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Portrait of the Poet as a Dog: Petrarch's Epistola Metrica III, 5.

Francesco Petrarca's Epistolae Metricae count among the least recognized and studied portions of his vast and supremely influential opus. When mentioned at all, they are relegated to the realm of the purely circumstantial--impressive examples true of the great poet's virtuosic mastery of Latin rhetoric in both its verse and prose forms, but ultimately of primarily biographical and documentary interest. The aim of this article is to study one of these verse letters closely to reveal its profoundly poetic expression of the lyricism of everyday life. To this end, I have selected letter III, 5 addressed, as are so many of the metrical epistles, to Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, and descriptive of the "simple" life the poet leads far away from the bustle of Avignon's papal court in the tranquility of his deeply beloved Vaucluse, where he enjoys a serenity and solitude broken only by the antics of a special dog. (1) This fifth epistle of the third book of letters thus has the added merit of highlighting one of the manifold other sides of the poet that tend to disappear from view before the celebrated rime expressing his enduring love for Laura. Instead, the verse letter offers a window onto the early humanist understanding of the animal world, and in particular, the privileged position of the domestic dog as a transitional figure right on the border between human culture and that other world later writers would describe as "nature." (2)

The letter begins with the commonplace that time reduces or diminishes things ("cunta dies minuit," 1) with the notable exception of those items the letter's addressee, Cardinal Colonna, has bestowed as gifts upon the poet. These gifts actually contradict the commonplace by becoming greater with time and better with use ("tua munera tempore crescunt atque usus meliora facit," 1-2). More specifically, this gift whose remarkable negative entropy eloquently refutes the thesis of tempus fugit or minuit is a dog Colonna gave Petrarch upon the latter's taking leave of the good cardinal (probably at his residence in Avignon where he served the pope in an official capacity) and returning to his beloved Vaucluse, probably sometime in 1345-46 and certainly well before the fall of 1347 when he abruptly left Vaucluse in the hopes of rejoining the Rome of the insurrection led by Cola de Rienzo. (3) The verse letter describing the gift of the dog is thus usually considered to have been written sometime in 1347.

But it is the dog's behavior in the company of the reclusive poet that merits his attention and awe. For he is a dog with a regal background, brought to the cardinal from "western shores," reared in the Spanish court and used to royal palaces and meals ("regius aule assuetus menseque canis," 2-3) as well as taking "proud" naps on crimson couches ("somnosque superbos purpureis captare toris," 3-4). One readily visualizes him, as Wilkins does (60), as one of the large, white breed of royal hunting dogs kept and enjoyed by the French as well as Spanish kings. Yet, once in the company of Petrarch and his rustic "Romulian" abode, the dog clearly prefers the tranquility and simplicity of his new life and quickly forgets the ways of his fathers and their Spanish abodes ("patrios mores hispanaque raptim limina romuleis opibus somnumque cibumque posthabuit, sortemque novam melioraque cernens omnia," 5-8).

After this introduction, the letter proceeds to detail in prolific and specific ways how the dog appreciates the new life he shares with Petrarch in the Vaucluse. As such, the letter turns into an eloquent and elegant reworking of the classic Horatian and Virgilian theme of the superiority of rural over urban culture. Behind the lengthy description of the pleasure the dog takes in his newly found country existence is nothing less than an implicit description and not so implicit defense of Petrarch's own reclusion and decision to eschew the glamour of court life for the pastoral solitude of his country home. Metaphorical links between pet and poet are established via a long litany of shared "likes" punctuated in the Latin text by the temporally contrastive marker, iam (repeated no less than six times between lines 15 and 24 alone), which further underscore the dog's contentedness in his new life with Petrarch which is also a return to a life that is more proper or true to both of them:
 Iam prata iuvant, iam lucida tranans
 flumina mordet aquas luditque ingurgite puro;
 fercula iam sibi nostra placent et libera curis
 otia; deserti non ampla palatia regis
 anterferat variasque dapes, nam panis et unda
 sufficiunt ac parva domus. (15-20)
 [Now he likes to roam the fields; /
 Now swimming the clear streams he
 bites the water / And plays in the
 pure pools. He like our food, / Our
 life of leisure and freedom from cares,
 / No more does he regret the
 ample halls / And the varied dainties
 of his former lord: / For bread
 and water and this srnall house / Suffice for him.]

