Petrarch or Francesco Petrarca was an Italian scholar, poet and humanist who lived in the Renaissance Italy. He is widely considered one of the finest minds of his time and the earliest humanist. Petrarch is often called ‘Father of Humanism’. In 1345, he discovered letters written by Cicero, famous Roman philosopher par excellence.
Petrarch’s discovery of these letters is often cited as the initiation of 14th century renaissance. His poems addressed to his idealized beloved, a woman named Laura are the finest contributions to the lyric poetry of renaissance period. Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio’s works are considered foundation of modern Italian language. He coined the concept of ‘Dark Ages’ as well.
Early Life: Petrarch was born on July 20, 1304 in city of Arezzo in Tuscany region of Italy. His father, Ser Petracco was a notary public and his mother, Elitta Canigiani was a house wife. His early years were spent in the village of Incisa, near Florence. Later he also lived in Avignon and Carpentras with his family.
Petrarch’s father was in the profession of law and it was on his insistence that Petrarch studied law at University of Montpellier (1316-1320) and Bologna (1320-1323). His childhood friend and schoolmate, Guido Sette also joined him at university. However, his interest was in Latin literature and he wanted to become a writer. He considered the time he spent studying law as wasted. Petrarch was an inexhaustible letter writer and wrote letters to academics like Boccaccio as well. After the death of his parents, he shifted back to Avignon and worked as a clerk in many government offices. During this time he wrote a lot as well.
In 1340, Petrarch wrote his epic poem, Africa. This poem eulogized Roman general Scipio Africanus, who defeated Carthaginian general Hannibal in the Second Punic War. His poem became so popular that Petrarch became on April 8, 1341, the first poet laureate after antiquity. He was crowned by Roman senator, Giordano Orsini. Subsequently, Petrarch travelled extensively through Europe and collected old and crumbled Latin manuscripts. In 1345, he discovered letters written by Roman philosopher, Cicero. He also served as an ambassador during this time.
Petrarch’s career in church did not allow him to marry but he nonetheless had two children, born out of wedlock.
Work: Petrarch is best known for his Italian poetry. His most famous pieces of work are Canzoniere (Songbook, a collection of poems), Trionfi (Triumph, a collection of poems), Secretum Meum (My Secret Book, imaginary dialogues with Saint Augustine), De Viris Illustribus (On Famous Men, a series of moral biographies), De Vita Solitaria (The Solitary Life) and Remediis Utriusque Fortunae (Remedies for Fortune Fair and Foul, a very popular self help book).
He also published several volumes of his letters written to famous people like Cicero and Virgil. Petrarch’s poems written for his imaginary beloved, Laura also became very popular.
Later Life: During the later years of his life, Petrarch travelled through northern Italy as a poet-diplomat and a traveler. He had two children, a son named Giovanni and a daughter, Francesca. He moved out of Avignon after developing serious differences with Pope Innocent VI and Avignon court. Thereafter he lived in Milan, Padua (to escape plague) and Venice.
In Venice, he was given a house by the city council and in return he promised to donate all his books to the public library. Petrarch’s daughter Francesca and her small family shifted with him in 1362 and continued to live with him till 1367 in Venice. In 1368, Petrarch and his daughter’s family shifted yet again to Arqua, near Padua in northern Italy. He breathed his last on July 19, 1374 in Arqua.