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Petrarch's Epystole *.

It is advisable, I think, to start from some philologically established facts that will give us a better critical understanding of the work that concerns us here. Its true title is Epystole; this is the title Petrarch gave it, the one his immediate followers, including Giovanni Boccaccio, knew. The choice of the title was motivated by the nature of its contents, a "real" poetic correspondence, obviously stylistically elaborated, and by the purposeful recall of the Epistulae of Horace; a recall imposed by the almost religious devotion the early Petrarch had for the classics. Hence the necessity for the writer to select a different title of his prose letters, Rerum familiarium libri. (1)

The work was published by Petrarch in 1364, possibly just before the death of its dedicatee Barbato da Sulmona, a statesman as well as a man of letters, with whom Petrarch had become acquainted in the occasion of his brief Neapolitan sojourn in preparation of his roman coronation. It contains 66 letters, thus divided: 14 in the first book, 18 in the second, and 34 in the third. With publication, Petrarch intended to provide a text controlled and approved by the author to put a stop to the unauthorized circulation of arbitrary and uncorrected copies of individual letters, a circulation which is attested by the ms tradition and which, by the way, was the primary reason for the writer's fame in the late thirties and early forties and consequently for his coronation as a poet in Rome. The publication of Epystole has involved:

1. The selection of letters already composed and sent

2. harmonization of content

3. stylistic revision

The three moments remind us of typical petrarchan features, that we are already acquainted with, from the Rerum familiarium libri and Rerum vulgarium fragmenta. The final result of this process is that the signification of the whole is much greater than the simple sum of the single pieces. The global message exceeds the occasions that justified the actual letters; it has become a literary message that has its own reasons. Reality is only the point of departure. The arrival takes place in a different sphere. This conclusion implies important consequences: first of all a strong reduction or flattening, if not total cancellation of the chronological gaps between the occasions of the single letters, a forcing back of the material to the writer's emotional and intellectual conditions at the time the collection was born; to the time, that is, of the dedication to Barbato, whose date, for reasons both internal and external is 1350. This is the time when Petrarch, after the great losses of 1348, both public and private (the Plague with the death of friends, patrons, Laura), with greater determination takes stock, draws a balance sheet of his life and of his literary work. The textual affinities between the introductory letter to Barbato (I, 1) (2) and the prefatory sonnet of the Canzoniere are telling (nor is the first of the Familiares, for its mood, to a certain extent unrelated):</p>

<pre> ... Memor ergo precum, dilecte, tuarum, institui exiguam sparsi tibi mittere partem carminis, exacte percurrens otia vite. (vv. 29-31) [... mindful, therefore, my dear, of your prayers I have decided, looking back on the leisure hours of my past life, to send you a small portion of my scattered poems.] ... veteres tranquilla tumultus mens horret, relegensque alium putat ista locutum. (vv. 64-65) [my mind now at peace trembles at the old turmoil of love and in rereading feels that a different man has spoken.] (Musa) Prodeat impexis ad te festina capillis ... veniamque precetur

non laudem ... (vv. 73-75) [Let my Muse come in a hurry to you with uncombed hair ... and ask for your pardon not praise.] Nunc tibi qualis erat sub prima etate ... occurrit, amice ... (vv. 77-79)

[Now, my friend, she comes to you dressed ... as she was in her

youth...] ... nam dum maiora paramus hunc tibi devoveo studii iuvenilis honorem. (vv. 82-83) [and so, while I am working on greater things I dedicate to you this homage of my youthful labor.] </pre> <p>RVFI, 1 ft.:</p> <pre> Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse il suono

di quei sospiri ond' io nudriva 'l core in sul mio primo giovenile errore quand'era in parte altr' uom da quel ch' i' sono, del vario stile in ch'io piango et ragiono spero trovar pieta, non che perdono... [You who hear in scattered rhymes the sound of those sighs with / which I nourished my heart during my first youthful error, when / I was in part another man from what I am now: // for the varied style in which I weep and speak ... / ... / ... / I hope to find pity, not only pardon] (trans. Robert M. Durling) </pre> <p>Once we have accepted the preeminence of the 'ideal' over the actual chronology, is it possible to trace the lines governing the author's strategies of organization? I think it is. The profound meaning of the conclusion of the last letter of Epystole (III, 34) has not escaped attentive critics. Its admonition to his correspondent Guglielmo da Pastrengo to leave his home, to free himself even from family ties in order to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, to take Francesco as a companion, is undeniably charged with strong moral and literary implications:</p>

