Authors: Petrarch

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian poet

Author Works


Epistolae metricae, 1363 (Metrical Letters, 1958)

Bucolicum carmen, 1364 (Eclogues, 1974)

Africa, 1396 (English translation, 1977)

Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, 1470 (also known as Canzoniere; Rhymes, 1976)

Trionfi, 1470 (Tryumphs, 1565; also known as Triumphs, 1962)

Rime disperse, 1826 (also known as Estravaganti; Excluded Rhymes, 1976)


Rerum familiarium libri, wr. 1325-1366 (English translation, 1975-1985; also known as Books on Personal Matters)

Collatio laureationes, 1341 (Coronation Oath, 1955)

Psalmi penitentiales, 1342-1347

Rerum memorandum libri, 1343-1345

De vita solitaria, 1346 (The Life of Solitude, 1924)

De viris illustribus, 1351-1353 (later reorganized as Quorundam virorum illustrium epithoma, with a preface by Petrarch, completed by Lombardo della Seta)

Secretum meum, or De secreto conflictu curarum mearum, 1353-1358 (My Secret, 1911)

Invectiva contra quendam magni status hominem sed nullius scientiae aut virtutis, 1355

Itinerarium Syriacum, or Itinerarium breve de Ianua, 1358

Sine nomine, 1359-1360 (Book Without a Name, 1973)

Senilium rerum libri, wr. 1361-1374 (Letters of Old Age, 1966)

Rerum familiarium libri xxiv, 1364-1366 (Books on Personal Matters, 1975)

De remediis utriusque fortunae, 1366 (Physicke Against Fortune, 1597; also known as On Remedies for Good and Bad Fortunes, 1966)

De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia, 1367 (On His Own Ignorance and That of Many, 1948)

Posteritati, 1370-1372 (Epistle to Posterity, 1966)

Invectiva contra eum qui maledixit Italiae, 1373

De otio religioso, 1376

Miscellaneous Letters, 1966


Opera quae extant omnia, 1554, 1581


Francesco Petrarch (PAY-trahrk), the most famous Italian literary figure next to Dante Alighieri, was born in Arezzo on July 20, 1304, while his father, the notary Ser Petracco (Petrarch changed the spelling of his surname at some point in his early life), was exiled from Florence, probably not for political but for personal reasons. His mother took him to the Tuscan town of Incisa, but when he was nine they joined his father in Avignon, France. At fifteen Petrarch was studying law, first in Montpellier from 1316 to 1320 and later, until 1323, at Bologna in Italy. The death of his father removed the pressure that he become a lawyer, but it also deprived him and his brother of their inheritance. Under the encouragement of Giacomo (or Jacopo) Colonna, bishop of Lombez, he took minor church orders and turned to the classics. Late in 1326 or early in the next year he returned to Avignon, then home of the pope.{$I[AN]9810000447}{$I[A]Petrarch}{$S[A]Petrarca, Francesco;Petrarch}{$I[geo]ITALY;Petrarch}{$I[tim]1304;Petrarch}


(Library of Congress)

That was a fateful move. There, on April 6, 1327, he saw a lovely woman in the church of Santa Clara. He referred to this woman, whose biographical or historical identity cannot be clearly determined, as Laura, and to her he wrote a total of 366 poems making up a collection of odes, sonnets, and lyrics that ranks as one of the world’s greatest volumes of love poems. Some have identified her as a French lady, Laura de Noves, who had married a rich burgher two years earlier and who had eleven children by him before her death, during the plague, on April 6, 1348. (Petrarch’s patron, Bishop Colonna, died about the same time.) In the traditions of chivalry, Laura welcomed the tribute of the poet, but she held him at a distance for twenty years.

Petrarch’s poems to Laura run the gamut from passion to anger at love unrequited, and they even express struggles with his conscience over his religious obligations. His feelings for her did not prevent his having affairs with other women, however, by whom he had children–a son, Giovanni, in 1337, and a daughter, Francesca, in 1343. They were later legitimatized by a papal decree.

