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Francesco Petrarch Revision Notes

History Notes > Culture and Society in Early Renaissance Italy: 1290-1348 Notes

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Petrarch Revision "But such is your execrable habit - to care for what's temporal, and be careless for all that's eternal."1 "If you have no desire for things immortal, if no regard for what is eternal, then you are indeed wholly of the earth earthy: then all is over for you; no hope at all is left." 2 Francesco Petrarch, Petrarch's Secret, or, The soul's conflict with passion, three dialogues between himself and S. Augustine (London, 1911) translated by William H. Draper. Dialogue the First S. Augustine - Petrarch?Augustine asks Petrarch to remember he is human: pure (the type that reaches the marrow and bones) meditation on death is the best way to scorn the seductions and worldly pleasures of this world. Augustine continues: humans are strange o They pretend they do " not know the peril hanging over you heads"3
? And if they do see it, they try to put it off.
? If you are ill, do you not seek to cure yourself with all possible means? If you want something, do you not do everything to obtain it?
o Petrarch agrees with Augustine's two points.
? A third point: o 1. The person by deep meditation and who realises he is miserable, will wish to be so no more. o 2. He who has formed this wish and vehement desire to rise. He will seek to have it realised, o 3. He who seeks will be able to reach what he wishes. o But the first step is found in "the root of salvation in man's heart."
? Men are preoccupied with worldly things and the "pleasures of the world". Thus, humans are punished when it comes to divine justice for the loss of this root of salvation leads to the consequent loss of everything else.. To all this Petrarch responds: I believe there are many things we long for, but "we never have obtained and never shall." o Augustine says this may be true of worldly things.
? But "every man who desires to be delivered from his misery, provided only he desires sincerely and with all his heart, cannot fail to obtain that which he desires."4

1 Page 66. 2 Page 172. 3 Page 8.

Petrarch responds: hang on, there are so few men in this world content, most suffer from illness, imprisonment, exile, poverty and misfortune.
? It "seems quite beyond dispute that a multitude of men are unhappy compulsion and in spite of themselves": man, with all the troubles of the world cannot help feel unhappy. o Augustine say: if only you read the "maxims of the wise5" instead of chasing vanity and gaining the empty praise of men, you would not feel such absurd follies.
? Petrarch: "I feel like schoolboys in presence of an angry master"6
? Is this is a direct reference to Confessions I where Augustine talks about his inherent sinfulness as a child, but also the sinfulness of the world around him?
? Augustine is furious at Petrarch's assertion that "anyone can become or can be unhappy against his will."7
? Petrarch retorts: what man doesn't know of the ills of the world. So while he can acknowledge misery in his heat, it cannot be removed so easily, it is in Fortune's hand. Augustine: very angry now: takes a philosophical argument forward: o "No man can be unhappy by those things you rattle off by name (illness death, disgrace etc)"
? If Virtue can make man happy (as demonstrated by Cicero), then nothing is opposed to true happiness except what is also opposed to Virtue.
? Petrarch: "You would have me bear in mind the precepts of the Stoics, which contradicts the opinions of the crowd and are nearer truth than common custom is"8.
? Err what? Petrarch imbues Augustine with Stoic reasoning, which wasn't really part of the Confessions. o Augustine exhorts Petrarch to avoid "the crowd" and the "beaten track" and "set your aspirations higher: only then can one be worthy of Virgil's words: "On, brave lad, on!
Your courage leading you, SO only Heaven is called." o Augustine says: "we are agreed that on one can become or be unhappy except through his own fault"
? Augustine's argument is philosophical: his point is that man cannot be made unhappy by the problems around him, but by his own lack of virtue. o Yet Petrarch is still concerned about Augustine's original assertion that the man who meditates sincerely on death and misery, and is imbued with the desire to rise, will have a much easier time of reaching this goal. o4 Page 10. 5 Page 11. 6 Page 11 7 Page 11. 8 Page 12