<pre> Cuncta tibi calcanda sunt; pulcherrima merces proposita est... Mene, oro, comitem refugis? Comes esse volenti insfitui meliore via. Iam mundus, et omne quod placuit iuveni, domita vix came, valete. (vv. 38-40, ed. Rossetti II, 208) (3) [You have to trample upon everything. A most beautiful reward is ready for you.... Are you refusing me as a companion? I decided to embark, if you take me, on a better path. I take leave of you, o world; I take leave of all that I have loved in my youth, now that the strength of my flesh has barely been tamed.] </pre> <p>What we have here is the signature of the author, signaling the completion of the work. (4) Moreover a journey from the world, from its allurements and the constrictions of the flesh, to the heavens, is obliquely but clearly stated.

There is more: III, 34 has parallels in the final letters of the first and second book I, 14 and II, 18.

I, 14 (Ad se ipsum) is a lucid, yet desperate analysis of Petrarch's moral predicaments as he is facing the tragedy of the plague. The I, the speaking character, is perfectly conscious that a radical turnabout in his life is more than ever necessary but is unable to enact it.</p>

<pre> Sepe ego premetuens animamque amplexus inertem cogito si qua via est medios auferre per estus corporeasque unda lacrimarum extinguere flammas, Sed retinet mundus ... (vv. 47-50) [Often in fear, taking up in my arms my sluggish soul, I look for a way to save it through the fire and to extinguish the flames of the flesh with a wave of tears. But the world is holding me up...] Nonne vides volucri labentia secula cursu? Impellunt momenta levem successibus horam; illa diem noctemque fugat ... (vv. 88-90) Preteriitque tue tibi iam pars diei, iam ruit eterne prenuntia vespera noctis.

Tu longum senior curas extendis in evum, tu dormis, moriture...

... male perdita tempora defle, dum licet, ac patriam versus vesfigia volve, vixisti in pelago nimis irrequietus iniquo in portu morere ... (vv. 110-19) [Don't you see how time slips away with swift steps? moments push away the short hour; / that one chases away day and night ... Your day has for the most part passed. Evening, harbinger of eternal night hastens up; You, old man, are prolonging your pains ... You, who are doomed to die, are asleep.... weep upon time vainly spent, while you can, turn your steps towards home.... You lived restlessly in the iniquitous sea, die in port!...] </pre> <p>I won't insist on the at times literal contacts with crucial nuclei of RVF, particularly with canzone CCLXIV I' vo pensando et nel penser m'assale that begins the section "in morte" of Laura, nor on the thorny problem of the chronology of the various pieces of the puzzle. (5) Rather, I would stress the importance of the position of the letter at the end of the first book: we find here fear, nausea for the world, uncertainty concerning his final destiny. The concluding verses, with their Senecan coloring, are highly meaningful:</p> <pre> ... exitus ipse docebit quis fuerim vere ... (vv. 142-43) [... the end will show the man I really was] </pre> <p>In contrast, at the opposite end of the work, we find that a decision, however conditional, has been taken:</p> <pre> ... iam mundus, et omne quod placuit iuveni, domita vix came, valete. </pre> <p>Nor can we be deceived by the manner in which the last letter of the second book (II, 18) ends. This letter is about the building of Petrarch's house in Parma (6); it shows the writer's wavering psychological attitude toward this initiative, a clear symptom of a deeper malaise. Its conclusion is striking. A metaphor, much loved by the poet, a shipwreck, comes to the fore but, surprisingly, he is not part of it; he sees others, vulgus ineptum, in a much worse state. Petrarch is indeed aware of his condition, of his irremediable inadequacy. His mind is tossed inter fluctus--"among the waves"; but "the inept populace" is hurled in bigger billows, without rudder, menaced by a universal wreck. All in all, he laughs at himself and at everything mortal in this world:</p> <pre> ... Tandem omnia librans, rideo meque simul mortali quidquid in orbe est. (vv. 60-61, ed. Rossetti II, 190) </pre> <p>The line connecting the conclusions of the three books now appears clear: from anguished uncertainty to scorning detachment, to the resolute relinquishing of all worldly things by a man who is now free of all illusions about what is apparent in the world. This is the moral portrait that the author intends to convey. The choice of a better path--the path toward salvation--implies awareness and control of one's internal contradictions.

