Petrarch

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Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.

Francesco Petrarca (or Petrarch) (July 20, 1304July 19, 1374) was an Italian scholar, poet, and early humanist. Petrarch and Dante are considered the fathers of the Renaissance.

Quotes[edit]

To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum.
I rejoiced in my progress, mourned my weaknesses, and commiserated the universal instability of human conduct.
Man has no greater enemy than himself
It is better to will the good than to know the truth.
To be able to say how much you love is to love but little.
  • To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer. I have had the expedition in mind for many years; for, as you know, I have lived in this region from infancy, having been cast here by that fate which determines the affairs of men. Consequently the mountain, which is visible from a great distance, was ever before my eyes, and I conceived the plan of some time doing what I have at last accomplished to-day.
  • I rejoiced in my progress, mourned my weaknesses, and commiserated the universal instability of human conduct. I had well-nigh forgotten where I was and our object in coming; but at last I dismissed my anxieties, which were better suited to other surroundings, and resolved to look about me and see what we had come to see. The sinking sun and the lengthening shadows of the mountain were already warning us that the time was near at hand when we must go. As if suddenly wakened from sleep, I turned about and gazed toward the west. I was unable to discern the summits of the Pyrenees, which form the barrier between France and Spain; not because of any intervening obstacle that I know of but owing simply to the insufficiency of our mortal vision.
    • Letter to Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro (26 April 1336), as translated by James Harvey Robinson (1898)
  • My brother, waiting to hear something of St. Augustine's from my lips, stood attentively by. I call him, and God too, to witness that where I first fixed my eyes it was written: "And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not." I was abashed, and, asking my brother (who was anxious to hear more), not to annoy me, I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. Those words had given me occupation enough, for I could not believe that it was by a mere accident that I happened upon them. What I had there read I believed to be addressed to me and to no other, remembering that St. Augustine had once suspected the same thing in his own case, when, on opening the book of the Apostle, as he himself tells us, the first words that he saw there were, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
    • Letter to Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro (26 April 1336), as translated by James Harvey Robinson (1898)
  • Hitherto your eyes have been darkened and you have looked too much, yes, far too much, upon the things of earth. If these so much delight you what shall be your rapture when you lift your gaze to things eternal!
    When I heard her thus speak, though my fear still clung about me, with trembling voice I made reply in Virgil's words —
What name to call thee by,
O virgin fair, I know not, for thy looks are not of earth
And more than mortal seems thy countenance.
  • Secretum Meum (1342), as translated in Petrarch's Secret : or, The Soul's Conflict with Passion : Three Dialogues Between Himself and St. Augustine (1911) edited by William Henry Draper
  • Man has no greater enemy than himself. I have acted contrary to my sentiments and inclination; throughout our whole lives we do what we never intended, and what we proposed to do, we leave undone.
  • Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.
    • As quoted in Notable Thoughts About Women : A Literary Mosaic (1882) by Maturin Murray Ballou, p. 311
  • To begin with myself, then, the utterances of men concerning me will differ widely, since in passing judgment almost every one is influenced not so much by truth as by preference, and good and evil report alike know no bounds.
    • Epistola ad Posteros [Letter to Posterity] in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 59
  • I certainly will not reject the praise you bestow upon me for having stimulated in many instances, not only in Italy but perhaps beyond its confines also, the pursuit of studies such as ours, which have suffered neglect for so many centuries; I am, indeed, almost the oldest of those among us who are engaged in the cultivation of these subjects. But I cannot accept the conclusion you draw from this, namely, that I should give place to younger minds, and, interrupting the plan of work on which I am engaged, give others an opportunity to write something, if they will, and not seem longer to desire to reserve everything for my own pen. How radically do our opinions differ, although, at bottom, our object is the same! I seem to you to have written everything, or at least a great deal, while to myself I appear to have produced almost nothing.
    • Letter to Giovanni Boccaccio (28 April 1373) As quoted in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 417
  • You, my friend, by a strange confusion of arguments, try to dissuade me from continuing my chosen work by urging, on the one hand, the hopelessness of bringing my task to completion, and by dwelling, on the other, upon the glory which I have already acquired. Then, after asserting that I have filled the world with my writings, you ask me if I expect to equal the number of volumes written by Origen or Augustine. No one, it seems to me, can hope to equal Augustine. Who, nowadays, could hope to equal one who, in my judgment, was the greatest in an age fertile in great minds? As for Origen, you know that I am wont to value quality rather than quantity, and I should prefer to have produced a very few irreproachable works rather than numberless volumes such as those of Origen, which are filled with grave and intolerable errors.
    • Letter to Giovanni Boccaccio (28 April 1373) As quoted in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 418
  • Continued work and application form my soul's nourishment. So soon as I commenced to rest and relax I should cease to live. I know my own powers. I am not fitted for other kinds of work, but my reading and writing, which you would have me discontinue, are easy tasks, nay, they are a delightful rest, and relieve the burden of heavier anxieties. There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen. Other pleasures fail us or wound us while they charm, but the pen we take up rejoicing and lay down with satisfaction, for it has the power to advantage not only its lord and master, but many others as well, even though they be far away — sometimes, indeed, though they be not born for thousands of years to come. I believe I speak but the strict truth when I claim that as there is none among earthly delights more noble than literature, so there is none so lasting, none gentler, or more faithful; there is none which accompanies its possessor through the vicissitudes of life at so small a cost of effort or anxiety.
    • Letter to Giovanni Boccaccio (28 April 1373) As quoted in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 426
  • Books have led some to learning and others to madness, when they swallow more than they can digest.
    • As quoted in "Lifetime Speaker's Encyclopedia" (1962) by Jacob Morton Braude, p. 75
  • How fortune brings to earth the over-sure!
    • As quoted in The International Thesaurus of Quotations‎ (1970) by Rhoda Thomas Tripp
  • It is better to will the good than to know the truth.
    • As quoted in The Renaissance : Essays in Interpretation (1982) by André Chastel , p 107
  • It is more honorable to be raised to a throne than to be born to one. Fortune bestows the one, merit obtains the other.
    • De vita solitaria (1346) as quoted in Madalyn Aslan's Jupiter Signs: How to Improve Your Luck, Career, Health, Finances, Appearance, and Relationships Through the New Astrology (2003) by Madalyn Aslan
  • Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.
    • As quoted in The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Inspirational Quotes (2005) by Wendy Toliver. p. 446
  • Five enemies of peace inhabit with us — avarice, ambition, envy, anger, and pride; if these were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace.
    • De vita solitaria (1346) as quoted in Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing‎ (2006) by Larry Chang, p. 144

