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Petrarch (pēˈträrk) or Francesco Petrarca (fränchĕsˈkō pāträrˈkä), 1304–74, Italian poet and humanist, one of the great figures of Italian literature. He spent his youth in Tuscany and Avignon and at Bologna. He returned to Avignon in 1326, may have taken lesser ecclesiastic orders, and entered the service of Cardinal Colonna, traveling widely but finding time to write numerous lyrics, sonnets, and canzoni. At Avignon in 1327 Petrarch first saw Laura, who was to inspire his great vernacular love lyrics. His verse won growing fame, and in 1341 he was crowned laureate at Rome. Petrarch's friendship with the republican Cola di Rienzi inspired the famous ode Italia mia. In 1348 both Laura and Colonna died of the plague, and in the next years Petrarch devoted himself to the cause of Italian unification, pleaded for the return of the papacy to Rome, and served the Visconti of Milan. In his last years Petrarch enjoyed great fame, and even after his death and ceremonial burial at Arquà his influence continued to spread. One of the greatest humanists, he was among the first to realize that Platonic thought and Greek studies provided a new cultural framework, and he helped to spread this Renaissance point of view through his criticism of scholasticism and through his wide correspondence and personal influence. His discovery of Latin manuscripts also furthered the new learning. In his Secretum, a dialogue, Petrarch revealed the conflict he felt between medieval asceticism and individual expression and glory. Yet in his poetry he ignored medieval courtly conventions and defined true emotions. In his portrait of Laura he surpassed the medieval picture of woman as a spiritual symbol and created the image of a real woman. He also perfected the sonnet form and is considered by many to be the first modern poet. He influenced contemporary historiography through his epic Africa, which brought attention to the virtues of the Roman republic. Petrarch had less pride in the “vulgar tongue” than in Latin, which he had mastered as a living language. Consequently he considered his Trionfi [triumphs] and the well-known lyrics of the Canzoniere [song book] less important than his Latin works, which include, besides Africa, Metrical Epistles, On Contempt for the Worldly Life, On Solitude, Eclogues, and the Letters. However, he reached poetic heights in both tongues, and his delicate, melodious, and dignified style became an important model for Italian literature for three centuries. Early translators of Petrarch's sonnets and songs include Chaucer, Spenser, Surrey, and Wyatt.


See his letters tr. by M. Bishop (1966); E. H. Wilkins, Life of Petrarch (1961) and Petrarch and the Renascence (1965). See studies by A. Scaglione (1976), S. Minta (1980), K. Foster (1987), and T. P. Roche, Jr. (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Francesco Petrarca). Born July 20, 1304, in Arezzo; died July 19, 1374, in Arquà, near Padua. Italian poet.

The son of a Florentine notary who moved to Provence in 1312, Petrarch went to Montpellier in 1316 to study law. In 1320 he moved to Bologna, where he continued his studies. In 1326 he took holy orders and became a Minorite (a member of the Franciscan Order). A precursor of the humanistic culture of the Renaissance, he did not break completely with the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, he critically reappraised Scholasticism, affirmed the freedom of the individual, and enhanced the importance of poetic creativity.

Petrarch’s philosophical treatise in Latin, Secretum meum (My Secret; 1342-43), reflected the clash between the spiritual “I” of the poet, with his striving for literary fame and his celebration of love for a woman, and ascetic morality, from which he had not yet freed himself. His thirst for fame as a poet was also revealed in the short autobiography, Posteritati (Letter to Posterity, 1374). Petrarch was one of the first European humanists to idealize classical antiquity. The narrative poem Africa (1339-42), a Latin work in the style of Vergil’s Aeneid, recounts the history of the Second Punic War. The Bucolicum carmen (1346— 57) are allegorical eclogues.

Petrarch’s Italian lyrics include political verses. In the canzone “My Italy” he writes with bitterness about the fragmentation of the country, anarchy, and internecine strife. Petrarch dedicated the canzone “Generous Spirit” to Cola di Rienzi, calling on him to save the Italian people. Of special importance among Petrarch’s works are the love lyrics dedicated to Laura, whom he claimed to have met in a church in 1327. The Canzoniere, which is divided into two parts (Poems During Laura’s Life and Poems After Laura’s Death), consists of 317 sonnets, 29 canzoni, nine sestinas, seven ballads, and four madrigals. A unique poetic diary, the Canzoniere also reveals the contradiction between the ascetic medieval consciousness and the affirmation of a new vision of the world. Petrarch’s lyrics are linked with Provençal and Sicilian poetry, as well as with the dolce stil nuovo school. At the same time, they represent a new stage in the development of Italian and European poetry. With Petrarch the description of a beloved woman becomes detailed and lifelike, and the feelings of love are depicted as contradictory and changeable.

Petrarch reinvigorated the content of poetry and created a perfect verse form. His verse is musical, and his images elegant. His stylistic techniques (antithesis, the rhetorical question), which reflect the troubled state of his soul and impart a dramatic character to the sonnets, do not disturb the smoothness of his verse and the harmonious quality of his poetry. In addition to the lyrics, Petrarch dedicated to Laura the Triumphs (1354), an allegorical poem in terza rima that is didactic and permeated with asceticism.

Petrarch’s lyric poetry had a tremendous influence on the development of European poetry (Petrarchism). Like Dante and Boccaccio, Petrarch helped to create the Italian literary language.


Edizione nazionale delle opere di F. Petrarca, vols. 1, 10-14. Florence, 1926-43.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. lirika. Moscow, 1955. [Translated from Italian and with a commentary by A. Efros.]
Kniga pesen. Moscow, 1963. [Compiled and with an introduction and notes by B. Purishev.]
Izbrannoe. Edited and compiled by N. Tomashevskii. Moscow, 1974.


De Sanctis, F. Istoriia itaVianskoi literatury, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1963-64.
Mokul’skii, S. S. Ital’ianskaia literatura: Vozrozhdenie i Prosveshchenie. Moscow, 1966.
Parandovskii, la. “Petrarka.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1974, no. 6.
Khlodovskii, R. I. F. Petrarka: Poeziia gumanizma. Moscow, 1974.
Bosco, U. F. Petrarca. Bari, 1961.
Curato, B. Introduzione a Petrarca. Cremona [1963].
Storia della letteratura italiana, vol. 2. [Milan, 1965.]
Quaglio, A. E. F Petrarca. [Milan, 1967.]
Forster, L. The Icy Fire: Five Studies in European Petrarchism. London-New York, 1969. (Contains a bibliography.)
Bergin, T. G. Petrarch. New York, 1970. (Contains bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Italian name Francesco Petrarca. 1304--74, Italian lyric poet and scholar, who greatly influenced the values of the Renaissance. His collection of poems Canzoniere, inspired by his ideal love for Laura, was written in the Tuscan dialect. He also wrote much in Latin, esp the epic poem Africa (1341) and the Secretum (1342), a spiritual self-analysis
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