Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Petrarch and His Pen Pals

The subject of each of Petrarch letters seems to be his admiration for each ancient poet and philosopher, giving insight to the feelings behind Ad Fontes. He worshiped these men and their genius in contrast to his own environment of intellectual darkness. He denounces his academic peers, yet keeps himself somehow separate.

"Your fame extends far and wide; your name is mighty, and fills the ears of men; and yet those who really know you are very few, be it because the times are unfavourable, or because men's minds are slow and dull, or, as I am the more inclined to believe, because the love of money forces our thoughts in other directions."

What interested me most is how the letters themselves act as the source of Petrarch’s familiarity, authority, and divine all to action. Within this quote, two groups of people are identified. There are the slow minded masses, unable to truly know Homer, and the select few capable of familiarity. It is implied that Petrarch includes himself among the few. This is implied as he interprets Homer’s writing and claims understanding. What really claims mutual understanding, however, is this whole bizarre interaction. The collection of letters is titled The Familiar Letters! He counts himself apart of Homer’s club and Cicero’s club and these personally worded letters are proof of his membership.

As an intelligent person in the 14th century, he must have understood the realities behind writing to someone in the BCs. The letters will more than likely be returned to the sender. The conversation was within himself, yet I wonder how much of him really believed that. The letters themselves convey the feelings of a fully invested mind, never acknowledging the impossibility of the conversation. The correspondence seems to affect his life in the same way a real correspondence would.  This friendship with his idols grants him authority in opinion. With people like Homer and Cicero in your corner, how could you not be the one with in the right, enduring a generation of those in the wrong?

Petrarch’s communication with the dead takes on a divine nature as he receives return communication through their written work. Cicero calls to Petrarch from beyond the grave in his hour of doubt to reveal his destiny. This destiny is to copy his work. In these letters the scholarly merits of Ad Fontes become secondary to the supernatural and familiar command to return to the sources.

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