Moreover it should not escape the reader's attention that the final triumph of his will has been prepared by shrewdly placing, immediately before III, 34 letters 32 and 33: the former to Socrates (Ludovico Santo di Beringen), the early companion of Petrarch's youth in Provence; the latter to Simonide (Francesco Nelli), his new Italian and Florentine friend. Letter 32 is an obsessive catalogue of all the possible vain ambitions and occupations of those intent solely on worldly matters, unmindful of heaven--a true contemptus mundi; 33 is a personal 'acknowledgement' of the truth of the general, abstract paraenesis. Somehow the two friends summarize the whole parable of the writer's existence from Provence to Italy, motherland of his affections and intellect, with Rome as the final destination in III, 34 of another couple, Guglielmo and Francesco, the mystic Rome yearned for by every Christian soul. Assuredly voluntarism, an essential part of the dialectics of Petrarch's entire work: to be and ought to be. I think it is important that the Epystole be implicated in such a dialectics. They are not a haphazard shapeless heap of preexisting material as was the general opinion which, to be sure, with reservations and nuances, on the whole still holds. Preexisting literary material a fruit, as the poet says, of his youth (cfr. I, 1, 43 tenero ... in evo), but screened by the tilter of a keen moral and literary consciousness never resigned to the disorderly, chaotic flux of 'reality.'

Now, this general structure that I have tried to bring out encompasses minor thematic units carefully distributed along the apparently casual flow of the epistolary discourse, actually obeying a skilled strategy of parallels, contrasts, balance. I'll be content to draw attention only to a few instances. I don't consider it a coincidence that the death lament for the poet's mother (I, 7), possibly the first piece of his Latin poetry, is inserted between an anguished confession of his tormenting love (I, 6) and I, 8, which expresses the fear that his passion might be rekindled. On the other hand, the death motif in I, 7 is destined to be picked up with greater resonance both in 1, 13 a planctus for the death of his older friend Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro and in I, 14 Ad se ipsum. Similarly, how the decreasing frequence of the love motif is parallelled, in opposition, by the massive presence of the poetry theme cannot escape the reader's attention. The love motif is present in two letters in the first book, is totally absent in the second, appears in the third in letter 3 to Guglielmo da Pastrengo, an elegant and mundane badinage on the love affair of his friend and, almost at the center of the book but in a deprecatory manner, in two more letters, 15 and 16, addressed to the musician Floriano da Rimini. In opposition to the decreasing love motif in the above letters is the massive presence of the poetry theme (its practice, its meaning and its value) in the second book (letters 2, 3, 4 to the Cardinal Bernard d'Aube, a failing aspirant poet); 10 and 17 to Zoilus, a nickname for Brizio Visconti, Bernabo's powerful son. The organic character of the Epystole cannot therefore be doubted. Space strictures do not permit an exhaustive analysis, but it is necessary to point out some specific features.

These letters offer a wide--geographic, cultural and affective--panorama. The historical past of the various regions and cities touched by Petrarch, with its cultural and symbolic import, is brought to the fore always with strong emotional participation expressed either with longing or with exhortatory and polemic force (Avignon, Vaucluse, Italy, with her cities: Naples and her Vergilian memories, Rome, with her classical and Christian heritage, Parma, Milan, Padua ...). Nor are the dimensions--intellectual cultural and emotional--nearly separated. The first prevails when the writer is motivated by ethical and political reasons (letters such as I, 2 and 5 addressed to Benedict XII and II, 5 to Clement VI, stressing the necessity for the pope to return to Rome, his 'natural' residence); the second occupies the limelight when the poet moves from external reality to his not less rich intimate life, his restlessness, his discontent, his fears, his love, his solitude in the company of his best friends, books. There we find the, often great, Petrarch of the Canzoniere.

