Petrarch Francesco Petrarca

(1304-1374) Francesco Petrarca, better known simply as Petrarch, spent his early years at Avignon where his father, a lawyer, worked at the papal court. Petrarch also studied law, but he eventually devoted himself fully to literary pursuits. He spent most of his life, until 1361, in Avignon and Vaucluse, although he retired to Padua, where he enjoyed the friendship of Giovanni Boccaccio. Credited as one of the fathers of humanism, Petrarch not only studied the classical authors but also avidly sought lost manuscripts. His most famous discovery, made in 1345, was of Cicero's letters to Atticus, Brutus, and Quintus, at the cathedral library in Verona.

Petrarch's large literary output is mostly in Latin, including the unfinished epic L'Africa, though he is now best known for a vernacular collection of carefully constructed and ceaselessly revised love poems, popularly called the Canzoniere but formally named Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Song Book). Most of these poems focus on the poet's unrequited love for a woman he calls Laura. These are divided into two main sections: poems 1-263, written while Laura was alive, and poems 264-366, written after her death on April 6, 1348, exactly 21 years after he first saw her.

It is hard to overestimate Petrarch's influence and importance in the history of European poetry. Geoffrey Chaucer translated one of the sonnets (number 132 of the Song Book) in his Troilus and Criseyde, and he used Petrarch's Latin translation of a tale in Boccac cio's Decameron as the basis for "The Clerk's Tale" in The Canterbury Tales. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, both translated Petrarchan sonnets. Sir Philip Sidney's collection Astrophil and Stella was strongly influenced by Petrarchan models, as was Edmund Spenser's Amoretti. Indeed, all of the numerous and popular sonnet sequences owe a debt to Petrarch's work.

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