Note the increased commonality signaled by the use of the first-person plural, nostra, as we see the dog move from the physical freedom of being able to run in the fields as he pleases and swim in wild streams to a shared appreciation with the poet of a simple, pure diet (bread and water), a small house ("parva domus") and most importantly, the life of leisure and freedom from cares ("libera curis / otia"). The further benefits of cleanliness, good health, strength and renewed pride in self associated with life away from the city are then detailed by the dog's now glistening and mange-free coat as well as his holding his head higher and sporting a stronger, more forward demeanor:
 I am membra refulgent
 lota feri, cecidit scabies in fonte salubri
 torpenti contracta situ, iam vertice toto
 altior it solito cervixque torosior exstat (11.20-23)
 [Now, the beast's limbs, cleansed in the water, /
 Are shining anew, and
 the mange contracted / Amid the torpid
 inertia (of the city) / Has all
 fallen away in the healing pool. /
 He carries his head higher now than
 he did before, / And his neck is brawnier now.]

The dog is also seen to take increased pride and enjoyment in wearing his collar and insignia, including a "belt" bearing cardinal Colonna's coat of arms: "iamque tumet phaleris, iam visa minilia mulcent / amplaque zona rubens niveisque intexta columnis" (24-25). And, in a clear case of anthropomorphic projection, the new found pleasure in bearing Colonna's coat of arms "reminds" the dog of his former master and accordingly of his own higher status, making him "grow proud and ready to defy the multitudes (of lesser folk)": "seque fuisse tuum recolens secum ipse superbit / multa minax" (26-27).

And at this point, the dog is transformed from being a metaphor of Petrarch's reclusive primitivism into an agent protective of the poet's vaunted solitude and freedom associated with that life, for this canine companion puts to flight any and all intruders, from the importunate plebeians to that very represent of the pastoral life, the shepherd along with his entire flock which he forces to flee far away:
 Fugit nostro de gramine pastor
 seque suumque gregem procul abdidit; atria custos
 formidatus habet; plebs importuna procaxque
 hactenus obsessum metuit contingere limen. (27-30)
 [The shepherd flees our turf / And
 betakes himself and his flock far
 away; before the house / He keeps
 a formidable watch: the importunate
 and impudent plebeians / that
 formerly would beset themselves upon
 us / now fear to come near our threshold.]

These lines thus introduce the next major section of the letter, roughly 35 lines, which richly describe the dog as both the companion and protector of the poet in his rustic solitude and thereby as the very guarantor of his freedom: "Liber ago; meus assertor michi scilicet unus / est, comes assiduus" (31-32; "I live freely, / since he and he alone is my protector, / And my constant companion"; translation modified). Companionship bleeds over into caretaking as we learn how the dog watches over the house at night while the poet sleeps, then wakes him in the morning if he sleeps too long, before accompanying him outside to their favorite places (loca nota, 39), all the while keeping his eyes on the poet. When he lies down on the bank of a rustic stream to pick up on his "accustomed labors" (solitis curis, 41), presumably the work of writing, the dog after circling around and inspecting the locale plops his big white body down on the green grass, his back to the poet and defensively facing any potential passersby: "candida tum viridi proeictus pectora terre / tandem terga michi obvertit, venientibus ora" (42-43). This is repeated by a second vignette situating dog and poet together in the wild, this time in an even more remote place, amidst "cool waters" and cliffs, one accessible only to birds ("locus undique solis / pervius alitibus," 45-46). Here, even the poet must watch his step as he enters ("hac gressu trepidante feror," 47) while his companion/guardian bars the path, covering the enclosing rock entrance with his massive body: "manet ille viamque / occupat et magno tegit arctum corpore saxum" (47-48). There, he gives a quick bark to announce anyone he spies coming near, and unless held back, rushes upon the intruder: "Latratu exiguo conspectos nuntiat ante, / inde ruit, nisi forte vetes" (49-50).