Petrarch claims he has pondered over death many times (and wept to wash away my stains too).
? This challenges Augustine's premise that no man has ever fallen into misery but of his own free will, or remained miserable except of his own accord: the point Augustin made earlier.
? Augustine retorts: No man can become unhappy unless he chooses.
? There is a perverse inclination in men to deceive themselves. Man esteems himself more than he deserves, loves himself more than he ought to: "Deceiver and Deceived are one and the same person." o Petrarch says he has never practiced such deception, to which Augustine says "you are notably deceiving yourself when you boast never to have done such a thing at all".
? "what man in the world was ever forced to sin?" o The Wise Men require that sin must a voluntary action. "Without sin, no man is made unhappy, as you agreed to admit a few minutes ago"9.
? Sin is a voluntary action that man brings upon himself, that is why he is miserable.
? Petrarch says: fair enough, but while men fight fall sinful involuntarily, they do not voluntarily remain so: it is not with his own consent that he remains unhappy. Augustine says "Oh yes, I have witnessed many tears, but very little will."10
? "Your tears have often stung your conscience but not changed your will."11 o Augustine's point is that Petrarch has the power to change, but not the will to do so.
? Augustine reminds Petrarch that he too once was in agony and anguish, "until a deep meditation at last showed me the root of all my misery and made it plain before my eyes."12
? Petrarch says he was well aware of the fig-tree and the Confessions.
? Interesting moment: Augustine says that no tree should be more dear to Petrarch, ""not the myrtle, nor the ivy, nor the laurel beloved of Apollo and ever afterwards favoured by all the band of Poets, favoured too by you" o Is Augustine's point here, that Petrarch should put the divine Christian cause of salvation above the poetry and mythology of Greek gods and the Poets?
? The fig-tree [symbolic of God and his salvation perhaps] "greets you like some mariner coming into haven after many storms; it holds out to you the path of righteousness, and as a sure hope which fadeth not away, that presently the divine Forgiveness shall be yours."13o

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Petrarch says "I can recognise the traces of your own storm-tossed passions". When he read the Confessions, "I seem to be hearing the story of my own self, the story not of another's wandering, but of my own."14
? Here, Petrarch says why exactly, perhaps, he chose Augustine to deliver this dialogue with him. Could he have not chosen Virgil or Cicero who seem, both of whom, seem to be making arguments Augustine and Petrarch use and agree with. Clearly, Petrarch feels a sense of closeness with Augustine, identifying the anguish in Confessions.

Augustine says: "You will admit that a perfect knowledge of one's misery will beget a perfect desire to be rid of it, if only the power to be rid may follow the desire."15
? Petrarch again says: I HAVE wished it. o Augustine says: it is not enough to wish something (using an Ovid quote that "TO wish for what you want is not enough; With ardent longing you must strive for it.")
? You must examine your conscience.
? Conscience is the best judge of virtue. o It will tell Petrarch that he has never longed for spiritual health in a serious and determined manner, the way he ought too. o Petrarch concedes this point. He admits his desire for liberty and for an end to misery "have been too lukewarm"16 He then asks whether it is enough simply to desire. o Augustine says "No one desires ardently and goes to sleep." o But he also says, "my discourse is just to teach you how to hope and to fear"
? Why fear?
? Augustine says that desire involves the destruction of many other objects:
? Augustine says: "The desire of all good cannot exist without thrusting out every lower wish." o i.e. man must get rid of "all their passions" and extinguish all their worldly desires if they seek the ultimate rise from human suffering.
? The soul rises to heaven by its own nobility, but dragged down to earth by the flesh and seductions of the world.
? Petrarch asks: how does a man "break the fetters of the world and mount up perfect and entire to the realms above?"17 o13 Page 20 14 Page 21. 15 Page 22. 16 Page 23.


Augustine reiterates: "the practice of meditation on death and the perpetual recollection of our mortal nature."18
? Petrarch says, that he is doing only this. o Augustin says: "There is another delusion, a fresh obstacle in your way!"
? He brings on Petrarch's conscience as a witness.
? While Petrarch might think his conscience tells him he is meditating on death, in reality he is making "an obscure, confused demand"19. o No man would say he is invincible and never once thought about the weakness of his human condition (illness, death of friends etc especially when the human who died was stronger and more perfect than you). o But critically, "although a host of little pin-pricks play upon the surface of you mind, nothing yet has penetrated the centre."20
? Very few people actually contemplate with any seriousness the fact that they will die. o Is Petrarch here, having an explicit attack on the Parisian scholastic tradition, arguing they endlessly debate without getting anywhere the truth that Augustine is relaying to Petrarch? The "very definition of man, so hackneyed in the schools, that it ought not merely to weary the ears of those who hear it, but is now long since scrawled upon the walls and pillars of every room. This prattling of the Dialecticians will never come to an end; it throws up summaries and...
definitions like bubbles, matter indeed for endless controversies, but for the most part they know nothing about the real truth of the things they talk about."21
? Petrarch's point is that the scholastics know little of the definition of man ?
this is a rather out of the blue attack, is he making a separate point?
He has Augustine himself call it a "monstrous perversion of learning." o Bu Augustine reminds Petrarch to carry on with his definition of man and why this means he can challenge Augustine's argument that men do not seriously contemplate death.
? Petrarch thinks: "Man is...chief of all animals" and a rational animal too.
? Augustine says : no this is wrong. What is man for Augustine then: o Only a man completely governed by Reason, and knows it is she (Reason) alone that differentiates him from the brute...when the man is convinced of his own mortality puts aside perishable things ("in light esteem"): only he can know what it is to be a man. o Death has not sunk into Petrarch's heart, nor is it lodged there as firmly as it should be.