Epystole I, 4 is a charming invitation to Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro to visit him in his recess at Vaucluse (variously dated by scholars but certainly belonging to the period 1337-39). It is a description of his "transalpine Helicon," a place that the frequent mythical references and the pregnant literary allusions raise to a different sphere, a reality immune to natural contingencies, existing solely in the realm of literature. This is what will become Petrarch's personal "myth." Vaucluse is again the general background of I, 6 addressed to his friend and confidant Giacomo Colonna--perhaps antecedent, but placed after I, 4 solely for architectonic reasons: it thus occupies almost the center of the first book. It is the landscape of his unrequited love and the serene happiness of the humanist. Laura occupies the first half of the letter: vain are all attempts to escape, her features are always before the eyes of the narrator:</p> <pre> per avia silve

dum solus reor esse magis, virgulta tremendam ipsa representant faciem truncusque reposte ilicis et liquido visa est emergere fonte,

obviaque effulsit sub nubibus aut per inane aeris aut duro spirans erumpere saxo credita suspensum tenuit formidine gressum. (vv. 146-51)

[when I think / To be alone in pathless forest shades, / I see the

face I fear, upon the bushes / or on an oaken trunk; or from the

stream / She rises; flashes on me from a cloud / or from clear sky;

or issues from a rock, / Compelling me, dismayed, to hold my step]

(trans. E. H. Wilkins) </pre> <p>But here is also to be found Petrarch's other aspect: the companion of the ancients, the host of the books with which he converses. The passage to the second part of the letter strikes the reader for its abrupt, almost impatient brake: Hactenus hec [It is enough of that] v. 156. In this second part, expressed with unsurpassed forcefulness and eloquence, we have what we could safely call the original manifesto of humanism: Petrarch's "secret friends," the books, are the trustees and 'transmitters' of mankind's memories, the depository of the highest and most precious accomplishments of men:</p> <pre> Nunc hos, nunc illos percontor; multa vicissim

respondent, et multa canunt et multa loquuntur. Nature secreta alii, pars optima vite consilia et mortis, pars inclita gesta priorum,

pars sua, preteritos renovant sermonibus actus. (vv. 188-92) [Now these, now those I question, and they answer / Abundantly. Sometimes they sing for me; / Some tell of the mysteries of nature;

/ Some give me counsel for my life and death; / Some tell of high

emprise, bringing to mind / Ages long past...] (trans. E. H. Wilkins) </pre> <p>Conversing with books is certainly a classical motif, but the motif's continuing recurrence in Petrarch's works, with always new expressive formulations, from Epystole to Familiares to De vita solitaria, renders the writer's reformulations particularly cogent, as is shown by their echoes in his immediate circle (Boccaccio, Zanobi da Strada) and then in later writers. A close analysis of the texts demonstrates, in my opinion, that Petrarch's usage is primarily responsible for the renewed life of the motif. When Machiavelli in his famous letter to Francesco Vettori of December 10, 1513 writes,</p> <pre> dove io non mi vergogno parlare con loro [I grandi uomini antichi di cui i libri sono testimoni] della ragione delle loro actioni; et quelli per loro humanita mi rispondono ... [where I am not ashamed to speak with them (The great men of antiquity to whose lives books are witness) to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their kindness answer me] (trans. Allan Gilbert) </pre> <p>he literally takes up, (because he 'translates') the Petrarch of Epyst. I, 6, 188-89:</p> <pre> Nunc hos, nunc illos percontor; multa vicissim respondent ... (7) </pre> <p>It is important to note that at such an early date (1338), before his coronation, Petrarch, with such passionate strength establishes the fundamental moment (the meeting with books) in which 'tradition' starts to live: the past is recuperated and nourishes the future.

