#23 – The Father Of The Renaissance (part two)
August 10, 2018
#25 – Boccaccio Part One
September 9, 2018

#24 – The Father Of The Renaissance (part three)

  • “Africa” became alternately Petrarch’s obsession and his revulsion, and he left it incomplete at his death.
  • Despite Petrarch’s best efforts to conceal his occupation, word of the Africa spread quickly.
  • It was not long before Petrarch’s fame reached the court of King Robert of Naples, a ruler considered by his contemporaries to be enlightened and studious.
  • Robert gave Petrarch the resources he needed to devote himself to the Africa, and the king’s favor rewarded the poet’s efforts with wide acclaim.
  • Paris and Rome were soon contending with each other to crown Petrarch poet laureate, an honor he accepted in 1341 from the Eternal City.
  • The last time someone had received a laurel wreath in Rome it was the poet Statius and he received it from Domitian in the first century.
  • During the ceremony on the Capitoline Hill, Petrarch was wearing a purple robe given to him by the King of Naples.
  • It was a huge deal, with the senator and the elite (what was left of it in Rome) all coming out for the ceremony.
  • Petrarch gave a big speech about poetry, quoted from Virgil.
  • Then he marched to St Peters, where he left the crown as a votive offering to God.
  • But later in life, Petrarch would admit that his best years were still ahead of him at the time of the ceremony, and that the leaves on the crown were immature.
  • He was mostly known at this stage for his Canzoniere, written in the vernacular.
  • It was after this date that he wrote most of Africa, in Latin, his “Lives of Illustrious Men” and his Secretum, the dialogues between himself and St Augustine.
  • These biographies are a set of Lives similar in idea to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives.
  • There is as yet no English translation.
  • What the Secretum gives us is the picture of Petrarch as he was in the crisis of his middle years.
  • It was written in or about the year 1342 when he was thirty-eight.
  • He’s looking back at his life so far and wondering if he’s wasted it or not.
  • And he’s arguing with St Augustine about the nature and the value of love.
  • It’s a fascinating read.
  • But it wasn’t just Augustine he wrote to.
  • He also wrote to Homer, Cicero, Livy as if they were living comrades, and complained that he had not been born in the heroic days of the Roman Republic
  • Around this time he knocked up a women (or two) and had two illegitimate children – a son and a daughter.
  • Mind you – he’s still technically in the minor orders.
  • And he’s supposed to be celibate.
  • According to the Second Lateran Council held in 1139
  • And he’s still in love with Laura.
  • After his daughter was born in 1343, he says he became free of sin.
  • Meaning he stopped fucking.
  • Petrarch spent the later part of his life journeying through northern Italy as an international scholar and poet-diplomat.
  • He’s incredibly famous and on personal terms with the Popes and Kings.
  • 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 there.
  • Because he loves a good chicken parma.
  • 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.
  • In 1346 the Pope makes him a canon at Parma.
  • A couple of years later he’s made an archdeacon.
  • These come with money attached.
  • It was also around this time that Petrarch attached himself to another guy who wanted to see Rome made great again.
  • The politician and reformer, Cola di Rienzo, or Rienzi as he’s sometimes called.
  • Cola was born in Rome of humble origins.
  • He claimed to be the natural child of Henry VII, the Holy Roman Emperor, but in fact his parents were a washer-woman and a tavern-keeper named Lorenzo Gabrini.
  • During his youth he read everything he could about ancient Rome.
  • Rienzi wanted to make Rome great again.
  • By the middle of the 14th century Rome had fallen on very hard times.
  • It was officially controlled by the Popes –  since the donation of Pepin – and legend had it that it went back even further to the donation of Constantine – even though that was a complete forgery.
  • And technically the Popes had controlled the area around Rome since the Lombard invasion had separated Rome from Byzantium in the 6th century.
  • At their height, the Papal States covered most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio (which includes Rome), Marche, Umbria and Romagna, and portions of Emilia.
