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; (1304-1374) 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 expression. 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.