If Vaucluse is the transalpine Elycon for Petrarch, Selvapiana is the Italian one. After his Capitoline triumph (April 1341) the poet, accompanied by Azzo di Coreggio, repaired to Parma where he remained, guest of her lords, until January 1342. In the woods of Selvapiana, not far from the city, he was suddenly taken by a flash of enthusiasm for his unfinished Africa. He says it himself in his letter to Posterity (in Francesco Petrarca, Prose, a cura di G. Martellotti, P. G. Ricci, E. Carrara, e E. Bianchi [Milano: Riccardo Ricciardi Editori, 1955] 16; and in Epyst. II, 16 of 1343 vv. 19-23, in F. Petrarca, Rime, Trionfi e poesie latine 764), addressed to Barbato da Sulmona to whom the entire work was to be dedicated. (8) The description of the strikingly suggestive landscape stands out in the epistle (an equivalent in Latin of the intense lyricism of the Canzoniere). To which is added, condensed in an emblem, the 'myth' of the man of letters who brings back to life neglected poetry after centuries of oblivion. I quote vv. 36-46:</p>

<pre> Floreus in medio torus est, quem cespite nullo erexit manus artificis, sed amica poetis ipsa suis natura locum meditata creavit. Hic avium cantus fontis cum murmure blandos conciliant somnos; gratum parat herba cubile, fronde tegunt rami, mons flamina submovet Austri; horridus hunc metuit pedibus violare subulcus,

rusticus hunc rastris digitoque hunc signat et alto silvarum trepidus veneratur ab aggere custos. Intus odor mirus statioque simillima Campis Elysiis profugisque domus placidissima Musis.

[In the middle there is a flowery seat, not built with turfs by a

crafsman, but created by nature, the friend of poets, herself. Here

the birds' singing along with a fountain's murmur induce a peaceful

slumber; the grass offers a pleasant bed; the branches a covering,

the mountain keeps off the Auster's blowing. The uncouth swineherd

is afraid of violating it with his feet, the peasant with his rake

and the forester points it out with a finger and in awe from a

mound reveres it. Inside, a wonderful scent and an abode quite similar to the Elysian fields, a most pleasant home for the exiled

Muses.] </pre> <p>This is a sacred place, it is the Elysium of poets, created by nature herself. The holiness is unconsciously felt and acknowledged by profane beings: the swineherd, the peasant; for the forester, the specific verb veneratur is even used. The tone is exalted as indeed is appropriate to a religious hymn. The later, great canzone of the "visions," RVF 323, takes up the motif again in the same terms (IV stanza, vv. 37-48).</p> <pre> Chiara fontana in quel medesmo bosco

sorgea d'un sasso, ed acque fresche et dolci spargea, soavemente mormorando; al bel seggio, riposto, ombroso et fosco, ne pastori appressavan ne bifolci ma nimphe et muse a quel tenor cantando:

ivi m'assisi; et quando piu dolcezza prendea di tal concento

et di tal vista, aprir vidi uno speco, et portarsene seco la fonte e '1 loco: ond' anchor doglia sento, et sol de la memoria mi sgomento. [A clear fountain in the same wood / welled from a stone, and fresh and sweet waters / it scattered forth, gently murmuring; / to that lovely, hidden, shady and dark seat / neither shepherds nor kine / But nymphs and muses, singing to that burden. / There I seated myself, and when / I took most sweetness from that harmony / and that sight, then I saw a chasm open / and carry away with it / the fountain and the place, whereat I still grieve, / and I am stricken with fear by the very memory.] (trans. Robert M. Durling) </pre> <p>The connection between the two descriptions is clean Here, however, in the canzone, the optimistic, assertive impetus of the epistle is reversed: Laura's death will signify the death of poetry.

Placing close to each other the two ecphraseis, distant one from the other both in time and in orientation, permits the discovery of the genetic paths of Petrarch's poetic, Latin and vernacular, writing. As for the canzone, the fourth stanza has in itself and in the light of the entire structure (six visionary pictures, all founded on the positive / negative opposition) a premonitary air of nightmare (the imperfects sorgea, sporgea, appressavan, prendeva that turn into the perfects m'assisi, vidi--the second verb vidi, which irremediably breaks the enchantment). Well, that nightmare, on a thematic ground, to be sure, not untouched by the classical tradition, has the unconfoundable accents of the horror of Lucan, De bello civili III, 399-425 (the forest of Marseille), which suggests with its cavas ... cavernas, v. 419 lo speco, which devours la fonte a 'l loco. (9)

