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.