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.
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.