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  • 7/17/2004

Francesco Petrarch


Petrarch was an Italian scholar,poet, andhumanist,who is credited with having given theRenaissance its name. He traveled widely and wrote many learned works, but his most enduring writings by far are the poems he addressed to Laura, a mysterious beloved whom he may never have met.

Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca in Italian) was born inArezzo the son of a notary, and spent his early childhood in the village of Incisa, nearFlorence. His father, Ser Petracco, had been banished from Florence in 1302 by theBlack Guelphs, due to his political connections withDante. Petrarch spent much of his early life atAvignon, where his family moved to followPope Clement V who moved there in 1309 during a papal schism, and nearbyCarpentras, both inVaucluse. He studied atMontpellier (1319 - 23) and moved toBologna, where he studied law in 1323-25. Though trained in law and religion, Petrarch was primarily interested in writing and Latin literature, sharing this passion with his friendGiovanni Boccaccio. In search for oldLatin classics and manuscripts, he traveled through France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. With his first large scale work,Africa -- an epic in Latin -- Petrarch emerged as a European celebrity.

When his father died in1326, Petrarch returned toAvignon, where he worked in different clerical offices. As a scholar and poet, Petrarch soon grew famous, and in1341 he was crowned as apoet laureate inRome. He traveled widely in Europe, served as an ambassador, and was a prolific letter writer. He collected manuscripts on his travels and was a prime mover in the recovery of knowledge from writers of Rome and Greece. He remarked, "Each famous author of antiquity whom I recover places a new offence and another cause of dishonor to the charge of earlier generations, who, not satisfied with their own disgraceful barrenness, permitted the fruit of other minds, and the writings that their ancestors had produced by toil and application, to perish through insufferable neglect. Although they had nothing of their own to hand down to those who were to come after, they robbed posterity of its ancestral heritage."

Among Petrarch's Latin works areDe Viris Illustribus, the dialogueSecretum, a debate with St. Augustine, anRerum Memorandarum Libri, an incomplete treatise on the cardinal virtues,De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae, his most popular Latin prose work, Itinerarium, a guide book to the Holy Land, andDe Sui Ipsius Et Multorum Ignorantia, against Aristotelians. He wrote his scholarly works and epic poetry in Latin, and his sonnets and canzoni in Italian.

The latter part of his life he spent in journeying through northern Italy as an international scholar and renowned traveler

Petrarch settled about 1367 inPadua, where he passed his remaining years in religious contemplation. He died in Arquà in the Euganean Hills onJuly 18, 1374.

InNovember of2003, it was announced thatpathologicalanatomists would be exhuming Petrarch's body from his casket inArqua Petrarca, in order to verify19th century reports that he had stood 1.83meters, which would have made him very tall for his period. The team also hoped to reconstruct his cranium in order to obtain a computerized image of his features. Unfortunately, DNA testing in 2004 revealed that the skull found in the casket was not his, prompting calls for the return of Petrarch's skull.

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