Happy Birthday Petrarch

christ-on-the-sea-of-galilee

Eugene Delacroix : Christ on the sea of Galilee

Born on this day in 1304 Petrarch is called by some the father of the Renaissance, by others the father of Humanism and by still others as the father of the Sonnet.  It takes a great man indeed to father so many illustrious children.  Mountaineers consider him the first Alpinist as he is the first person recorded to ascend a mountain (Mont Ventoux) for recreation alone.

A latin scholar he encouraged other scholars to scour the libraries of the world for the writings of ancient Greece and Rome.  He acquired a copy of Homer’s Odyssey but lamented his lack of Greek saying that “Homer was dumb to me and I was deaf to Homer”.  He had more success with his discovery of a cache of the letters of Cicero, who is our key primary source for the political and judicial goings on in the late Roman Republic when Cicero wrote of the day to day doings of Julius Caesar, Pompeii, Brutus, Cassius, Cato, Marc Anthony et al.

As a writer he was a contemporary and a correspondent of Boccaccio.  His writings had a major impact on the evolution of the modern Italian language.  His use of the poetic form of the Sonnet had an enormous impact on the world of poetry and especially on the works of Shakespeare.  Sonnets are somewhat easier to rhyme in Italian than they are in English, but here is a translation of one of his poems.  It sits nicely in this blog site as it is a classic “Mind Ship” as he uses the metaphor of a storm battered ship to personify the ravages of age.

La vita fugge, et non s’arresta una hora; by Francesco Petrarch (Trans A.S. Kline)

Life flies, and never stays an hour,
and death comes on behind with its dark day,
and present things and past things
embattle me, and future things as well:
and remembrance and expectation grip my heart,
now on this side, now on that, so that in truth,
if I did not take pity on myself,
I would have freed myself already from all thought.
A sweetness that the sad heart knew
returns to me: yet from another quarter
I see the storm-winds rattling my sails:
I see no chance of harbour, and my helmsman
is weary now, and my masts and ropes are broken,
and the beautiful stars, I used to gaze on, quenched.

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Bastille Day

Today is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1798, the seminal action of the French Revolution.  The impact of that revolution continues to be felt today.  The French Revolution was an event that marked a watershed in world politics.  Prior to the revolution the affairs of the world were dictated by three broad conditions.

1.      God ruled, and understanding of affairs came from an understanding of the will of God.  

2.      In the Catholic nations the will of God was interpreted by the Pope.  A strong papal representation was present in all the Catholic courts of Europe.

3.      Monarchs took their authority from God, and ruled with divine right.

Now I know that the British out there are saying “wait a minute, we lobbed off Charlies head and did away with divine right way back in 1649.  Agreed, but you also restored the monarchy albeit in a far more controlled manner.  The rest of Europe was still lagging a long way behind.

After the French revolution the affairs of the world were dictated by a different set of conditions.

1.      The scientific method became fundamental to human endeavour.  Rational proof replaced fervent belief as the basis for understanding.

2.      Since religion is founded on belief and not on rational proof, the power of the church waned considerably in the affairs of men.

3.      The monarchy as a method for rule lost credibility with the passing years.  People realised that it was better to be ruled by logic and merit than by divinity and birth.

To avoid traffic jams of pilgrims entering and leaving Rome, Popes advised that pilgrims walk on the left side of the road.  The French in the revolution rejected the pope by instructing their troops to march on the right.  This is why some countries now drive on the right and others drive on the left.

The evolution of the European Union today owes its origin to the visions of Napoleon Bonaparte.  It was he who had the vision of a continental system with a single set of weights and measures and a single currency.

It took centuries for the changes wrought by the French Revolution to work their way through society.  The vision of a European Union was eventually realised only after the devastation of two world wars.

Bastille day 1916 was around the mid-point of the Somme Offensive.  In 1944 Bastille day was in the middle of the Battle of the Hedgerows, or the Battle for St Lo in Normandy, part of the Normandy invasion.

In 1998 on Bastille day my daughter was born and the Tour de France made its first and only visit to Ireland.

We as a society need to protect the values of the French Revolution.  We need to defend reason and logic over misinformation, propaganda and blind faith.  Too many good people died to give us rational democracy for us to give it away.  Protect your rights, protect your democracy, inform yourself, and for the sake of logic and reason, please exercise your vote!

Arms and the Boy:  Wilfred Owen

1 Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
2 How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
3 Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
4 And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

5 Lend him to stroke these blind, blunt bullet-heads
6 Which long to muzzle in the hearts of lads.
7 Or give him cartridges of fine zinc teeth,
8 Sharp with the sharpness of grief and death.

9 For his teeth seem for laughing round an apple.
10 There lurk no claws behind his fingers supple;
11 And God will grow no talons at his heels,
12 Nor antlers through the thickness of his curls.

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