And just as the previous section concluded the description of the dog's recovery of rustic pleasure with Petrarch by an overt anthropomorphism, occasioned by the dog's cognition of his bearing the card inal's coat of arms, so too does this section now narrow the gap between man and beast, again leading to the reintroduction of the letter's addressee, Cardinal Colonna. Specifically, the dog's almost magical ability to distinguish friend from foe, "fierce as he may be with the others, so gently does he run up to friends with ears down and tail wagging" ("torvus ut adversus reliquos, sic blandus amicis / auribus abiectis tremulaque occurrere cauda," 53-54), suggests that he must bear "some trace of our intelligence" (sensus vestigia nostri, 51). The dog's vestigial humanity again positions him in or as a border zone, not unlike the one he literally demarcates between the poet and the rest of the world, or more figuratively between culture and nature, or between art and life. Most particularly, and in a section expanding on lines 27-30 earlier on when the dog's protective behavior was first introduced, the dog serves as a border between the specific, intrusive inhabitants of the countryside, i.e., lowly peasants, and the poet's lofty and elite communion with the muses:
 Prospicit hunc medio transversum calle tremiscens
 rusticus et legum nodos perplexaque iura
 consiliumque domus inopis, connubia nate
 me percontari solitus, velut Appius alter
 Aciliusve forem, et Musas turbare quietas,
 Nunc secum sua solus agit; michi, maxima vite
 commoditas, mecum esse licet; que cunta fatebor
 muneribus debere tuis. (55-62)
 [Trembling, the peasants see him
 lying stretched across the path, / the
 peasants who used to come ask me
 about various knots of the law / and
 intricate points concerning their
 rights / and advice about their impoverished
 household or daughter's wedding / as
 if I were another Appius
 or Acilus, /and so disturbed the
 tranquility of the Muses. / Now, they
 deal with all this just by themselves;
 / leaving me with the greatest commodity
 of my life / to be left to be by myself;
 all of which I confess / I
 owe to your generosity.]

The dog's "trace" of human intelligence that protects the poet from bothersome peasant neighbors who seek all manner of practical and legal advice in fact points back to the cardinal, whose gift to Petrarch in the shape of this wonderful dog in fact now repositions the animal as a mere instrument of the cardinal's generosity, which is thus less about providing companionship than ensuring the poet's lyrical and self-absorbed productivity. Previously, the dog was seen to carry the Cardinal's insignia; now, he appears a metaphor of the Cardinal's support and protective good will toward the poet.

