July 20 – Happy Birthday, Petrarch!

Posted on July 20, 2013

You know you're a good poet when a language is based on your writings!

Born on this date in 1304, Francesco Petrarch grew up to study law, as his father had done before him. But he didn't like dealing with the legal system. He felt that being a lawyer was “making a merchandise” of his mind and “selling justice,” rather than seeking true justice.

Petrarch took a clerical job so he could devote himself to writing. He ended up being an international scholar who discovered important manuscripts from Ancient Greece and Rome.

Petrarch is credited with several “firsts”:

  • He was the first “poet laureate” since ancient times. A poet laureate is someone who is officially appointed by a government or other important institution to create poems or songs for important occasions. Petrarch was crowned poet laureate on what was considered holy ground in Rome.
  • He was the first tourist, supposedly, because he traveled for pleasure rather than business. (I'm betting he wasn't really the first to travel just for pleasure, though!)

  • He was the first person to call the Dark Ages “the Dark Ages.”

  • He was one of the first authors and scholars to write in Italian rather than in Latin. Later scholars based modern Italian on Petrarch's sonnets, along with writings by Boccaccio and Dante.
  • He was one of the first to write romantic lyrical poetry—and many writers throughout the Renaissance modeled their poems on his.
  • He was one of the first “humanists,” promoting intellectual pursuits, education, eloquence in speaking and writing. (We get the academic term “the humanities” from this use of the word “humanist.”) This was the opposite of the then-common approach of focusing only on what is seen as practical and useful.

Also on this date:

Moon Day (here and here)

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest pages on July holidayshistorical anniversaries in July, and July birthdays.

And here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

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