To Laura in Life (c. 1327-1350)[edit]

  • Who overrefines his argument brings himself to grief.
    • Canzone 11
  • A good death does honor to a whole life.
    • Canzone 16
  • To be able to say how much you love is to love but little.
    • Canzone 37

Quotes about Petrarch[edit]

Solitude alone supplied him with all this power… ~ Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann
  • Francesco Petrarca, the mirror of our century, after completing a vast array of volumes, on reaching his seventy-first year, closed his last day in his library. He was found leaning over a book as if sleeping, so that his death was not at first suspected by his household.
    • Manzini de la Motta (1 July 1388) as quoted in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 428
  • Petrarch, a character on whom I never think but with love, formed his mind entirely in Solitude, and there rendered himself capable of transacting the most important political affairs. Petrarch was, doubtless, sometimes what persons frequently become in Solitude, satirical, peevish and choleric. He has, in particular, been reproached with great severities, on account of his lively pictures of the manners of his age, and especially his description of the infamous vices practised at Avignon, during the pontificate of the sixth Clement. But Petrarch possessed a profound knowledge of the human heart, and extraordinary address in working upon the passions and directing them as he pleased. The Abbé de Sade, the best historian of his life, says, that he is scarcely known, but as the tender and elegant poet, who loved with ardor and sung in the most impassioned strains the charms of his mistress; and that nothing more is known of his character. Even authors are ignorant of the obligations which literature owes him; that he rescued it from the barbarism beneath which it had so long been buried; that he saved the best works of the ancient writers from dust and destruction, and that all these treasures would have been lost to us, if he had not sought and procured correct copies of them.
  • It is not perhaps, generally known, that he first revived the study of the Belles Lettres in Europe; that he purified the taste of the age; that he himself thought and wrote like a citizen of ancient and independent Rome; that he extirpated numerous prejudices, and paved the way to further improvements, in the circle of human knowledge; that to the hour of his death, he continued to exercise his distinguished talents, and in each successive work always surpassed the preceding. Still less is it known, that Petrarch was an able statesman; that the greatest sovereigns of his age confided to him the most difficult negotiations, and consulted him on their most important concerns; that in the fourteenth century, he possessed a higher reputation, credit and influence, than any man of learning of the present day; that three popes, an emperor, a king of France, a sovereign of Naples, a crowd of cardinals, the greatest princes, and most illustrious lords of Italy, courted his friendship, and desired his company; that, as a statesman, an ambassador and minister they employed him in the most intricate affairs of those times; that, in return, he was not backward in telling them the most unpleasant truths; that Solitude alone supplied him with all this power; that none was better acquainted with its advantages, Cherished them with such fondness, or extolled them with such energy, and at length, preferred leisure and liberty to every other consideration. He appeared, a long time, enervated by love, to which he had devoted the prime of his life, but he suddenly abandoned the soft and effeminate tone, in which he sighed at the feet of his Laura. He then addressed himself, with manly boldness, to kings, emperors, and popes, and always with that confidence which splendid talents and high reputation inspire.

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