The letter's third section, lines 62 to 98, again embarks on an elaborate description of the dog's behavior before turning once more to the persona of the dog's donor. First, we are reminded of his being a constant source of amusement by his antics, leaping through hills and streams, "imitating by his high-pitched bark the singing of children" ("arguta pueros imitatur voce canentes," 64), and in general doing everything he can to make one smile ("et risus motura facit," 65). Then, we learn about his more serious and useful skills as a hunter, for he is the constant enemy of the river geese, "chasing them along the shoreline and over high rocks" ("per litora et altos insequitur scopulos," 66--67), and disallowing them even the safety of water by diving in and plucking them straight out of the middle of the stream ("medio nam flumine prensum extrahit," 68-69). All this to bring back a sumptuous feast (pingues cenas, 69) to whomever wants or doesn't want such an offering (nolentibus offert, 69). In fact, the dog "often adorns their agrarian banquets with the fruit of his hunts" ("sepius atque epulas venatibus ornat agrestes," 70). Again, descriptive encomia lead to anthropomorphizing reflection: does the dog kill geese for pleasure or out of a spite of anger ("sed iocus est aut ira levis," 71)? Is it because he enjoys preying upon them while he swims, or because he can't stand their cackling ("seu grata natanti predes est, seu strepitu offendunt," 71-72)? The question occurs because he is otherwise "milder than a lamb with weaker beings" ("nam mitior agno esse solet parvis," 72-73). The poet asserts quite forcefully that "never would he, believe me, assail a sheep, or a tender kid, or a fleeing she-goat" ("Nunquam, michi crede, vel edum / vel fragilem tentabit ovem profugamque capellam," 73-74), and even if he comes upon a timid hare, he holds back almost as if in fear himself ("Occursu trepidi leporis quasi territus heret," 75). On the other hand, he fears not to go after the largest and fiercest of prey: "but he dares to sink his teeth in pregnant sows and powerful young bulls, tugging and biting on their ears" ("at fetas laniare sues validosque iuvencos / audet et arreptas convellere morsibus aures," 77-78). Just as he had earlier evinced a remarkable ability instantly to distinguish friend from foe in protecting the poet from unwelcome visitors, so now he demonstrates a truly noble distinction between prey that are beneath him and those that are worthy opponents. This distinction, however, is more than a simple "vestige" of human intelligence but a sign of the dog's essential, if not inbred, sense of nobility and royal rank. This "social consciousness" is the true indicator of the dog's valor--and value.

And in true humanist fashion, an anecdote from antiquity is adduced to illustrate the dog's underestimated value. Specifically, the tale is told of a similar dog brought as a gift from afar to Alexander, a dog of royal breeding and contemptuous of plebeian beasts, for whom he would not budge ("regius idem / et contemptor erat, quem non plebeia moveret / belua," 79-81). Nor would he touch "fallow deer or boars or bears, saving his teeth for nobler wounding" ("non dammas, non apros ille nec ursos / tangeret, alta suos servans in vulnera dentes," 81-82). Misunderstanding the nature of the dog and assuming him to be weak and cowardly, the tyrant in his haste puts to death this "noble animal that deserved better" ("generosum animal meritumque meliora peremit," 84). Another dog was sent him, one "trained to slay wild lions and to shake the ground bringing down elephants" ("alius sevos mactare leones / doctus et everso tellurem elephante subactum / concutere," 85-87). Too late, the young prince understood the true valor of bis other dog and regretted not having offered him prey worthy of him (digno hoste, 89).

The obvious lesson is that of the failure to appreciate the talents of those in one's service, a lesson our poet makes emphatically clear does not apply to him, for the virtue of his dog is well known to him: "At michi nota mei virtus" (90). Petrarch is not Alexander as the poet emphasizes both his awareness of the dog's talents and magnanimous nobility and makes a dramatic gesture of possessiveness. Here, the dog is claimed as his, and not justa sign of his benefactor's munificence. To complete the picture of his admiring cognition, he sums up the dog's judicious character by noting that "an unweaned puppy could bite him with impunity, but that he would not fear an angry lioness or the ferociousness of a tigress bereft of her young" ("impune catellus / mordeat hunc lactens, quem non gravis ira leaenae / terreat orbate nec fervens tigridis ardor," 90-92).

