admiration for the classical age. In the summer he returned to Avignon, where his son, Giovanni, had been born, and then went to live at Vaucluse (Fontainede-Vaucluse) near the source of the Sorgue River. There he led a life of solitude and simplicity, and he also conceived his major Latin works. In 1338 Petrarch began his De viris illustribus, and about that time he also started his Latin epic on Scipio Africanus, the Africa. In Vaucluse, Petrarch probably also worked on his Triumphus Cupidinis, a poetic "procession," written in Italian, in which Cupid leads his captive lovers. In 1340 Petrarch received invitations simultaneously from Paris and Rome to be crowned as poet. He chose Rome. His coronation on April 8, 1341, was a personal victory and a triumph for art and knowledge as well.

Middle Years. On returning from Rome, Petrarch stopped at Parma. There, on the wooded plateau of Selvapiana, he continued his Africa with renewed inspiration. In April 1343, shortly after Petrarch had returned to Avignon, Gherardo became a Carthusian monk. That same year Petrarch's daughter, Francesca, was born. Gherardo's decision to become a monk deeply moved Petrarch, leading him to reexamine his own spiritual state. Though his Christian faith was unquestionably sincere, he felt incapable of his brother's renunciation. His inner conflict inspired the Secretum a dialogue in three books between St. Augustine and Petrarch. In it Petrarch expressed his awareness of his failure to realize his religious ideal and his inability to renounce the temporal values that motivated his life. That year Petrarch also began a treatise on the cardinal virtues, Rerum memorandarum libri.

In the fall of 1343 Petrarch went to Naples on a diplomatic mission for Cardinal Colonna. He recorded his travel impressions in several letters (Familiares V, 3, 6). Upon his return he stopped at Parma, hoping to settle at Selvapiana. But a siege of Parma by Milanese and Mantuan troops forced him to flee to Verona in February 1345. There, in the cathedral library, he discovered the first 16 books of Cicero's letters to Atticus and his letters to Quintus and Brutus. Petrarch personally transcribed them, and these letters of Cicero stimulated Petrarch to plan a formal collection of his own letters.

From 1345 to 1347 Petrarch lived at Vaucluse and undertook his De vita solitaria and the Bucolicumcarmen the latter a collection of 12 Latin eclogues. Early in 1347 a visit to Gherardo's monastery inspired Petrarch to write his De otio religioso. In May of that year an event occurred in Rome that aroused his greatest enthusiasm. Cola di Rienzi, who shared Petrarch's fervent desire for the rebirth of Rome, gained control of the Roman government through a successful revolution. Petrarch encouraged Cola with his pen, exhorting him to persevere in his task of restoring Rome to its universal political and cultural missions. Petrarch then started out for Rome. But Cola's dictatorial acts soon brought down upon himself the hostility of the Pope and the antagonism of the Roman nobles. News of Cola's downfall, before the year was over, prompted Petrarch to write his famous letter of reproach (Familiares VII, 7), which tells of his bitter disillusionment.


The Black Death and Milanese Period. Rather than proceed to Rome, Petrarch remained in Parma, where in May 1348 news of Laura's death reached him. The Black Death deprived Petrarch of several of his close friends that year, among them Cardinal Colonna. His grief is reflected in the poems he then wrote to Laura and in his letters of this period, one of the most desolate letters being addressed to himself (Ad se ipsum). Three eclogues and the Triumphus mortis (following the Triumph of Love and the Triumph of Chastity) were also inspired by the pestilence.

Because of the losses Petrarch had suffered, a period of his life seemed to have ended. In 1350 he began to make the formal collection of his Latin prose letters called Familiares. Since 1350 was a Year of Jubilee, Petrarch also made a pilgrimage to Rome. On his way he stopped in Florence, where he made new friends, among whom was Giovanni Boccaccio. After a brief stay in Rome, Petrarch returned northward and arrived in Parma in January 1351. In the meantime, Pope Clement VI was soliciting Petrarch's return to Avignon, and Florence sent Boccaccio with a letter of invitation promising Petrarch a professorship at the university and the restitution of his father's property. Petrarch chose Provence, where he hoped to complete some of his major works. He arrived in Vaucluse in June 1351, accompanied by his son. In Avignon that August he refused a papal secretaryship and a bishopric offered to him. Petrarch was impatient to leave the papal "Babylon" and wrote a series of violent letters against the Curia (Epistolae sine nomine).

In the spring of 1352, Petrarch returned to Vaucluse, resolved to leave Provence. The following spring, after visiting Gherardo, he crossed the Alps and greeted Italy (Epistolae metricae III, 24). For 8 years he stayed in Milan under the patronage of Giovanni Visconti and later Galeazzo II Visconti, enjoying seclusion and freedom for study while using his pen to urge peace among Italian cities and states. He worked on the Canzoniere, took up old works (De viris illustribus), and began the treatise De remediis utriusque fortunae. Petrarch was also entrusted with diplomatic missions that brought him into direct relationship with heads of state, including the emperor Charles IV.

Padua, Venice, and Arquà. In June 1361 Petrarch went to Padua because the plague (which took the life of his son and the lives of several friends) had broken out in Milan. In Padua he terminated the Familiares and initiated a new collection, Seniles. In the fall of 1362 Petrarch settled in Venice, where he had been given a house in exchange for the bequest of his library to the city. From Venice he made numerous trips until his definitive return to Padua in 1368. During this period a controversy with several Averroists gave rise to an Invective on his own ignorance.

Petrarch's Paduan patron, Francesco da Carrara, gave him some land at Arquà in the Euganean Hills near Padua. There Petrarch built a house to which he retired in 1370. He received friends, studied, and wrote, and there his daughter, Francesca, now married, joined him with her family. Despite poor health, Petrarch attempted a trip to Rome in 1370, but he had to turn back at Ferrara. Except for a few brief absences, Petrarch spent his last years at Arquà, working on the Seniles and on the Canzoniere, for the latter of which he wrote a concluding canzone to the Virgin Mary. The Posteritati, a biographical letter intended to terminate the Seniles, remained incomplete at Petrarch's death. He revised his four Triumphs (of Love, Chastity, Death, and Fame), adding two more (of Time and of Eternity). Petrarch died on the night of July 18/19, 1374, and he was ceremonially buried beside the church of Arquà.

EWB

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