As for the epistle, it is an exceptional document of the creative imitatio of Petrarch, as theorized in Fam. XXIII, 19 to Boccaccio, the "honey" produced by the fusion of classical texts, intimately possessed. A few examples suffice: vv. 58--61:</p> <pre> ... si dextra favebunt

sidera, tum tandem incipiet secura vagari Africa per Latium studio redimita supremo Scipiadesque meus ... [If the stars will be favourable, then at last Africa and my Scipio will securely travel through Latium, perfected by my last labours...] </pre> <p>are a remake of Catalepton XIV, 1 ff.:</p> <pre> Si mihi susceptum fuerit decurrere munus, O Paphon, o sedes quae colis Idalias, Troius Aeneas Romana per oppida digno Iam tandem ut tecum carmine vectus eat,... [If it be granted me to complete the charge I have undertaken, o lady of Paphos and Idalian groves, and the day will come at last

when, borne with you in worthy songs, Trojan Aeneas shall travel

through Roman towns] (trans. H. R. Fairclough) </pre> <p>It can be seen that the poet, avoiding here a literal appropriation, retains only the conditioning elements of the passage (si, per, tandem): hence that "similar / dissimilar" proposed as the goal of imitatio (cf. "La memoria poetica del Petrarca," in my Petrarca e Boccaccio 35-36). But the writer can, not avoiding literalness, achieve an alexandrian inlay elsewhere in the same epistle, vv, 39-40:</p> <pre> Hic avium cantus fontis cum murmure blando conciliant somnos [Here the songs of birds with a fountain's sweet murmur reconcile sleep] </pre> <p>come from juxtaposing Ovid, Rem. Am. 177:</p> <pre> Aspice iucundo labentes murmure rivos [Watch the streams gliding with cheerful sound] (trans. J. M. Mozley) </pre> <p>to Claudian, (10) Ruf. I, 214:</p> <pre> Hic avium cantus, labentis murmura rivi [Here is song of birds and the murmur of the gliding stream] (trans. M. Platnauer) </pre> <p>The perceptage usage of his readings is accompanied by a refinement of style wherein the syntactical balance, the never mechanical Wortstellung, the smooth elegance of the verse, the discreet phonosymbolism make Petrarch's Latin form something new. It is enough to read attentively (or better, recite) verses 41-43:</p> <pre>

horridus hunc metuit pedibus violare subulcus, rusticus hunc rastris digitoque hunc signat et alto silvarum trepidus veneratur ab aggere custos </pre> <p>to perceive and appreciate this novelty. (11)

Only if we keep in mind such poetic results as these, will we understand why Petrarch, the Latin poet of the Epystole (and Africa and the Bucolicum Carmen) became a model for humanist Latin poetry and later, in the sixteenth century, after Bembo, when the Latin and the vernacular 'lines' combined, entered the mainstream of the great Italian literature of the Renaissance.

There is perhaps no higher example of this phenomenon than Torquato Tasso's poetry. In Gerusalemme liberata III, 2-5, the poet in the description of the Saron forest, while going back to the original source, Lucan, and making the fruit of sorcery the 'horror' of the classic, recaptures both of Petrarch's passages Epyst. II, 16, 42-44 and RVF 323, 40-42, and in so doing bequeathes to tradition, in his own reformulation, what had been an 'unity' in Petrarch's inspiration:</p> <pre> Ma quando parte il sol, qui tosto adombra notte, nube, caligine ed orrore che rassembra infernal, che gli occhi ingombra di cecita, ch' empie di tema il core; ne qui gregge od armenti a' paschi, a 1' ombra guida bifolco mai, guida pastore, ne v' entra peregrin, se non smarrito, ma lunge passa e la dimostra a dito. (12) [But as the sun departs, there dwell at once / dark night and clouds and horridness of mist, / which quite resemble hell, and charge one's eyes / with blindness, and makes every soul afraid. / There is not one shepherd, not one herdsman comes / with flock or herd to look for shade or grass; / he who comes by, bewildered, does not linger, / but fast goes on, and points it with his finger.] (trans. Joseph Tusiani) </pre> <p>We can only marvel at the pervasive, propulsive strength of Petrarch's poetry. His Epystole deserve, on their own merit, a deeper and wider critical attention and appreciation. Furthermore, their fortune in Renaissance literature, greater than suspected--an eloquent proof of their vitality--has still many surprises in store.