And it is at this very height of pride and possessiveness that the dog's link back to the Cardinal is suddenly and overtly reintroduced, as the poet describes an incident at the Papal palace where the dog engaged in a display of high aggression upon being in the presence of a caged lion. Suddenly shaking the high palace of the Supreme Pontiff with the sounds of his barking ("Supremi / atria Pontificis subito completa tumultu / movit ubi intonuit," 93-95) and "bristling his shaggy hairs" (villisque rigentibus, 95), the dog rushes the lion's cage and tries to break into it (laceraret claustra leonis, 96) to the point that he has to be forcibly removed from there (Vix inde abductus, 97) although he continues to show "his still unvented wrath in raucous growls and longcontinued whining" ("magnumque dolorem / testatus gemitu rauco longisve querelis," 97-98). There is a privileged witness to this scene of canine rage against the king of the beasts, namely the letter's addressee, Cardinal Colonna himself, whose presence is emphasized by the opening words of the passage describing the incident: "You were there, unless I'm mistaken" ("Tu presens, nisi fallor, eras," 93). While the qualifier, "nisi fallor," politely mitigates the accusatory implications of the statement by offering the good Cardinal the possibility of denying his presence at the scene in question, the rhetorical frame set up by the placement these words at the incipit demonstrably situates the Cardinal as the scene's key observer (whether or not he was "really" there). In other words, he is the person to whom the scene is presented as the culminating example of the dog's behavior and true character. As such, it is his judgment that is being called to order here.

For it is at this point that Petrarch launches into the conclusion to the letter, whose seven lines suddenly and unexpectedly resituates the entire subject of the discussion and open the text up to a variety of intriguing questions and possibilities. Breaking off the argumentative line regarding the dog's character, he resorts to the classic apologetic commonplace for writing so much on something so unimportant: "Sed multum res parva tenet" (99). The implication, of course, is that the topic is precisely not as lowly or inconsequential as it is ironically stated to be, for he nonetheless has "one more thing" to say before he can come to a close ("ut unum / non sileam," 99-100). This last one thing to say is nota further statement but a request made to the Cardinal "if anyone associated with you has occasion to be here, whether by chance or under your orders" ("si forte aliquem videt ille tuorum, / seu casus, seu iussa ferant," 100-01). Before stating the nature of the request being made, Petrarch adds a parenthetical remark praising the Cardinal's never ceasing presence in the lives of those belonging to him in some way: because while you are indeed absent you never cease to be present to your own ("quod scilicet absens / semper adesse tuis non desinis," 101-02). Reasserting the Cardinal's omnipresent care and concern even for those far away seems strange at this point so late in the letter and coming right after the hypothetical suggestion that perhaps he might have someone connected to him dropping by Vaucluse for some reason or other. Perhaps the Cardinal is not as present or attentive as he is claimed to be, an irony already foreshadowed by the "nisi falor" of his presence at the scene described a few lines above. This shadow of a doubt becomes more pronotmced when we learn that the request being made to the Cardinal involves the return of his dog, which he gave away to our poet:
 incipit aulam
 suspirare tuam, vallesque et rura perosus
 fortuneque momor veteris. Sors libera detur,
 mallet ad excelsam merito remeare Columnam. (102-05)
 [He's beginning to sigh for your palace, /
 he's had it with valleys and
 country fields / and remembers
 his former fortune. If his fate were
 made free, / he would prefer to return,
 quite rightly so / to the lofty

This final anthropomorphism, which imputes a highly specific inner world of nostalgia and desire to the dog, again as throughout the letter rhetorically returns the dog to Cardinal Colonna, whose coat of arms is alluded to in the very last word of the text, which is also the name of the addressee: Columnam--Column--Colonna. The witty citation of name and emblem also recalls the first anthropomorphic moment in the letter, when it is the dog's sense of pride in bearing Colonna's coat of arms (featuring white columns on a red field) that first encourages his protective behavior toward the poet. All the more strange that after a hundred lines of encomium praising the dog's remarkable character as well as pleasure in his pastoral existence he is suddenly presented as desiring nothing more fervently than to return to his former owner. What are we to make of this sudden reversal of affect?

