Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch)

portrait of Petrarch


Born: 20 July 1304, Arezzo (now in Tuscany, Italy)
Died: 19 July 1374, Arqua Petrarca, Padua (now Italy)

Petrarch's father was a clerk in an ecclesiastical court, so the family moved to Avignon when the Pope did. Francesco was to be trained in law, but preferred to write, angering his father. He became a priest for the small stipend it paid and the time it allowed him to travel and write, he searched stores of old manuscripts in what are now France, Spain, Germany, and Italy, finding important lost works of Cicero as well as some by lesser authors. In 1341 he was crowned poet laureate of Rome. Although he wrote a great deal in both French and Latin, he is most remembered for his Italian sonnets, largely devoted to a woman named Laura, apparently the wife of an official in the pontifical court, to whom he may never have spoken. Other than letters, few of his writings are assigned dates as Petrarch continually edited even his earliest work. Petrarch was a constant letter writer. He published one volume of letters in which he was critical of papal policy "sine nomine", meaning he removed the names of his correspondents. He also wrote numerous letters to long-dead literary models, notably Cicero and Virgil, and Secretem Meum which was a debate with Augustine of Hippo, despite the latter's death in 430. He has been called the Father of the Renaissance on the strength of having identified the period up to his life as the Dark Ages. The town he lived his last years in was later named in his honor and a tomb was built. Despite a marble lid weighing two tons, the tomb was raided on at least two occasions and it is now known that the major skeletal remains show injuries matching his known life, but the skull in the tomb is absolutely not from the same person.

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