Francesco Petrarch was born in Arezzo the son of a notary, and spent his early childhood in the village of Incisa, near Florence. His father, Ser Petracco, had been banished from Florence in 1302 by the Black Guelphs, due to his political connections with Dante. Petrarch spent much of his early life at Avignon, where his family moved to follow Pope Clement V who moved there in 1309 during a papal schism, and nearby Carpentras, both in Vaucluse. He studied at Montpellier (1319 - 23) and moved to Bologna, 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 friend Giovanni Boccaccio. In search for old Latin 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 in 1326, Petrarch returned to Avignon, where he worked in different clerical offices. As a scholar and poet, Petrarch soon grew famous, and in 1341 he was crowned as a poet laureate in Rome. 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." Thus, Petrarch had created the concept of the Dark Ages.
On April 26th, 1336 Petrarch together with his brother and two other companions climbed to the top of Mont Ventoux (1,909 m; 6,263 ft). He wrote an account of the trip, composed considerably later as a letter to his friend Francesco Dionigi. At the time, it was unusual to climb a mountain for no other reason than the experience itself. Therefore, April 26th, 1336 is regarded as the "birthday of alpinism", and Petrarch (Petrarca alpinista) as the "father of alpinism".
The latter part of his life he spent in journeying through northern Italy as an international scholar and renowned traveler. Petrarch never married, but he did father three children by a woman or women unknown to posterity. A son, Giovanni, was born in Avignon in 1337 and a daughter, Francesca, was born in Vaucluse in 1343. Giovanni died of the plague in 1361. Francesca married Francescuolo da Brossano (who was later named executor of Petrarch's testament). In 1362, shortly after the birth of a daughter, Eletta, they joined Petrarch in Venice, to flee the plague then ravaging parts of Europe. A second grandchild, Francesco, was born in 1366, but died before his second birthday.
Petrarch settled about 1367 in Padua, where
he passed his remaining years in religious contemplation. He died in
Arquà in the Euganean
Hills on July 18, 1374.
Laura and poetry
Laura and Petrarch never met. He channeled his feelings into love poems that were exclamatory rather than persuasive, and wrote prose that showed his contempt for men who pursue women. Upon her death in 1348, the poet finds that his grief is as difficult to live with as was his former despair. Later in "Letter to Posterity" Petrarch wrote: "In my younger days I struggled constantly with an overwhelming but pure love affair - my only one, and I would have struggled with it longer had not premature death, bitter but salutary for me, extinguished the cooling flames. I certainly wish I could say that I have always been entirely free from desires of the flesh, but I would be lying if I did."
The Petrarchan sonnet bears his name.
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