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FRAUNCEYS PETRAK. Francesco Petrarch, 1304-1374, was born in Arezzo, Italy. His father had been banished from Florence on the same day as Dante, January 27, 1302, and Petrarch says that when he was born they were "on the edge of poverty." In his Epistle to Posterity Petrarch says that when he was nine, his parents moved to Avignon, a city for which he had intense dislike and where he spent most of his youth. When he was thirty-four years old, he moved to Vaucluse ("Closed Valley"), where he says most of his works were conceived and executed. In a letter to Giovanni dell'Incisa (c. 1346) he describes his lust for books, which he calls a consuming desire or disease. He sent requests for books to his friends in Britain, France, and Spain, building up an extensive library. He discovered Cicero's Letters to Atticus, previously unknown, in the cathedral library of Verona in 1345; he helped Boccaccio commission the first Latin translation of Homer. Like another great bibliophile, Richard de Bury, he was a systematic book collector, gladly spending his money on books during his travels. He was fond of travel and frequently resided in five towns during his life: Milan, Pavia, Venice (to which he willed his library), Padua, and Arquà, where he died in 1374.

On April 6, 1327, Petrarch first met Laura de Sade (or de Sauze, or di Salso) in the church of Santa Clara at Avignon and fell in love. He calls this an overwhelming love affair and his only one. Yet he had two illegitimate children: a son, Giovanni, who caused him much distress and who died in his twenty-fourth year, and a daughter, Francesca, who married Francesco da Brossano and gave Petrarch two grandchildren. His letter to Donato Albanzani (1368) describes his grief at his grandson's death. He wrote a series of love poems to Laura, his Rime or Canzoniere, developing the sonnet form that bears his name. He recorded her death of the plague in his copy of Virgil in 1348. His major works include: Africa (inspired by Scipio Africanus), Canzoniere, Sonetti, I Trionfi, De viris illustribus, De remediis utriusque Fortunae, and De vita solitaria. In addition to his Epistle to Posterity, Petrarch's Secret, a dialogue between the poet and St. Augustine, is self-revelatory.

The Clerk says twice that he learned the story of Griselda from Petrak, ClT 26-38, 1147. There has been much conjecture about a possible meeting between Chaucer and Petrarch, but no reliable evidence. Chaucer is, perhaps, employing the topic of obligation to Petrarch in allusion to his source, Epistolae Seniles XVIII.3: De obedientia ac fide uxoria mythologia, his translation of Boccaccio's tenth story for the tenth day in the Decameron. The Monk says that the source for his story of Zenobia is Petrak, MkT 2325; the source, however, is Boccaccio, De claris mulieribus, XCVIII. [Lollius]

The prevailing spelling in the manuscripts is Petrak or Patrak, the English contraction of Italian Petracco, the way Petrarch's father spelled his name. Francesco changed it to Petrarca. The name appears in medial positions, ClT 31,1147; MkT 2325.

Boccaccio, CFW, trans. G. Guarino, 226-230; ibid., Decameron, trans. J. Payne, rev. and annotated C.S. Singleton, II: 780-794; ibid., De claris mulieribus, ed. V. Zaccaria, 406-414; G.L. Hamilton, "Chauceriana I: The Date of the Clerk's Tale." MLN 23 (1908): 171-172; E.P. Kadish. "Petrarch's Griselda: An English Translation." Mediaevalia 3 (1977): 1-24; F. Petrarch, Africa, trans. and annotated by T.G. Bergin and A.S. Wilson; ibid., De obedientia ac fide uxoria mythologia, ed. B. Severs, S&A, 288-331; ibid., Letters from Petrarch, trans. M. Bishop; ibid., Petrarch's Lyric Poems; ibid., Le Rime Sparse e Trionfi, ed. E. Chiorboli; ibid., Triumphs, trans. E.H. Wilkins; E.H. Wilkins, Petrarch's Eight Years in Milan; ibid., Petrarch's Later Years; ibid., Studies in the Life and Works of Petrarch.
Copyright © 1988, 1996 Jacqueline de Weever
Published by Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London.

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