Petrarch

Petrarch (pē´trärk) or Francesco Petrarca (fränchĕs´kō pāträr´kä), 1304–74, Italian poet and humanist, one of the great figures of Italian literature. He spent his youth in Tuscany and Avignon and at Bologna. He returned to Avignon in 1326, may have taken lesser ecclesiastic orders, and entered the service of Cardinal Colonna, traveling widely but finding time to write numerous lyrics, sonnets, and canzoni. At Avignon in 1327 Petrarch first saw Laura, who was to inspire his great vernacular love lyrics. His verse won growing fame, and in 1341 he was crowned laureate at Rome. Petrarch's friendship with the republican Cola di Rienzi inspired the famous ode Italia mia. In 1348 both Laura and Colonna died of the plague, and in the next years Petrarch devoted himself to the cause of Italian unification, pleaded for the return of the papacy to Rome, and served the Visconti of Milan. In his last years Petrarch enjoyed great fame, and even after his death and ceremonial burial at Arquà his influence continued to spread. One of the greatest humanists, he was among the first to realize that Platonic thought and Greek studies provided a new cultural framework, and he helped to spread this Renaissance point of view through his criticism of scholasticism and through his wide correspondence and personal influence. His discovery of Latin manuscripts also furthered the new learning. In his Secretum, a dialogue, Petrarch revealed the conflict he felt between medieval asceticism and individual expression and glory. Yet in his poetry he ignored medieval courtly conventions and defined true emotions. In his portrait of Laura he surpassed the medieval picture of woman as a spiritual symbol and created the image of a real woman. He also perfected the sonnet form and is considered by many to be the first modern poet. He influenced contemporary historiography through his epic Africa, which brought attention to the virtues of the Roman republic. Petrarch had less pride in the "vulgar tongue" than in Latin, which he had mastered as a living language. Consequently he considered his Trionfi [triumphs] and the well-known lyrics of the Canzoniere [song book] less important than his Latin works, which include, besides Africa,Metrical Epistles,On Contempt for the Worldly Life,On Solitude,Eclogues, and the Letters. However, he reached poetic heights in both tongues, and his delicate, melodious, and dignified style became an important model for Italian literature for three centuries. Early translators of Petrarch's sonnets and songs include Chaucer, Spenser, Surrey, and Wyatt.

See his letters tr. by M. Bishop (1966); E. H. Wilkins, Life of Petrarch (1961) and Petrarch and the Renascence (1965). See studies by A. Scaglione (1976), S. Minta (1980), K. Foster (1987), and T. P. Roche, Jr. (1989).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Petrarch: Selected full-text books and articles

Petrarch: Poet and Humanist
Kenelm Foster.
Edinburgh University Press, 1987
Petrarch, Scipio and the Africa: The Birth of Humanisms' Dream
Aldo S. Bernardo.
Johns Hopkins Press, 1962
Petrarch's Secretum: With Introduction, Notes, and Critical Anthology
Davy A. Carozza; H. James Shey.
Peter Lang, 1989
Petrarch's Eight Years in Milan
Ernest Hatch Wilkins.
Mediaeval Academy of America, 1958
The Revolution of Cola Di Rienzo
Petrarch; Mario Emilio Cosenza; Ronald G. Musto.
Italica Press, 1996 (3rd edition)
Choir of Muses
Etienne Gilson; Maisie Ward.
Sheed and Ward, 1953
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "Petrarch and Laura"
Petrarch's Later Years
Ernest H. Wilkins.
Mediaeval Academy of America, 1959
Petrarch's Poetics and Literary History
Marguerite R. Waller.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1980
The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature
Gilbert Highet.
Oxford University Press, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Towards the Renaissance: Petrarch, Boccaccio, Chaucer"
The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare
Lynn Enterline.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Embodied Voices: Autobiography and Fetishism in the Rime Sparse"
The Petrarchan Sources of La Celestina
A. D. Deyermond.
Oxford University Press, 1961
Librarian’s tip: Chap. I "Petrarch's Latin Works in Spain and Portugal"
Renaissance Lives: Portraits of an Age
Theodore K. Rabb.
Basic Books, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Petrarch" begins on p. 4
A Short History of Italian Literature
Robert A. Hall Jr.
Linguistica, 1951
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VII "Petrarch"
Dictionary of Italian Literature
Peter Bondanella; Julia Conaway Bondanella; Jody Robin Shiffman.
Greenwood Press, 1996 (Revised edition)
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