Universita di Milano


* This is the somewhat revised text of a paper read at the University of Pennsylvania on April 17, 2004 for the First Annual Joseph and Elda Coccia Centennial Celebration of Italian Culture. I am very grateful to the Petrarch Conference organizers, Victoria Kirkham, and Millicent Marcus. It will appear in a commemorative volume published under the auspices of the original sponsors, The Complete Petrarch: A Life's Work (1304-1374). I welcome the opportunity to anticipate its publication in Italica and I am particularly happy to contribute to the special issue in honor of Albert Mancini, illustrious exponent of Italian Studies in America, and a long-time colleague and friend. I wish to thank Eugenio Giusti of Vassar College for help with some bibliographic material not available to me.

(1) For the ms tradition, title, and dating of the work's publication, the best and most updated information is owed to Michele Feo, Storia della Letteratura italiana, diretta da E. Malato, vol. X [Roma, Salerno Editrice, 2001] 294-96 (with essential bibliography). For the dates and addressees of the single letters, Ernest H. Wilkins' "manual," The "Epistolae metricae" of Petrarch [Roma, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1956]) remains precious. A critical edition by Michele Feo is expected soon. See also Feo's attentive but somewhat laboured presentation of the muddied picture of the various (mostly incorrect) proposals advanced for the title: "Fili petrarcheschi," Rinascimento 19 (1979): 3-26. The one commonly used in modern times Epistole metrice is not however without a basis in Petrarch's writings, as Feo himself shows (12).

(2) The Latin text is taken from Enrico Bianchi's partial edition included in Francesco Petrarca, Rime, Trionfi e poesie latine, a cura di F. Neri, G. Martellotti, E. Bianchi, N. Sapegno (Milano: Riccardo Ricciardi Editore, 1951) (La letteratura italiana. Storia e Testi 6) 705-805. For the Epystole not present in this edition, I used, with slight corrections in spelling and punctuation, Poemata minora/Poesie minori, ed. Domenico Rossetti (Milano: Societa tipografica dei classici italiani, II-III, 1831-1834). Translations not otherwise attributed are mine.

(3) To translate is to interpret. This is not a simple truism. In this case it is possible to err. Is the writer saying that he has really tamed his flesh? This is what Vinicio Pacca thinks (Petrarca [Roma: Editori Laterza, 1998] 148). He translates "domata finalmente la came." Vix can hardly mean finally, it could express temporality, an action immediately preceding another: "as soon as, once I have tamed my flesh." I think the early XIX translator, Giuseppe Adorni, is correct when he writes "Domata a stento la mia came" in Poemata minora, ed. Rossetti, II: 204.

(4) See Feo, Fili ... 45 for this farewell implying the author's ultimate responsibility for the organization of the work in its entirety. Enrico Carrara, quoting the very same verses of III: 34, 39-40 had in 1935 already acutely made this point (Enciclopedia italiana 27: 15).

(5) I don't think that adequate attention has been paid to the fact that Giovanni Boccaccio in copying Epyst. I: 14 in his notebook (cod. Laur. 29, 8, f. 72 r-v) gives for its date 1340. Only this early date can explain, in my opinion, the epistle's echoes in the famous description of the Black Death at the beginning of the Decameron (see G. Velli, "Il De Vita et moribus domini Francisci Petracchi de Florentia del Boccaccio e la biografia del Petrarca," MLN 102 [1987]: 32-39; particularly 34).