The key might be found is rereading the poem backwards, starting with the scene of the dog's aggressive outburst witnessed (nisi fallor) by both Colonna and Petrarch, if not Colonna and Petrarch together. The scene is made out to be quite memorable, the dog's barking and carrying on resounding and "moving" (movet) the very walls of the Papal Palace. It is hard to imagine such uncontrolled behavior by an aggressive dog garnering much tolerance or sympathy, much less approbation, from the assembled prelates. Indeed, the sharp absence by Petrarch of any commentary on the human reaction to the incident (save for the need to have the animal "forcibly removed" [vix abductus] says as much). (4) Returning to Petrarch's metrical letter, we can see a similar criticism made through the learned anecdote about Alexander who, in reverse fashion, "puts down" a dog for being insufficiently aggressive. Again, a snap judgment is made in the absence of any deeper understanding of the animal's behavior and character. Whence Petrarch's extraordinary and repeated insistence a contario on the dog's discriminating use of his aggressive/protective potential, that is, on bis intelligence and even moral understanding of what the correct behavior is. Indeed, it is this insight into the dog's nobility of character that allows Petrarch to make a possessive claim about the dog, while implicitly connecting Alexander and Colonna. It is as if the poet were at pains to point out the dog's value to the cardinal as well as his loyalty despite having had a wonderful time out in the wilds with Petrarch. His time in Vaucluse has allowed him to live life like a rough and ready canine rather than as a royally pampered pooch, but now he would really like to go back home, if you please. The further fact that the metrical letter is this structured as a kind of argument in defense of the dog's character would seem to suggest that Colonna's "gift" to the poet may be less generous that it seems, especially if the dog's unruly and aggressive behavior lurks as a motivation. Why else give away this dog of the highest royal pedigree except for incidents like the one described that shake up the whole Papal palace? Better to give the dog away than to put him down. No Alexander he, Colonna finds a more humane solution for his problem pet, yet--and this is where he still resembles the Macedonian ruler--he doesn't fully understand or appreciate the animal's brilliant intelligence and unflagging loyalty that his aggressive/protective outbursts in fact evince. The time spent in the poet's company can be read also as an observation period during which the dog's true character is assessed and revealed. In this sense, the apparent contradiction between the letter's body and its conclusion disappears to the extent that the canine's encomium is also an expression of his worth and the desirability of his being returned to his previous circumstances.

But is these something else going on besides this letter in certification of good pet behavior, which still seems to be a relatively minor subject for so much talking ("Sed multum res parva tenet")? The letter does seem to make some other points that taken together suggest a mild and politely indirect concern about the relation between the poet and his great benefactor. On the one hand, the letter repeatedly draws comparisons between poet and dog, both of whom enjoy the simple, rural life as an antidote to the urban stress of the court, and at the same time, they both take immense pride in their relation to the cardinal. The cardinal's apparent lack of appreciation for the dog he gives Petrarch would thus seem to bleed over to the poet as well, for the dog's quasihuman intelligence generalizes his position to that of humans as well as animals in the cardinal's circle. The lesson of Alexander's insufficient attention to those around him is likewise of wider application. And Petrarch's final request to Colonna to send someone to come fetch the dog, despite the praise of the cardinal's being continually present even in his absence, casts doubt on the outcome by the qualifying "if by chance" (si forte) one of his men might have reason to drop by the vicinity. In this view, Petrarch's long exposition and defense of the dog's character is also a justifying self-portrait and a testimony to his personal loyalty to the cardinal despite being a crazy poet living out in the country and far away from the pomp and acclaim of the court. At the same time, Petrarch clearly wants not to be forgotten or dismissed by the powerful cardinal and the sophisticated world he represents while being respected and honored even in his reclusion.

