Petrarch, Scipio and the Africa: The Birth of Humanisms' Dream

Petrarch, Scipio and the Africa: The Birth of Humanisms' Dream

Petrarch, Scipio and the Africa: The Birth of Humanisms' Dream

Petrarch, Scipio and the Africa: The Birth of Humanisms' Dream

Excerpt

Amont the first Christian men of letters to sit on the mount of centuries and behold the past and future inextricably united was Petrarch. Scholars have long recognized his two sides: first there was Petrarch, the child and devotee of classical antiquity, who saw in the values of that civilization the roots of human dignity and greatness; then there was Petrarch, the fourteenth-century poet, who could not escape the influence of Dante's works, nor the voices of St. Augustine and St. Thomas who had so convincingly demonstrated that with Christianity a new day had dawned that might illumine even the most hidden recesses of the universe. That two such successive historical moments could have been mutually exclusive was inconceivable to Petrarch. So he spent his entire life seeking the key to this problem, the common denominator, or better still, the catalyst, that would make two become one. He never, of course, succeeded either to his own satisfaction, or to anyone else's. But during the course of his search, he managed to isolate two elements from the complex problem which dramatized it so artistically that one can safely say that no poet since has succeeded so well. These two elements achieved final form in two personages who underwent, in Petrarch's creative mind, a slow but progressive metamorphosis from their original historical state to a highly poetic one. One was a contemporary of Petrarch, the other a citizen of republican Rome. The former was a young woman bearing the name of Laura with whom Petrarch was very much in love; the latter the great Roman . . .

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