  • So the Popes had temporal power as well as spiritual power.
  • They were effectively kings.
  • But From 1305 to 1378, the popes lived in the papal enclave of Avignon, surrounded by Provence and under the influence of the French kings.
  • During this period the city of Avignon itself was added to the Papal States; it remained a papal possession for some 400 years even after the popes returned to Rome, until it was seized and incorporated into the French state during the French Revolution.
  • During this Avignon Papacy, local despots took advantage of the absence of the popes to establish themselves in nominally papal cities – they all gave nominal acknowledgement to their papal overlords and were declared vicars of the Church.
  • In Rome itself the Orsini and the Colonna struggled for supremacy.
  • Petrarch had been very close to the Colonna family for decades.
  • But he publicly supported Rienzi because he wanted to see someone “drain the swamp” of Rome and restore it to its greatness.
  • Rienzi worked as a notary in the Papal court for a few years and then returned to Rome, where he built up a large following of people with his “make Rome great again” rhetoric.
  • On 19 May 1347 he gave a big speech on the Capitoline Hill, in a suit of armour.
  • The nobility saw the writing on the wall and ran away.
  • Rienzi passed new laws, was declared a tribune, and given the powers of a dictator.
  • He quickly cleaned Rome up.
  • The roads were made safe again from robbers, the nobility accepted his new rule.
  • And Petrarch wrote public praises of him, even though he was the enemy of the Colonna family.
  • Petrarch called him the new Brutus and Romulus.
  • The Rienzi tried to unify Italy.
  • He sent letters to all of the cities of Italy, asking them to send representatives to Rome for a big powwow on 1 August.
  • Some of them did.
  • Then he summoned Louis IV, Holy Roman Emperor and his rival Charles, afterwards Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, to Rome so he could pronounce judgment on the future of Italy.
  • But of course they just ignored him.
  • As did most of the cities of Italy except Naples, where Robert was dead and his daughter, the 15 year old Joanna I of Naples, was queen.
  • Robert’s nephew, Louis I of Hungary, Joanna’s brother in law, was also claiming the throne of Naples.
  • And they both wanted Rienzi’s support.
  • And then his power started to wane.
  • His government was costly, and to meet its many expenses he was obliged to lay heavy taxes upon the people.
  • And he made enemies of the Pope, and the various Kings who all had their eyes on Italy.
  • Not to mention the local chieftains.
  • In October Clement gave power to a legate to depose him and bring him to trial, and the end was obviously in sight.
  • Taking heart, the exiled barons gathered together some troops, and war began in the neighbourhood of Rome.
  • Rienzo obtained aid from Louis of Hungary and others, and on 20 November his forces defeated the nobles in the Battle of Porta San Lorenzo.
  • But this victory did not save him.
  • He passed his time in feasts and pageants, while in a bull the pope denounced him as a criminal, a pagan and a heretic, until, terrified by a slight disturbance on 15 December, he abdicated his government and fled from Rome.
  • He sought refuge in Naples, but soon he left that city and spent over two years in an Italian mountain monastery.Emerging from his solitude, Cola journeyed to Prague in July 1350, throwing himself upon the protection of the emperor Charles IV.
  • Denouncing the temporal power of the pope he implored the emperor to deliver Italy, and especially Rome, from their oppressors; but, heedless of his invitations, Charles kept him in prison for more than a year in the fortress of Raudnitz, and then handed him over to Pope Clement.
  • At Avignon, where he appeared in August 1352, Cola was tried by three cardinals, and was sentenced to death, but this judgment was not carried out, and he remained in prison in spite of appeals from Petrarch for his release.
  • Freedom, however, was at hand.
  • In December 1352 Clement died, and his successor, Pope Innocent VI, anxious to strike a blow at the baronial rulers of Rome, and seeing in the former tribune an excellent tool for this purpose, pardoned and released his prisoner.
