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Francesco Petrarch, was a man held in high regards of his peers. The life in which Petrarch lived, was certainly not one of which many people could have had dealt with. A life of solitude, misplaced love and, family misfortune that was endured. But, through hard workand perseverance, loyalty to the churches which lead to good connections, he was regarded as one of the most influential persons and authors of his time.
Petrarch was not a man with greatest of family lives. Born in Arezzo in 1304, to a family that had just been exiled from Florence, his family had to move to Incisa, Tuscany. Petrarch spent most of his childhood in Incisa. From then on, his father pushed him into the path of law. His brother, Gheredo, the most stable family figure in his life, later became a monk and throughout his life stayed in contact with Francesco. Petrarch had another brother, who died at a very young age. His mother died when he was 15 years old, which was consequently when some of his earliest works have been recorded. At the age of 22, Francesco’s father passed away, which caused Francesco to attain a career. Giovanni, his son, was born illegitimately in 1337. The relationship between the two was disappointment to Francesco. He describes him as:
“Intelligent, perhaps even exceptionally intelligent, but he hates books”
He let Giovanni live with him till he could no longer stand the sight of him and sent him to live in Avignon, at the age of 20. It wasn’t until just before Giovanni’s death, of the Black Plague, did they start to write each other. Just before his sons death, Petrarch’s friends though of Giovanni as a good person and wrote Petrarch about this. He never saw his son before his death but in his mind knew that he had started to get his life back together. He also had a daughter, Francesca, she gave birth to Petrarch’s grandchildren one of which died during the Plague. This was of great disheartenment of Petrarch.
Much to Petrarch’s dismay he studied law at the University of Bologna and he earned his degree. Beyond the levels of his peers at an early age it was obvious the intellectual presents he had. Moving from school to school he realized that his true interests were in the ancient authors, not the law. He sought out and recovered manuscripts’ Cicero, Virgil, amongst others. When his Petrarch’s father found these manuscripts and threw then into a fire. After seeing the look in Petrarch’s eyes he took them from the fire saying:
Take them my son! Here is Virgil who will console
what you have lost and here is Cicero who shall prepare
you for the studies in Law.’
From that moment on, the manuscripts of Cicero as always at the hand of Francesco.
But, it was this study of law that led him to be a wealthy man both financially and influentially. Once he becoming Chaplin, Francesco received several canonries by people high up in the church. Benedict XII gave him his first canonry, Pope Clement VI and, Jacapo de Cararra gave another. Of these later in life, he used to in dealing with Socrates, once again gaining influence. Besides influence, these canonries were a means of income for him and influence.
At the Age of 49, Francesco was unsure of where he wanted to live. He sent out several letters asking if he could move to different cites in Italy, Petrarch moved to Milan. There here lived under the Archbishop. He did this only on the stipulation that he would have freedom and solitude. The Archbishop Agree to these terms and the life that he undertook is described as:
He wrote his friends Nelli and Boccaccio of the news. Both advised strongly against it, as both thought of the Archbishop as a tyrant. Petrarch at the time thought nothing of that, but shortly in writings to an unknown person his feelings had changed to those of his friends. Although he did not let these feelings get the best of him, unsure if that was the place that he was still going to settle.
After some time had past, Italians started fighting against each other, specifically the Genoese and the Venetians. This cause a great amount of distress for Petrarch. He wrote letters to both sides, the Doge of Venice and the Counsel of Genoa, urging them for peace. They were ignored and the war continued.
Even though the Archbishop was unaware of how he felt towards him, he considered Petrarch a very honorable man. Petrarch was included in numerous missions set forth by the Archbishop. Petrarch was included in a welcoming committee of the Cardinal Gil Albornoz. Along with the Archbishop and other noblemen greeted the Cardinal and his men. The Cardinal asked to speak with Francesco one day. During this time Petrarch did not ask for anything of himself but asked that many petitions from his friends, including Nelli, be signed. Shortly after the visit from a Genoese envoy came to Milan asking for them to take the lordship. Due to the Archbishop being away, the Milanese leaders asked that Petrarch give the formal reply tho them. Declining the offer, he says:
one word from the Archbishop would mean anything
more than I could say’.
Petrarch was to be sent, among others, to Avignon. They were to be sent there as representatives of the Archbishop. The goal was to try and make peace between Genoa and Venice. This mission was canceled. Also, he was sent to Venice, on behalf of the Archbishop, which turned out to be a failure. One great mission that shows that Petrarch was valued by his peers, he was sent to King John’s reentry into France. The King tried to convince Petrarch that he should stay in France with him. He refused. But once Petrarch had returned to Milan he received letters from King John asking Francesco to come back to France. Petrarch wrote letters back, once again, refusing the King. All situations that show that with great connections to the church, lead to Petrarch’s influence and prestige amongst he peers.
