#22 – The Father Of The Renaissance (part one)
August 5, 2018
#24 – The Father Of The Renaissance (part three)
August 18, 2018

#23 – The Father Of The Renaissance (part two)

  • Now that his parents are dead, Petrarch decides to dump law and become a scholar and a poet.
  • But you couldn’t make a living as a poet in the early 14th century.
  • So he took minor orders with the church.
  • In the Catholic Church, you have the major holy orders of priest (including both bishop and simple priest), deacon and subdeacon, and the four minor orders, that of acolyte, exorcist, lector and porter in descending sequence.
  • And although he apparently hated Avignon, his father had made lots of influential contacts there in the Papal court, and Petrarch moved back there to take advantage of them.
  • And it was there, in Avignon, at the age of 23, that he first saw Laura in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon – the woman he was to fall madly in love with and dedicate his lifetime of work to.
  • Even though they possibly never even spoke to each other.
  • On the 6th April, 1327, Good Friday, he first saw Laura in the Church of St. Claire, and was overwhelmed at once with the love of which he tells us: “In my youth I bore the stress of a passion most violent, though honourable and the single one of my life; and I should have borne it even longer than I did, had not Death, opportune in spite of its bitterness, quenched the flame just as it was beginning to grow less intense.”
  • Who was Laura?
  • We don’t know.
  • If she really existed, he probably deliberately hid her identity.
  • His friends often teased him that she didn’t exist at all.
  • That “Laura” was just laurel crown of poetry – he really was just in love with the idea of becoming the poet laureate of Rome.
  • But scholars today are mostly sure that she was real.
  • Laura may have been Laura de Noves, the wife of Count Hugues de Sade (an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade).
  • There is little definite information in Petrarch’s work concerning Laura, except that she is lovely to look at, fair-haired, with a modest, dignified bearing.
  • Laura and Petrarch had little or no personal contact.
  • Scholars believe she was real for a couple of reasons.
  • Petrarch wrote a secret kind of diary, his “Secretum”, in the form of him having a discussion with St Augustine, which he never published, and which wasn’t even known about until well after his death, and in this he mentions her as a real woman.
  • He says she refused him because she was already married.
  • He also made some references to her, the date he first saw her and the date of her death, on the fly-leaf of his copy of Virgil.
  • He channeled his feelings into love poems.
  • Byron uses Petrarch and Laura as an example of the thought that love could only exist outside marriage:
  • There’s doubtless something in domestic doings
  • Which forms, in fact, true love’s antithesis;
  • Romances paint at full length people’s wooings,
  • But only give a bust of marriages;
  • For no one cares for matrimonial cooings,
  • There’s nothing wrong in a connubial kiss:
  • Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch’s wife,
  • He would have written sonnets all his life?
  • Suffering through years of unrequited love, Petrarch poured out his soul into his most famous poems, the Canzoniere.
  • Il Canzoniere (English: Song Book), also known as the Rime Sparse (English: Scattered Rhymes), but originally titled Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (English: Fragments of common things, that is Fragments composed in vernacular) is 366 poems he wrote about love.
  • And he wrote them in vernacular Italian instead of Latin.
  • Even though he thought that Latin was far superior.
  • One theory is that he did this so Laura could read his love poems.
  • Petrarch’s meticulous dating of his manuscripts has allowed scholars to deduce that the poems were written over a period of forty years, with the earliest dating from shortly after 1327, and the latest around 1368.
  • The transcription and ordering of the sequence itself went on until 1374, the year of the poet’s death.
  • His work would go on to become what Spiller calls ‘the single greatest influence on the love poetry of Renaissance Europe until well into the seventeenth century’.
  • The love theme in his poems was the nucleus around which he developed a deeper psychological analysis.
  • And this is also where Petrarch’s analysis of what it meant to be human sets him apart from most of his contemporaries.
  • Remember that during the Middle Ages, people were mostly concerned with how to be good little Christians.
  • And Petrarch cares about that too.
  • But he also writes about love and the meaning of life.
  • Thanks to his poems inspired by Laura he talks about his aspirations to reach glory.
  • He says that Man in his first stage of youth is the slave of appetites, which may all be included under the generic name of Love or Self-Love.
  • But as he gains understanding, he sees the impropriety of such a condition, so that he strives advisedly against those appetites and overcome himself with Chastity, that is, by denying himself the opportunity of satisfying them.
