Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), known as Petrarch, was an Italian poet, scholar, diplomat, and moral philosopher famous for his Courtly Love poems, and for inventing Humanism, thus starting (in his own view) The Renaissance. Born in Arezzo, when his father (a contemporary of Dante) was exiled from Florence, he was to grow up near the Papal Court at Avignon. In minor clerical orders, though never fulfilling any priestly duties, he spent most of his adult life travelling between Avignon and various towns in Italy, either working as an envoy for various powers, or as an independent scholar, searching libraries for forgotten books.
Petrarch devoted his life to the revival of classical learning and style, criticising the methods (though not many of the beliefs) of the then-dominant scholastic philosophers of the medieval universities. Petrarch spent a large proportion of his time finding, and making copies of, previously lost or unknown classical works. Through this, Petrarch hoped to bring back the lost culture of the classical world, particularly that of the Romans. Ironically, though Petrarch was very insistent on the superiority of Latin to vernacular languages, his Latin works are now very little read, and his Italian writings form the basis for the modern Italian language.
Though he lived a comparatively long time, Petrarch was rarely satisfied with his writing, and finished very few of his works, often for the reason that he started something else and never got back to his previous work.
His works include, but are not limited to:
- Canzoniere or Rime Sparse - Petrarch's main sequence of Italian poems, written across most of his life, and still being revised up to his death. Made up of 366 poems, mostly sonnets, and almost entirely about Laura. Extremely influential in the development of Renaissance poetry.
- Triumphs - A series of poems in terza rima (referencing Dante) describing the triumphal processions of Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, and Eternity. Like the Canzoniere, these were also written over Petrarch's life, and are also about Laura.
- Africa - An epic poem in Latin hexameters about the Second Punic War, equivalent to The Aeneid. Petrarch based his reputation as a poet on it ... although it was never published during his lifetime, and, when it finally was, it was considered disappointing. Unfinished.
- Secretum (1347-53) - A dialogue between 'Franciscus' and St Augustine on whether he should focus on secular or religious pursuits. He goes with secular.
- De viris illustribus - biographies of famous men (1338-50s). Unfinished. Prompted Giovanni Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris - biographies of famous women.
- De remediis utriusque fortunae - A series of 254 dialogues offering Stoic advice on a variety of good and bad events, such as having a son, becoming pope, being exiled, and headaches. (1354-66)
- Familiares (1350-66) - A collection, in 24 volumes, of Petrarch's letters to various friends, including the famous 'Ascent of Mount Ventoux', regarded as the first record of someone climbing a mountain just to look at the view.
- Seniles ('Letter of Old Age') (1361-73) - Like the Familiares, a letter collection, but of those generally written after those collected in the Familiares. Contains a number of letters addressed to classical figures (yes, actually written to people like Cicero and Seneca as if expecting a response), and the (unfinished...) 'Letter to Posterity', which is autobiographical.
- Sine nomine ('Book without a name') - a collection of letters critical of the Avignon Papacy.
- Guide to the Holy Land - a travel guide to the sights of Jerusalem. Petrarch wrote it having never been there.