  • Giving him the title of senator, he sent him to Italy with the legate, Cardinal Albornoz, and having collected a few mercenary troops on the way, Cola di Rienzo entered Rome in August 1354.
  • He was received with great rejoicings and quickly regained his former position of power.
  • But this latter term of office was destined to be even shorter than his former one.
  • Having vainly besieged the fortress of Palestrina, he returned to Rome, where he treacherously seized the soldier of fortune Giovanni Moriale, who was put to death, and where, by other cruel and arbitrary deeds, he soon lost the favour of the people.
  • Their passions were quickly aroused and a tumult broke outon 8 October.
  • Cola attempted to address them, but the building in which he stood was set on fire, and while trying to escape in disguise he was murdered by the mob.
  • News of Cola’s downfall prompted Petrarch to write his famous letter of reproach (Familiares VII, 7), which tells of his bitter disillusionment.
  • Rather than proceed to Rome, Petrarch remained in Parma, where in May 1348 news of Laura’s death reached him.
  • On April 6th, the twenty-first anniversary of his first meeting with Laura, while resident at Verona, he felt a sudden presentiment of her death, and on May 19th a letter from Socrates reached him at Parma telling him that she had indeed died at the very moment of the mysterious warning.
  • The fly-leaf of his Virgil contains this entry
  • “Laura, a shining example of virtue in herself, and for many years made known to fame by my poems, first came visibly before my eyes in the season of my early youth, in the year of our Lord 1327, on the 6 th day of the month of April, in the Church of St. Clara of Avignon, in the morning. And in the same city, on the same 6 th day of the same month of April, at the same hour of Prime, but in the year 1348, the bright light of her life was taken away from the light of this earth, when I chanced to be dwelling at Verona in unhappy ignorance of my doom. The sorrowful report came to me, however, in a letter from my Lewis, which reached me at Parma on the morning of the 19th day of May in the same year. Her most chaste and most beautiful Body was laid to rest in the habitation of the Minor Friars at evening on the very day of her death. Her soul, I am persuaded, has returned, in the words that Seneca uses of Africanus, to the heaven which was its home. I have thought good to write this note, with a kind of bitter sweetness, asa painful reminder of my sorrow, and have chosen this place for it, as one which comes constantly under my eyes, reckoning as I do that there ought to be nothing to give me further pleasure in this life, and that by frequent looking on these words and by computing the swiftness of life’s flight I may be admonished that now, with the breaking of my strongest chain, it is time to flee out of Babylon. And this by the prevention of God’s grace will be easy for me, when I consider with insight and resolution my past life’s idle cares, the emptiness of its hopes, and its extraordinary issues. “
  • 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.
  • The Black Death, also known as the Great Plague, the Black Plague, or the Plague, was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.
  • Boccaccio’s description:
  • In men and women alike it first betrayed itself by the emergence of certain tumours in the groin or armpits, some of which grew as large as a common apple, others as an egg…From the two said parts of the body this deadly gavocciolo (A bubo is the swelling of the lymph nodes. It is found in infections such as bubonic plague) soon began to propagate and spread itself in all directions indifferently; after which the form of the malady began to change, black spots or livid making their appearance in many cases on the arm or the thigh or elsewhere, now few and large, now minute and numerous. As the gavocciolo had been and still was an infallible token of approaching death, such also were these spots on whomsoever they showed themselves.
  • The Black Death is thought to have originated in the dry plains of Central Asia, where it travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1343.
  • From there, it was most likely carried by Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular passengers on merchant ships, spreading throughout the Mediterranean and Europe.
  • But they didn’t know that back then.
  • Medical knowledge had stagnated during the Middle Ages.
  • The most authoritative account at the time came from the medical faculty in Paris in a report to the king of France that blamed the heavens, in the form of a conjunction of three planets in 1345 that caused a “great pestilence in the air”.
  • This report became the first and most widely circulated of a series of plague tracts that sought to give advice to sufferers.