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Again, the philosophical argument put forward by Petrarch: o Death is the most tremendous reality.
? We must picture its effects with utmost concentration:
? Everything from the lips foaming, the nostrils shrinking, the tongue foul and motionless, the smell of the whole body, the horror of seeing the face utterly unlike itself. Petrarch asks for some sort of sign to know he meditated correctly on death: o Augustine says, you will know if "you find yourself suddenly grow stiff, if you tremble, turn pale"22. o If you can leave your body behind and imagine the pains of Hell, the avenging Furies, yet still, have the Hope that God will come and "pluck you out of so great calamities". o Then, you will know you have not meditated in vain. Petrarch worries whether his meditation will be so austere he will be tormented by thoughts of death and "the very agony of dying" and "every kind of anguish" associated with it. o Indeed, Petrarch asks, how to avoid such anguish when contemplating on death. o Augustine says: Don't worry, the more the sinner feels pleasure in his sin, should we know he is unhappy and more in need of pity. This confuses Petrarch
? He takes Augustine to mean:
? A man with pleasure uninterrupted comes to forget himself and is never led back into virtue's path. o But the man faced with adversity amid his carnal delights will remember his true condition and feels pleasure, fickle and artificial, desert him.
? But then how is the man who remembers pain and death any happier than the man who is surrounded by the delights of worldly sin. o Augustine agrees, but emphasises only the man who contemplates adversity and death has hope of conversion.
? Augustine's Confessions was about conversion. Is Petrarch suggesting he too is on some sort of religious conversion? Or is it really a religious conversion?
Augustine basically says: Petrarch don't you worry too much, you are worrying about death so you have a chance at salvation. It is good that you at least want to know when you have achieved proper meditation on death and when you haven't. But the reason Petrarch doesn't seed death properly according to Augustine is that "you look on death as something remote, whereas when one thinks how very short life and how many divers think of accidents befall it, you ought not to think death is far away".23 o Use of Cicero to back up the argument: "What deludes almost all of us" as Cicero says "is that we regard death from afar off"24 But Petarch writes: "Please do not suspect that of me. God keep me from such madness"

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Use of Virgil to back up the argument: "As in that monster to put my trust!" put in the mouth of his pilot Palinurus. o He argues he is acutely aware of the creeping hand of Death [again, a Seneca quote]. Augustine MOVES ON TO HIS SECOND QUALIFICATION: o He says "There must be will, and that will must be so strong and earnest that it can deserve the name of purpose."25 o Augustine says that the thing that stands in the way of Petrarch's purpose of heart is:
? The soul came from heaven, but when imprisoned in the flesh, it "lost much of its first splendour."26
? In contact with the body, the soul forgets its nobler nature and becomes susceptible to passions. o Petrarch says he understands the passion of our nature:
? Past
? Future
? Good Evil
? Against these 4 winds, the quietness of man's souls is perished and gone. Augustine quotes the Book of Wisdom: o "The corruptible body presseth down the soul, and the earthly tabernacle weigheth down the mind that museth upon many things."27 o The plague of too many impressions and experiences and things of the world tear apart and wound the thinking faculty of the soul ? this prevents a true meditation whereby the soul could mount up to the threshold of the One Chief Good. Petrarch: o Agrees and says he has read Augustine's True Religion with much admiration.
? Oddly, Augustine says "you will find a large part of its doctrine is drawn from philosophers, more especially from those of the Platonist and Socratic school."28
? Is this a suggestion that a) Augustine was from the Neoplatonic school of thought or b) Petrarch wants to see in Augustine a Socratic, Neoplatonic argument which probably doesn't exist?
Augustine carries on: o In Cicero's Tusculan Orations, the great philosopher says: "They could look at nothing with their mind, but judged everything by the sight of their eyes; yet a man of any greatness of understanding is known by his detaching his thought from objects of sense, and his meditation from the ordinary track in which others move".29 o??

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