Francesco Petrarch was a distinguished humanist, a member of the intellectual and philosophical movement of Renaissance Europe in the 14th century. He also distinguished himself in poetry, becoming the greatest influence of later writers such as Garcilaso de la Vega and William Shakespeare. The greatest legacy of this author is his work Canzoniere, whose lyrical or expressive content made the most accurate reference of poetry inside and outside his time.
Early Life and Education
Petrarch, or Italian in full Francesco Petrarca, was born on July 20, 1304 in Arquà near Padua. He was a son of a notary from Florence who, as a political exile, moved with his family in 1312 to Avignon, then to Carpentras. So, like Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch was banished from his hometown.
In 1320, Petrarca began his law studies in Montpellier, continued in Bologna, but never finished it. After his father’s death in 1326, he returned to Avignon where he probably joined the lower church orders. There, as he himself testified, on Good Friday on April 6, 1327, he saw Laura in the church of St. Clare. Laura, probably born de Noves, married de Sade, was the mythical love of his life which he sang in love poetry.
From 1330 he was in the service of Cardinal Colonna and traveled to Italy and other European countries. After the birth of the first of two illegitimate children in 1337, he retired to the solitude of Vaucluse near Avignon, where, until 1349, he stayed several times between his many travels. Gaining great prestige and fame, he received a poetic laurel at the Campidoglio in Rome on April 8, 1341.
From 1349 he was bound to the lords of Padua. From 1353 he enjoyed the protection of the tyrannical bishop Visconti in Milan, which was resented by many contemporaries, and then from 1363 to 1367, he lived in Venice. A protégé of the powerful, a guest at the court and an adviser to the ruler as well as a tireless traveler, he spent the last years of his life, pressed by illness, in the small town of Arquà near Padua.
Francesco Petrarh's works are divided into two parts: those written in Latin, and those written in colloquial language. With his Latin works, the poet strived to achieve his maximum recognition and gave him more triumph.
About 24 books are known, published in the form of epistles or letters. The writing of these letters was done after reading the works of greats such as Cicero and Seneca. They also include his famous book of poems written in rhymes, as well as many proses.
Although he wrote most of his opus in Latin, he is best known for his collection of Italian poems, originally named after the syntagm from the first verse of the introductory sonnet, Rime sparse, or the author's Latin title Rerum vulgarium fragmenta.
The collection, better known as the Canzoniere (published in Venice in 1470), is the result of a revision of the Italian lyrical opus that Petrarca began in 1342 and continued until his death. These 366 compositions, mostly sonnets, are divided into poems written before and after Laura's death (since the plague, 1348), but they deal with the most common poetry. Some of the songs are political and occasional, but most of them are love songs. The order of the poems doesn’t determine the time of their creation but the psychic trajectory of the lyrical subject and, to a lesser extent, the love story, since evocation, introspection, metaphorization, and allegorization prevail over direct reference to specific situations.
Many interpretations of the Canzoniere rely on the reconstruction of the love story and the history of "one soul": from falling in love with an earthly woman to invoking the Virgin Mary in the concluding canzone, from "the trappings of youth" to the knowledge of the transience of earthly things. Yet Laura is not a woman angel-like Dante's Beatrice, for she has no power of salvation. Instead of leading the subject to the path of God, Laura remains a temptation for the soul torn between the earthly and transcendental obstacle to the subject finding peace in God.
Petrarch continued the medieval tradition of singing to a married woman who doesn’t return the love and gave her a new dimension. He built one of the most persistent literary myths. But Laura is not the protagonist of the Canzoniere: even indirect transformations of her name (l’aura, breeze, or lauro, laurel) are quite rare. The real protagonist is the lyrical subject, at the center of his mental and psychic. Life, through the perception and cognition of which the appearance of the world is refracted. As he gave new meaning to motifs taken from medieval lyric poetry, he elaborated on inherited forms, insisting on metrical-syntactic regularity in the construction of verse, so sentence breaks most often coincide with metrical ones.
The effort for formal harmony is also evident from the carefully measured use of rhetorical figures, especially antitheses and parallels, although sometimes the impression of an artificial game is created which is an end in itself and which was not foreign to troubadour lyrics. However, many lyrical forms (eg sonnets), motifs and metaphors (eg love as a fire), rhetorical and stylistic procedures (numerous antitheses, pluralities, or a series of adjectives, etc.), although present in the predecessor, decisively influenced the latter lyrics because of the shape that Petrarch gave them.
He synthesized the experiences of medieval poetry and filtered them, influencing the classical ideals of refined style, harmony, and proportion. He also sought to reconcile ancient and Christian values on an ideological and broader cultural level.
Although it is difficult to establish a unique chronology, as Petrarca constantly revised his writings, it is possible to attribute greater reliance on Latin models to youthful works and a partial return to medieval and Christian values, but tensions are never resolved in favor of one or the other.
Significant in this sense is the Latin work The Secret or My Secret (Secretum meum, 1342-43), a confessional imaginary dialogue with St. Augustine. Although they are a model of Augustine's Confession, Petrarch doesn’t write a history of conversion but the character of an individual torn apart by opposing aspirations. Classical models predominate in the collection of biographical portraits On Illustrious Men (De viris illustribus, 1338-39), in the Latin poem in hexameters Africa (Africa, 1338 / 39–42), and a collection of anecdotes about historical figures of the The Unforgettable Books of Things to Be Remembered (Rerum memorandarum libri, 1343–45).
Although in Latin treatises (The Life of Solitude - De vita solitaria, 1346; On pious leisure - De otio religioso, 1347; Remedies for Fortunes - De remediis utriusque fortunae, 1354-60) the characters and examples are partly ancient, conclusions are in accordance with Christian doctrine.
Petrarch also wrote 4 polemics in Latin, 12 eclogues of the Pastoral Song (Bucolicum carmen, 1346-48), prayers, and confessions in verse in the Penitential Psalms (Psalmi poenitentiales, 1347) and in hexameters 66 Scriptures in verse. More than a thousand Latin letters in Petrarch's prose were selected, revised and divided into Familiarum rerum libri, Seniles, and Sine nomine, and unlisted letters are known as Variae.
In addition to Canzonière and unlisted poems of mostly dubious attribution, the only Italian work is Triumphs (Trionfi, 1352), a six-part poem in Dante's thirds, sung in the tradition of medieval visions and ancient allegorical triumphal processions. But in her universalist medieval conception, of the rise of the human soul from transient earthly passions to eternal fulfillment in God, Petrarch incorporated his mythical vision of Laura.
At the end of the Middle Ages, Petrarch sought to create a synthesis of medieval traditions and new revivals of antiquity, both through literary work and his philological research (inspired by the discovery of Cicero's letters to T. P. Atticus). In this attempt to reconcile antiquity and Christianity, Petrarch only partially inherited the experience of patristic and medieval allegorical elaboration and manipulation of the classical heritage, seeing in ancient predecessors more than a mere preparation or instrument for proving Christian truth.
By contrasting ancient and medieval cultural models, he anticipated humanism, thus occupying a privileged place in European literature as the most important pre-humanist and the most influential, almost permanent poetic role model.
Francesco Petrarch died from a stroke on July 19, 1374, in Arquà Petrarca, Italija. It is known that, at the time of his death, he was working in his study room and was found the next morning, with his head resting on a manuscript of Virgil.
Summaries, Analyses & Books