Petrarch wrote, at great length to many people which held power throughout his entire life. He wrote to the Emperor of Italy to return and restore Rome and get rid of the foul play that was in the papal courts. The letter was never replied to and nothing was done. Also, upon from Venice his on his return Petrarch continued to write the Doge of Venice asking for peace of Venice and Genoa. It was at this time that work from the Emperor reached Petrarch and wanted to meet him face to face.
Soon after the Archbishop died, Petrarch met with the Emperor of Italy on his way to be crowned. The Emperor spent time talking with Petrarch and discussing matters. Petrarch was asked to join the Emperor on his way to Italy but declined. Although he did not join the Emperor, it was discussed in a letter, to whom is unknown, that he was at the crowning of him. This brought great enlightenment to Petrarch, thinking that Rome would once again be built and peace would reign. This did not hold true as the Emperor did not find Italy a safe place to be and left. This was of great resentment of Petrarch:
…you are abandoning it all, either ungrateful or witless,
and returning to your barbaric realm . . . thou are in truth
the King of Bohemia and nothing more.’
While in Milan, Petrarch was treated with the outmost respect from citizens, as this show him writing to one of his friends.
And if I go abroad, either for the sake of exercise or to
call or on my “Dominum” there is a silent turning of eyes
and bowing to my right and left, and I move on.’
He also spent his time writing numerous letters and books sending them back and forth from his two dearest friends Nelli and Boccaccio as well as other men. From what has been gathered over time many of these letters that were written to each other were lost on route to one another which made it hard to stay in touch.
From Milan he established many homes in many different cities. He spent five years in Venice and then moved to Arqua. During these time he had many problems with his health including a stoke, infections and, fever. He spent time there before moving onto Padua and then finally back to Arqua. It was at this home that he died on the night of July 18, 1374 at the age of 70 years from an attack sure to be a stroke.
Before his death, Petrarch wrote many masterpieces some of which were never finished. These two of these were, an epic of Scipio called Africa and a collection of classical heros titled De viris illustribus. Throughout his life he wrote many book, sonnets, Italian lyrics and, poetry. His inspirations may have come from the classical writers, Cicero, Virgo but also from a woman named Laura. Petrarch apparently was in love with this woman but his love was not returned by her:
Ah! Said to himself one day, was I to see the laughter of those bright eyes extinguished by are; those golden locks changed to silver; the flowers painted on that complexion faded away; was I see Laura without her garland, without her ornamented robe; I feel I should be more courageous. I should speak of my sufferings with confidence, and perhaps I should not then be refused her sighs’
Petrarch, when hearing of her death wrote one of his finest works Triumph of Death. According to critics:
poetry is to be found only in the most intense
and sorrow personal moments, such as the episode
of Laura’s death.’
Throughout the poem he not only writes of Laura but of Popes and emperor that have fallen. Writing how they have no profit left and even memory is lost. Petrarch goes on to talk about battles won and blood shed and how that is all forgotten. Then, talking about when he was captured by her and set free by the hands of fate:
April the sixth, it was, and the first hour,
When I was bound and now, alas, set free!
Surely the hands of fate are strange indeed!’
Petrarch goes to tell, in the second part of the poem, that though he did not receive her love, how he felt lost:
The night that followed the death stroke of fate
That quenched the sun nay, lifted it to heaven,
Leaving me lost and blind upon the earth ‘
It is also said that he uses the word Triumph, used by Petrarch, meaning unity,
thou wilt be long without me on the earth’,
it is this quote that shows how much he loved Laura, even though she did not return this love.
Francesco Petrarch, was regarded amongst his peers and superiors as a powerful man. After having been sent on many missions of peace by the Archbishop. The King of France and, the Emperor of Italy trying to persuade Petrarch to join them. In his writings, Emperor, Kings wanted copies of his books, friends and other great authors desired to own and read these books as well. A man that could write about feeling he had even though they were not respected. Having gone through death and disappointment within his family. It is only fitting that a man who over came all of these obstacles, be considered one of the greatest Italian of his time.
1. Bishop, Morris Letters of Petrarch (Indiana 1966).
2. Dobson, Susana Life of Petrarch (London 1805).
3. Einsenbichler K., Iannucci A. Petrarch’s Triumphs (Toronto 1990).
4.Wilkins, E. H. Life of Petrarch (Chicago 1961).
5.Wilkins, E.H. Petrarch’s Eight Years in Milan: 1353-1361 (Cambridge 1958).
6. Wilkins, E. H. Petrarch’s Later Years (Cambridge 1959).
7. Wilkins, E. H. Triumphs of Petrarch (Chicago 1962)
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