(6) Enrico Fenzi's assumption that the writer, in Epyst. II: 18, is indulging in a metaphor implying the composition of Africa is hardly justified by the text. See Francesco Petrarca, Il mio segreto, a cura di Enrico Fenzi (Milano: Mursia, 1992) 33-37. The poem is the subject of the discourse up to v. 15, with the poet's expected conclusion that the glory coming from it is vain. Then, the cura secunda [the second commitment], the house, equally strong [par] takes over: "Cura secunda domus michi par...." The distinction is clear. But what could be at most a hypothesis is picked up by Rebecca Lenoir (Petrarque, L'Afrique 1338-1374, introduction, traduction, et notes par Rebecca Lenoir [Grenoble: Editions Jerome Millon, 2002] 29-35) who makes an allegory out of Fenzi's metaphor, giving free play to unbridled considerations (see her 'interpretation' of the rimula [small crack] in a wall). The translation of the entire epistle (29-31) is not faultless.

(7) I don't think that E. R. Curtius' topos, which constitutes the basis of Christian Bec's chapter "Dal Petrarca al Machiavelli: il dialogo tra lettore ed autore" (first published in Rinascimento 16 [1976]: 3-19) in his volume Cultura e societa a Firenze nell'eta del Rinascimento (Roma: Salerno, 1981) 228-44 has any relevant hermeneutic effectiveness. This is true not only for the 'fortune' of the petrarchan formulations of the theme but also for their sources, which may be different in relation to their specific stylistic form. To recur to the anonymous and impersonal topos is of little use, while identifying the actual 'readings' behind Petrarch's individual passages is important (Let me say that Seneca has a central position: De brev. vitae XIV-XV; Ad Lucil. 62, 67, 104). That Machiavelli could not have known Epystole because "uscite a stampa piu tardi" [they were printed later] (Bec relies on E. Scarpa) is an item of baseless information. Apart from the fact that Machiavelli might have had access to the ms tradition, Epystole are included in the Venetian editions of 1501 and 1503.

(8) On his return to Africa and on the composition of the entire proem (I: 1-70), which indeed took place in Selvapiana and Parma, cfr. G. Velli, "Il proemio dell'Africa," Petrarca e Boccaccio. Tradizione--memoria--scrittura (Padova, Antenore, 1995) 47-59.

(9) Limits of space do not allow a detailed 'comparative' analysis. Concerning the presence of Lucan in Petrarch's Latin works (not exclusively in Africa) and in the vernacular, see the index of my Petrarca e Boccaccio. A mere hint of the constrictive strength of tradition: vv. 402-03 of Lucan "Hunc [lucum] non ruricolae Panes nemorumque potentes / Silvani Nymphaeque tenent..." ["No rural Pan dwelt there, no Silvanus, ruler of the woods, no Nymphs," trans. J. B. Duff] are the opposite of Vergil, Aen. VIII: 314 (clausola) "Haec nemora indigenae Fauni Nymphaeque tenebant" ["In these woodlands native Fauns and Nymphs once dwelt," trans. H. R. Fairclough].

(10) The rhetor Claudian was much loved by Petrarch who probably owned more than one manuscript of his works. One manuscript is extant, the actual Par. lat. 8082, rich in notabilia and glosses of that exceptional reader. For the presence of Claudian in the works of Petrarch see the already cited Petrarca e Boccaccio, particularly 22-23n, 68, and 68n.

(11) Note the different position of the verb; the anaphora horridus hunc; rusticus hunc (41 and 42), but discontinued in 43 where the third subject custos is at the very end of the hexameter; the recurrence of the r for 'low' subject matter (rusticus--rastris ...), doubled only once ("horridus")--because Petrarch tends to avoid rr within a context, even a large one, where it is frequent. See, for his proposed correction in Africa III: 396, Vincenzo Fera, La revisione petrarchesca dell'Africa (Messina: Centro di Sudi umanistici, 1984) 105.

(12) Compare Tasso's "(ne) guida bifolco mai, guida pastore" with Petrarch's "ne pastori appressavan ne bifolci"; and Tasso's "ma lunge passa e la dimostra a dito" with Petrarch's "digitoque hunc signat ... custos": the connections are undisputable. As to the fortleben of Tasso's passage, see for example G. B. Marino, La strage de gl'innocenti I: 15 "correr bifolci poi correr pastori"; where the substantives (in the plural) come from Petrarch, but Tasso's subtler influence is felt at the 'musical' level (doubling of the same verb; the rhythm of the endecasyllable).
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Author:Velli, Giuseppe
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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