Of course, there may be another reading less favorable to our favorite humanist. While the exact date of the letter remains uncertain, it makes sense that it would have been written late in the period Petrarch spent in Vaucluse from 1345 to 1347. By the summer of 1347, Petrarch was getting ready to leave for Rome, enamored as he was by the Roman revolution led by Cola de Rienzo. His enthusiasm, however, was not at all shared by the papal court in Avignon and certainly not by his friends and patrons of the Colonna family. Clearly, a rift was in the works by the time Petrarch left Provence in November on an itinerary that would take him first to Genoa, then Verona, Parma, Padua, Mantua, Rome and then back to Padua before finally returning to Vaucluse in June of 1351. In his absence, the Black Plague had wreaked its havoc, attaining a kind of apogee in 1348, when both Laura and Cardinal Giovanni Colonna fell victim to it. (5) Thus, with regards to Metrical Letter III, 5, Petarch could have written it to "return" the dog before embarking on a highly charged political adventure sure to meet with the cardinal's displeasure. Is he returning a gift in anticipation of a deteriorating relationship with the giver? Or merely looking for a way to be rid of his four legged companion?

Given the complexity and lyrical effort that went into the letter, it seems more plausible to uncover traces of Petrarch's social dilemma in pursuing even further the analogy with the gift dog. Perhaps the real issue behind the dog's character and evaluation of his aggressive outbursts is that of the poet's own freely expressed political opinions, which no matter how forcefully presented, should not imply any diminution of his loyalty to the house of Colonna. The expression and implicit rebuke are subtle, though, and probably should be construed accordingly in the background of a text whose main focus remains an extraordinarily attentive portrait of a particular animal and the complexity of its being. As such, this portrait of a dog as a kind of transitional entity (between the human and natural worlds, the urban and rural, the political and poetic, etc.) is one that can readily serve as a nuanced allegory of the need for interpretive sensitivity, especially on the part of the powerful, who can all too readily and dangerously remain blind to the true virtues of those who serve them.


(1) The best edition of this versed letter remains that by Enrico Bianchi, Rime, Trionfi e Poesie latine, by Francesco Petrarca (778-83). In addition to the Latin original, this edition also provides a translation into Italian. The letter has also been translated into English by Ernest Hatch Wilkins in his Petrarch at Vaucluse (63-68); a reprint of which can be found in Bergin, ed., Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters. Throughout this study, I will cite Bianchi's Latin edition by verse number only. I have closely consulted both his Italian translation and Wilkins' English rendition, and while staying fairly close to them, I have consistently modified them when citing the text to stay closer to the Latin. Remarkably, except for some passing attention by Wilkins, no one seems to have studied this text in any detail. One can thus only speculate that in contradistinction to Petrarch's better known lyric poetry about love and transcendence, the apparent realism and everyday life quality of this text make it less likely to be read and studied by critics primarily interested in the "other" Petrarch. By describing the poem explicitly as a "res parva," Petrarch himself would seem to discourage any further interest in his poem/letter. However, as I hope my reading will show, I believe that comment to be somewhat ironic and that there is quite a bit more depth to the letter than at first seems to be the case.

(2) Though clearly following in the footsteps of Horace and Virgil, Petrarch"s texts such as this metrical epistle can rightly be viewed as a key predecessor for Montaigne, Rousseau, Emerson, Walt Whitman, John Muir and such contemporary "nature poets" as Robert Hass and Gary Snyder.

(3) On this and other details of Petrarch's biography relative to the writing of this letter, see Wilkins, Life of Petrarch 58-73.

(4) In today's society, a similar demonstration of apparently "unmotivated" canine aggression would net everything from a severe reprimand (to owner as well as dog) to harsher punishments, a trip to the pound, or even euthanasia.

(5) Wilkins, Life of Petrarch 58-73.


Bianchi, Enrico, ed. Rime, Trionfi e Poesie latine, by Francesco Petrarca. Milano: Ricciardi, 1951.

Bergin, Thomas G. Petrarch: Selected Sonnets, Odes and Letters. Crofts Classics Series. Wheeling, IL: Davidson, 1966.

Wilkins, Ernest Hatch. Life of Petrarch. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1961.

--, trans. Petrarch at Vaucluse: Letters in Verse and Prose, by Francesco Petrarca. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1958.


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Title Annotation:From Petrarch to Manzoni
Author:Schiesari, Juliana
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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