Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook

By Alba Amoia; Bettina L.Knapp | Go to book overview

PETRARCH (FRANCESCO PETRARCA)

(1304-1374)

Carla Scognamiglio


BIOGRAPHY

Because Petrarch undertook to provide detailed written information about himself—his subjectivity being unusual during medieval times—readers can become familiar with an abundance of facts about him. Mainly in the letters of his Familiarium rerum libri (written from 1345 to 1366) do his personality and individuality show through, but they are recognizable in all of his works.

Petrarch was born on July 20, 1304, in Arezzo, where his father, Ser Petracco (after 1312 referred to as Petrarca), having been expelled from Florence with Dante and the Whites (Guelphs), sought refuge. In the Familiarium rerum libri Petrarch wrote that he was conceived and born in exile; that the midwife and doctors in charge of his mother's risky and protracted labor assumed the child to be dead; that his life was thus endangered even before he was born; and that an omen of death accompanied him from the very outset of his existence.

His family took him, aged seven months, away from Arezzo to spend the first seven years of his life at Incisa in Valdarno near Florence. When he was seven years old, he was taken to Pisa, after which the family sailed to France and settled in Avignon and Carpentras in Provence. Here he began his studies in grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics, attending the University of Montpellier (1318) and then the University of Bologna, where, in accordance with his father's wishes, he studied law. But long fascinated by his readings of classical Greek and Latin authors, he soon balked at the arid language of law and decided to devote himself entirely to research in the classics. He would help to spread humanism through the realization that Greek authors and Platonic thought offered Europe new cultural concepts. Although he wrote several important works in Latin (De viris illustribus, Africa, and others), he is best known for his sonnet sequences in Italian in the medieval courtly love tradition. The poems, in praise

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