  • Amid these struggles and victories Death overtakes him.
  • Nevertheless, it has no power to destroy the memory of a man, who by illustrious and honourable deeds seeks to survive his own death.
  • Such a man truly lives through a long course of ages by means of his Fame.
  • But Time at length obliterates all memory of him, and he finds in the last resort that his only sure hope of living for ever is by joy in God, and by partaking with God in His blessed Eternity.
  • Thus Love triumphs over Man, Chastity over Love, and Death over both alike; Fame triumphs over Death, Time over Fame, and Eternity over Time.
  • A couple of years after he met Laura, in 1329, Petrarch went on the first of many journeys.
  • He apparently had a great love for sight-seeing.
  • Which, for his time, was peculiar.
  • In the Middle Ages, people would travel for business, for war, or for diplomacy.
  • But they didn’t just travel to look at things.
  • But Petrarch did.
  • Which is another reason he’s often called the first modern man.
  • And when he traveled, he also went looking for old books.
  • “Whenever I took a far journey, ” he tells us, “I would turn aside to any old monasteries that I chanced to see in the distance, saying: ‘Who knows whether some scrap of the writings I covet may not lie here? ‘
  • This first trip, when he was 25, took him to Liege in Belgium.
  • Exhausted by impossible love and frustrated with the vernacular, Petrarch began searching the libraries of Europe for lost classics.
  • In 1333, Petrarch rediscovered Cicero’s oration Pro Archia Poeta – the published literary form of his defense of Aulus Licinius Archias, a poet accused of not being a Roman citizen, who also happened to be a mentor and teacher of Cicero in his early education in rhetoric.
  • Petrarch found a new direction for his life.
  • He was inspired to imitate the beauty of Cicero’s Latin.
  • A few years after this, in 1336, Petrarch and his brother climbed 2000 m to the top of Mont Ventoux in the Provence region of France.
  • The story goes that a local tried to stop them – he said nobody had climbed it for 50 years because it was too difficult.
  • And besides, there was nothing up there anyway.
  • But Petrarch loved a good view, so he did it anyway.
  • Why did he climb the mountain?
  • He did it for recreation rather than necessity.
  • Which was unusual for his time.
  • And when he got to the top, he sat down and opened a copy of St Augustine’s CITY OF GOD, which was his favourite book outside of Cicero.
  • He opened it at random and read a passage which said:
  • And men go about to marvel at the heights of the mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the broad estuaries of the rivers, at the circuit of the ocean, and at the revolutions of the stars, and forsake their own souls.
  • And he says he immediately became angry with himself and started the march back down the hill.
  • I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. […] [W]e look about us for what is to be found only within. […] How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation […][
  • It’s often suggested that this was one of the turning points of humanism – when Petrarch decided to pay more attention to the human condition, rather than the sights.
  • After this he writes that man is the proper study of mankind.
  • Despite all that, his accounts of the view from the top show a strikingly “modern” attitude of aesthetic gratification in the grandeur of the scenery and is still often cited in books and journals devoted to the sport of mountaineering.
  • JH PLUMB: For pleasure alone he climbed Mont Ventoux, which rises to more than six thousand feet, beyond Vaucluse. It was no great feat, of course; but he was the first recorded Alpinist of modern times, the first to climb a mountain merely for the delight of looking from its top. (Or almost the first; for in a high pasture he met an old shepherd, who said that fifty years before he had attained the summit, and had got nothing from it save toil and repentance and torn clothing.) Petrarch was dazed and stirred by the view of the Alps, the mountains around Lyons, the Rhone, the Bay of Marseilles. He took Augustine’s Confessions from his pocket and reflected that his climb was merely an allegory of aspiration toward a better life
  • Then In 1337, Petrarch made his first trip to Rome.
  • Though time and the neglect of the Avignon popes had ravaged the City, Petrarch was dumbstruck at the sight of buildings and places that had long inhabited his imagination.
  • His love of the classics and his experience in Rome convinced him that the city must rise again; Rome needed a second Aeneid.
  • He returned to Avignon, saw Laura again, felt the sadness of his unrequited love, and decided to move to a place in the country in Vaucluse, where he wouldn’t have to see her and he could just enjoy nature.
  • Which again is something very rare for men of his day.
  • On another Good Friday, in 1338, Petrarch embraced a new muse and a new tongue and began an epic poem in Latin about the Second Punic War and Rome’s most famous general, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major.
  • The name of that poem?
  • the Africa.

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