In 1330, Petrarch entered the service of Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, staying on until 1337. Financed by the cardinal, Petrarch made a journey to libraries in France, Flanders, and the Rhineland in 1333, and in 1335 he was given a canonry at Lombez, in the region of the Pyrenees. Two years later Petrarch bought himself a small house at Vaucluse, near Avignon, with the intention of becoming a recluse and devoting himself to writing. An eager student of history, he produced a series of biographies, “Concerning Famous Men,” and began an epic in classical Latin about Scipio Africanus and the Punic Wars. He called it Africa.

Always eager for acclaim, Petrarch arranged for a public ovation for himself at the court of King Robert of Naples early in 1341, and another one, in Rome, in April of the same year, when he was crowned poet laureate. He tried to return to his writings, but, well-known by this time, he had many calls for his services. Although he had boasted of his republican theories, various rulers and even Pope Clemente VI sent him on diplomatic missions. Rarely had he leisure to write more of the sonnets that later set the form for the Elizabethan sonnet of England, through translations by Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, and Sir Thomas Wyatt.

In 1350 Petrarch, on his way to Rome, stopped in Florence to see his great friend Giovanni Boccaccio. For a time, beginning in 1362, he lived in Padua, where he was a canon of the church, and then in Venice, where he and Boccaccio met for the last time. In 1369 he moved to a villa in nearby Arquá, where he died five years later. Petrarch has been called the “first modern man of letters.” With his interest in ancient cultures, his collection of books, coins, and medals of antiquity, he was a forerunner of humanism. Through him, the medieval period made its transition to the Italian Renaissance.

BibliographyBergin, Thomas G. Petrarch. New York: Twayne, 1970. A critical biography by a leading translator of Petrarch’ Latin writings. Covers the life and works, with detailed discussions of the Canzoniere and the Triumphs.Bishop, Morris. Petrarch and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963. Standard biographical treatment in one volume. Excellent introduction to his life, social contexts, and major works.Bloom, Harold, ed. Petrarch. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Well-chosen collection of eight previously published essays by major Petrarch scholars.Boyle, Marjorie O’Rourke. Petrarch’s Genius: Pentimento and Prophecy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Boyle rejects literal interpretations of Petrarch’s “poetics of idolatry,” seeing his obsession in rhetorical terms and as an expression of his “frustrated self.”Braden, Gordon. Petrarchan Love and the Continental Renaissance. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999. Sticking close to the works themselves, Braden studies Petrarch’s poems and their effects on the likes of Giovanni Boccaccio, Pietro Bembo, Pierre de Ronsard, and Garcilaso de la Vega. He emphasizes the continuity of subject matter and the poets’ “creative narcissism.”Fubini, Riccardo. Humanism and Secularization: From Petrarch to Valla. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003. An examination of Humanism and its relationship with Petrarch, Bracciolini, and Poggio. Bibliography and index.Jones, Frederic J. The Structure of Petrarch’ “Canzionere”: A Chronological, Psychological, and Stylistic Analysis. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell and Brewer, 1995. An analysis of Petrarch’ poetry, particularly his Canzionere. Bibliography and indexes.Kennedy, William J. The Site of Petrarchism: Early Modern National Sentiment in Italy, France, and England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. An examination of Petrarch’ nationalism as it manifested itself in literature and its effect. Bibliography and index.Mann, Nicholas. Petrarch. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. This brief book talks about Petrarch’ writings as a lifelong effort to create and explain a self. Includes a useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources.Mazzotta, Giuseppe. The Worlds of Petrarch. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993. A critical look at the poetry and other works of Petrarch, including the Canzionere. Also examines his Humanism. Bibliography and index.Quillen, Carol E. Rereading the Renaissance: Petrarch, Augustine, and the Language of Humanism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. Examines Petrarch as a reader and writer as well as his correspondence in relation to Humanism. Also looks at Saint Augustine. Bibliography and index.Sturm-Maddox, Sara. Petrarch’s Laurels. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. The relationship between Petrarch’s concerns for love and for glory is encased in that of “Laura” and “the laurel.” This study of their relationship in his poetry examines the conflicts, metamorphoses, and parallels that entwine the two.Trinkaus, Charles. The Poet as Philosopher: Petrarch and the Formation of Renaissance Consciousness. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. Trinkaus explores the impact of Petrarch’s poetic mentality on his humanistic works and of both on the emergence of the modern concept of self.
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