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216 × 138 mm
264 pages
27 illustrations, 24 in colour
01 Oct 2017
Renaissance Lives

Petrarch Everywhere a Wanderer Christopher S. Celenza

Born in Tuscany in 1304, Italian poet Francesco Petrarca is widely considered one of the fathers of the modern Italian language. His writings inspired the Humanist movement and, subsequently, the Renaissance, but few figures are as complex or as misunderstood. He was a devotee of the ancient pagan Roman world and a devout Christian, a lover of friendship and sociability, yet at times an intensely private and almost misanthropic man. He believed life on earth was little more than a transitory pilgrimage, and took himself as his most important subject-matter.

Christopher S. Celenza provides the first general account of Petrarch’s life and work in English in over thirty years, and considers how his reputation and identity have changed over the centuries. He brings to light Petrarch’s unrequited love for his poetic muse, Laura, the experiences of his university years, the anti-institutional attitude he developed as he sought a path to modernity by looking toward antiquity, and his endless focus on himself.

Drawing on both Petrarch’s Italian and Latin writings, this is a revealing portrait of a paradoxical figure: a man of mystique, historical importance and endless fascination.

‘Celenza’s account, easily the best and most accessible life of Petrarch to appear in English in a century . . . ranges easily over the whole of the poet’s life and times, following him in the “wanderings” Celenza describes as characterising Petrarch’s somewhat peripatetic career in the service of the wealthy Visconti family and others. The book’s main strength is its literary sensitivity; Celenza finds echoes of Petrarch’s life in a far wider array of his writings than marquee sonnets – his various treatises, essays, and Latin verse all receive refreshingly intelligent integration into the broader narrative . . . the book’s most memorable Petrarch is also its best achievement: the man himself, querulous, self-doubting, eager for fame but distrustful of it. That Petrarch very much does speak to our own age, and in these pages by Celenza, he finally gets a life of his own.’ – The National

‘[Petrarch] himself turned again and again in his writings to the flaws of humanity. Celenza exposes the Italian writer’s flaws throughout his book, while simultaneously eliciting pity and respect. If he’s a “misunderstood” man, then this book makes us want to understand him, contradictions and all.’ – Times Higher Education

‘{a] well-informed yet highly readable and elegant presentation . . . an impressive publication with which Celenza has set a standard for future research that will not be easy to surpass, when it comes to outlining Petrarch's intellectual profile both from the perspective of his life and work.’ – Bernhard Huss, Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift

‘The striking appeal of Christopher Celenza’s study is how the scattered worlds of Petrarch are brought together in vigorous unity – the passionate classicist haunted by a yearning for modernity, the Tuscan love poet whose melodious sonnets for Laura would be imitated for centuries, the restless Augustinian pilgrim, and the self-conscious yet enigmatic spider in a network of powerful friends and acquaintances. In his elegant and poetic style, Celenza combines reader-friendliness with scholarly sophistication and depth. This is a timely intellectual biography written by one of today’s leading Renaissance scholars.’ – Professor Unn Falkeid, University of Oslo, author of The Avignon Papacy Contested: An Intellectual History from Dante to Catherine of Siena (2017)

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Christopher S. Celenza is Dean of Georgetown College at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. His previous books include Machiavelli: A Portrait (2015) and The Lost Italian Renaissance: Humanists, Historians, and Latin’s Legacy (2004).