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Date:    Sat, 13 May 1995 14:34:22 -0800
From:    "jules n. binoculas" (p00518@PSILINK.COM)
Subject: Petrarch (1304-74) bio

_Reader's Companion to World Literature_
by Hornstein, Percy, Brown
Mentor/Penguin Group
ISBN: 0-451-62816-0

PETRARCH, FRANCESCO: Italian poet and scholar (Italian: Petrarea;

Petrarch was born in Arezzo, where his family had moved after being
expelled from Florence by the same enemies and the same decree that
exiled their friend Dante.

Soon after Petrarch's birth, the family settled in Avignon, where the
self-exiled Papal Court was established.  Petrarch's career was largely
determined by this cosmopolitan city, and, although it is inaccurate to
call any one place his permanent residence, he kept returning to
Avignon's suburbs all his life.

After studying law at Montpelier and Bologna, he abandoned it for
literature.  In order to be eligible for appointment to religious
benifices, he took minor clerical orders, but to secure the comforts of
life, he relied primarliy on his genius for friendship, and his
reputation as a writer.  And justifiably so.

He became the idol of aristocratic society, who felt honored by his
presence.  Kings, princes, and popes vied for the distinction of having
him in their retinue or in their dominions.  They placed at his
disposal their homes and every luxury they could offer.

And when Petrarch became restless, as he often did, these patrons
provided the means for his numerous comings and goings.  These trips --
to Gascony, Paris, the Netherlands, the Rhineland, Bohemia, Northern
Italy, Rome -- broadened his horizons.

But it was Rome, with its ancient monuments and sacred relics, that
really stirred him.  His first visit (1337) made him realize how much
he loved Italy.  He had never lived in Florence and felt none of the
local attachment which was the core of Dante's patriotism.  As an
outsider from Avignon, Petrarch could love Italy as a whole, and
particularly Rome -- symbol of Italy's traditional glories.

When he received two invitations on the same day -- one from Paris, one
from Rome -- to accept the poet's crown of laurel, he of course chose
Rome, home of Cicero and Vergil, eloquent monument of the ancient
empire and center of Christianity.

A revived Rome -- from which would radiate a new Golden Age, thus
unifying Italy -- was Petrarch's dream.  But neither the Emperor at
Prague, nor the Pope at Avignon shared his enthusiasms.  The rebel
tribune Cole di Rienzo, whom Petrarch vigorously supported during his
brief period of political activity, failed to remain in power.

Petrarch's first literary fame was won by his Italian verses, most of
them inspired by his passion for Laura.  But about Laura we cannot be
sure.  Was she the wife of Hugues de Sade?  Was she the sole object of
his "keen but constant and pure attachment"?  Was there in fact a lady
Laura at all -- or is she an abstraction for the laurel crown which
Petrarch so avidly sought?

Was Petrarch merely following a troubadour tradition solidified by
Dante's idealization of Beatrice?  According to his own account, he had
seen her for the first time in his early twenties, in church, on Good
Friday, 1327; she was destined to die on the very same day 21 years
later, in the plague of 1348.

When he first knew her, she was already married.  (We do know that she
was not the mother of Petrarch's two illegitimate children.)  In any
event, Petrarch says that his first sight of Laura made him a poet.
And his primary poetic theme is hopeless love, a spiritualized passion
for the unattainable.

Through most of his life, Petrarch kept writing and rearranging the
verses for Laura in LIfe and Laura in Death, a total of 366 poems.  They
are in varied forms.  The sonnets, which form the majority, have been
described as the most polished verses in western European literature.

There can be no doubt that their form is perfect, but their lasting
appeal comes from the combination of form and content.  Petrarch is
permanently in the center of the stage, exploring indefatigably all the
delicate phenomena of his emotions.

His sentiments come from the discord between the senses and the soul,
the flesh and the spirit, the sensuality of his love and a mystic
acceptance of its spirituality.  His inner struggle between the
sensuous and the ascetic is reflected in subtleties and antitheses of

He does not fight or rebel against the conflict, but records it with
tender melancholy, in plaintive tones -- clear, sweet, with the
elegance of technical perfection.  The musical qualities are developed
with the greatest sensitivity.

No wonder the poems swept Europe and immortalized their author.  Their
mood, imagery, and rhyme scheme dominated literary circles for
centuries, and the names of Petrarch and Laura became symbols of
passionate love constrained by spirituality.  The sonnets are the only
works of Petrarch which are still widely read outside Italy.

Linguistically, his Italian provided supple and varied music; and since
the Renaissance he has been called "the father of the Italian
language," a title which he shares with two other Florentines, Dante
and Boccaccio.

Yet he always referred to these poems as his juvenile trifles, and was
convinced that literature worthy of the name must be written in Latin.
Expecting to be judged by students of classical Latin literature, he
believed his own Latin works to be his best claim to fame.  He was
wrong in more ways than one.

_Africa_, an epic poem in Latin hexameters, modeled on _The Aenied_,
and relating a triumph of Scipio over Carthage, was never completed and
never publicly circulated.  He must have realized that he had no real
talent for this sort of sustained heroic verse.

His Latin prose did, however, enjoy for a time a wide audience: The
_Lives of Illustrious Men (De viris illustribus_, 1338) is a collection
of 24 biographies of illustrious Romans whose combined lives make up a
history of Rome.

The _Secretum_ (c.1324) is a series of imaginary dialogues with St.
Augustine, in which Petrarch explained the most intimate conflicts of
his life.

His letters (over 600 extant) were circulated by his correspondents and
were adjudged in his age superior in style to Cicero's.  Knowing that
they would be widely read, Petrarch made them substantial essays,
carefully polished their literary form -- and kept copies.

Petrarch's own writings in Latin were ultimately less important than his
influence upon the revivial of the classics.  When he was crowned poet
laureate in Rome in April 1341, the laurel wreath (sacred to Apollo, the
god of poetry) honored Petrarch the poet -- but even more so, Petrarch
the humanist and classical scholar -- recognizing the most vital force
in the re-education of Europe.

Throughout his life, he urged the study of Greek and Latin literature
as a form of intercourse with great men which would open up a new life.
He looked to classical antiquity for an expansion of the spirit.  He
searched out old manuscripts, preserved, copied, and annotated them,
collected ancient coins, rediscovered some letters and speeches of
Cicero, and made Cicero one of the formative influences on humanism.

He persuaded Boccaccio to study Greek and to write in Latin, and
himself translated Boccaccio's last tale of the _Decameron_ into Latin,
thus putting the story of Griselda into international circulation.

Petrarch assembled such an extensive library of rare and wonderful
items that even in his own day its value was recognized, and Venice
granted him a home on condition that he should leave this library to
the city.

Petrarch's own spirit was divided between Christianity and classical
antiquity, but there were already plenty of Christians, and his intense
devotion to classical studies was something new which he communicated
to the rest of Europe.  Therefore, his importance in the history of
ideas lies in the fact that he inaugurated the Revival of Learning, and
was himself the first example of the humanism of the Renaissance.

In literature, however, his works of classical inspiration have now
only a historical interest, whereas his sonnets -- the elegant trifles
of his early years -- not only served as the starting point for modern
lyric poetry, but are still widely read and very much alive.

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