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Petrarch (July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374) was an Italian poet, humanist and essayist, and one of the most important intellectual figures of the early Renaissance. Remembered primarily for his poems dedicated to his unidentified muse, Laura, Petrarch was arguably the individual most responsible for the revival of ancient learning that sparked the Renaissance interest in the Greek and Latin classics. He is also the creator of the modern myth of the medieval epoch erroneously described as the Dark Ages.


Petrarch was born as Francesco Petracco on July 20th, 1304, to Ser Petracco, a Florentine notary, and his wife Eletta, in Arezzo. Ser Petracco was a friend and political ally of Dante, and like him was a member of the White Guelph party banished from Florence after the 1302 revolution. As exiles, the family moved frequently, living in Arezzo, Incisa, Pisa, and Genoa before finally settling down in Avignon. Petrarch spent seven years studying law, first at the University of Montpellier and then the University of Bologna, but he refused to practice it, preferring instead life as a courtier at the papal court in Avignon. Early in the morning on April 6, 1327, he encountered a young married woman named Laura at the church of St. Clare, a sight that would inspire him to write the 366 poems of the Rime in Vita e Morte di Madonna Laura.

He became a priest and received an income from church benefices, which did not prevent him from siring two children. His son Giovanni was born in 1337 and his daughter Francesca was born in 1343. On April 8, 1341, he was crowned a poet laureate in Rome, the first since Imperial times. He was an early vegetarian, living primarily on vegetables and milk. He wrote: "I'm not a wolf that feeds on flesh."

Petrarch was largely uninterested in the art and literature of his times; despite his book-collecting habit and familial connections with Dante, he did not possess a copy of the Divine Comedy until he was given one in his old age by Boccaccio. He despised French and German domination of the Italian political scene, and preferred to look back to the days of Roman greatness, to the Roman classics, the Bible and the early Church Fathers. Petrarch wrote most of his hundreds of poems in Italian, but wrote his treatises and letters in Latin. However, he did write the epic poem Africa, about the legendary Roman general Scipio Africanus, in Latin.


Politically, Petarch envisioned a unified globe with Rome as its capital, with an emperor presiding over temporal affairs while a pope would serve as the ecclesiastical chief.[1] However, he was an enthusiastic supporter of Cola di Rienzo's revolution that established a republican regime in the city of Rome (during the period of Avignon papacy when the pope was absent). The revolution failed as Cola was indulging in pompous ceremonies while the pope became hostile to his government.[2]


Latin Poems

  • Africa
  • Bucolicum carmen
  • Epistole metricae
  • Carmina varia

Latin Prose

  • De viris illustribus
  • Rerum memorandum libria
  • Itinerarium ad sepulcrum Domini
  • Secretum
  • Di vita solitaria
  • Di otio religioso
  • Invectivarum contra medicum quendam
  • De remedis utriusque fortunae
  • De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia
  • Invectiva contra cuiusdam anonimi Galli calumnia o Contra eum qui maledixit Italiam
  • Epistole extravagantes
  • Epistole familiares
  • Epistole seniles
  • Epistole sine nomine
  • De gestis Cesaris
  • Psalmi penitentiales
  • Posteritati
  • Contra quendam magni status hominem
  • Collatio laureationis
  • Collatio coram Johanne rege
  • Collatio iter Scipionem, Alexandrum, Hannibalem
  • Arringhe
  • Orationes
  • Testamentum

Italian poems and prose

  • Il Canzonierie (Francisci Petrarca laureatae poetae Rerum vulgarium fragmenta)
  • I Trionfi
  • Frammenti, Rime Sparse, Versi Per Musica, Sonetti Di Corrispondenza
  • Testi del Vaticano latino 3196


  1. Wilkins, Ernest Hatch, Life of Petrarch (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961) v
  2. Wilkins 63-73

External Links

  • [1] Text edition
  • [2] Petrarch Organisation (in Italian language)]