  • That the plague was caused by bad air became the most widely accepted theory.
  • Today, this is known as the miasma theory.
  • The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30–60% of Europe’s total population.
  • In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million in the 14th century.
  • It took 200 years for the world population to recover to its previous level.
  • The plague recurred as outbreaks in Europe until the 19th century.
  • 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.
  • In Judaism and Christianity, the concept of the Jubilee is a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon.
  • In the Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fiftieth year, during which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.
  • Christian Jubilees, particularly in the Latin Church, generally involve pilgrimage to a sacred site, normally the city of Rome.
  • In Western Christianity, the tradition dates to 1300, when Pope Boniface VIII convoked a holy year, following which ordinary jubilees have generally been celebrated every 25 or 50 years, with extraordinary jubilees in addition depending on need.
  • On February 22, 1300, Boniface published the bull “Antiquorum habet fida relatio”,  in which, appealing vaguely to the precedent of past ages, he declared “…the most full, pardon of all their sins”, to those who fulfill certain conditions.
  • These are, first, that being truly penitent they confess their sins, and secondly, that they visit the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome, at least once a day for a specified time—in the case of the inhabitants of the city for thirty days, in the case of strangers for fifteen.
  • 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).
  • Back to Giovanni Boccaccio.
  • He’s famous for writing The Decameron and On Famous Women
  • The Decameron is a collection of 100 tales told by a group of seven young women and three young men sheltering in a secluded villa just outside Florence to escape the Black Death.
  • It was written after the epidemic of 1348, and completed it by 1353.
  • The various tales of love in The Decameron range from the erotic to the tragic. Tales of wit, practical jokes, and life lessons contribute to the mosaic. In addition to its literary value and widespread influence (for example on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales), it provides a document of life at the time.
  • We might cover him next time.
  • But back to Petrarch.
  • Despite being the father of humanism, he was in many way a man of the late Middle Ages.
  • Although he had issues with the church and the popes, he was still very religious.
  • And he was anti-science.
  • He said that studying animals didn’t help us understand man.
  • He was a man who straddled both ages – the medieval and the modern.
  • And he was the most famous man of his age.
  • And the most influential, especially amongst the elite.
  • He retired in 1370 to a house he built at Arqua, near Padua.
  • Petrarch died on the night of July 18/19, 1374, and he was ceremonially buried beside the church of Arquà.
  • His major contribution to the Renaissance was his love for the ancients, esp Cicero, and how he used his popularity to convince others to appreciate the ancient literature more.
  • When Petrarch broke up his personal collections at Parma and Vaucluse he had formed the habit of traveling with large bales of manuscripts in a long cavalcade.
  • In his middle age he became tired of carrying his large collection of manuscripts and books around in his extensive travels.
  • He came to the conclusion that he would offer his collection of manuscripts to the Republic of Venice, on condition that it should be properly housed, and should never be sold or divided.
  • This was in exchange for a permanent residence that he and his daughter’s family could live in.[2] He decided he wanted to have his valuable collection of manuscripts and ancient books put into a public library on the concept of those of classical antiquity, like Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who built the Library of Alexandria.
  • Sometime in the year 1367, however, Petrarch decided to leave Venice because the local scholars were not interested in his personal library.
  • Venetian scholars were more interested in scientific knowledge rather than humanistic culture.
  • After he died, his library of hundreds of books was dispersed.
  • Some of them may be seen in Rome, Paris, London, or the Vatican.
  • Those which he had given to the Republic of Venice in the “agreement” suffered a strange reverse of fortune. The collection was left neglected for centuries at the Palazzo Molina, Petrarch’s past residence. Many of the manuscripts and ancient books had crumbled to powder and others had petrified because of the damp conditions of the storage facilities. Some were even glued into shapeless masses.
  • He also used his poetry to get people thinking about issues other than religion – love, ambition, fame, life.
  • But mostly about love.
  • And about human worth.

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