- Explain Petrarch’s contributions to the Renaissance
- Petrarch is traditionally called the “Father of Humanism,” both for his influential philosophical attitudes, found in his numerous personal letters, and his discovery and compilation of classical texts.
- Petrarch was born in the Tuscan city of Arezzo in 1304, and spent his early childhood near Florence, but his family moved to Avignon to follow Pope Clement V, who moved there in 1309 to begin the Avignon Papacy.
- He traveled widely in Europe and, during his travels, collected crumbling Latin manuscripts, whose discovery, especially Cicero’s letters, helped spark the Renaissance.
- A highly introspective man, he shaped the nascent Humanist movement a great deal because many of the internal conflicts and musings expressed in his writings were seized upon by Renaissance Humanist philosophers and argued continually for the next 200 years.
Francesco Petrarca (July 20, 1304–July 19, 1374), commonly anglicized as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar and poet in Renaissance Italy, and one of the earliest Humanists. Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters is often credited for initiating the 14th-century Renaissance. Petrarch is often considered the founder of Humanism. Petrarch’s sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance and became a model for lyrical poetry. In the 16th century, Pietro Bembo created the model for the modern Italian language based on Petrarch’s works.
Petrarch was born in the Tuscan city of Arezzo in 1304. Petrarch spent his early childhood in the village of Incisa, near Florence. He spent much of his early life at Avignon and nearby Carpentras, where his family moved to follow Pope Clement V, who moved there in 1309 to begin the Avignon Papacy. Petrarch studied law at the University of Montpellier (1316–1320) and the University of Bologna (1320–23); because his father was in the profession of law he insisted that Petrarch and his brother study law also. Petrarch, however, was primarily interested in writing and Latin literature, and considered these seven years wasted.
He traveled widely in Europe, served as an ambassador, and has been called “the first tourist” because he traveled just for pleasure. During his travels, he collected crumbling Latin manuscripts and was a prime mover in the recovery of knowledge from writers of Rome and Greece. He encouraged and advised Leontius Pilatus’s translation of Homer from a manuscript purchased by Boccaccio, although he was severely critical of the result. In 1345 he personally discovered a collection of Cicero’s letters not previously known to have existed, the collection ad Atticum.
Disdaining what he believed to be the ignorance of the centuries preceding the era in which he lived, Petrarch is credited or charged with creating the concept of a historical “Dark Ages.”
Father of Humanism
Petrarch is traditionally called the “Father of Humanism,” and considered by many to more generally be the “Father of the Renaissance.” This honorific is so given both for his influential philosophical attitudes, found in his numerous personal letters, and his discovery and compilation of classical texts.
In his work Secretum meum he points out that secular achievements did not necessarily preclude an authentic relationship with God. Petrarch argued instead that God had given humans their vast intellectual and creative potential to be used to their fullest. He inspired Humanist philosophy, which led to the intellectual flowering of the Renaissance. He believed in the immense moral and practical value of the study of ancient history and literature—that is, the study of human thought and action. Petrarch was a devout Catholic and did not see a conflict between realizing humanity’s potential and having religious faith.
A highly introspective man, he shaped the nascent Humanist movement a great deal, because many of the internal conflicts and musings expressed in his writings were seized upon by Renaissance Humanist philosophers and argued continually for the next 200 years. For example, Petrarch struggled with the proper relation between the active and contemplative life, and tended to emphasize the importance of solitude and study. In a clear disagreement with Dante, in 1346 Petrarch argued in his De vita solitaria that Pope Celestine V’s refusal of the papacy in 1294 was a virtuous example of solitary life. Later, the politician and thinker Leonardo Bruni argued for the active life, or “civic humanism.” As a result, a number of political, military, and religious leaders during the Renaissance were inculcated with the notion that their pursuit of personal fulfillment should be grounded in classical example and philosophical contemplation.