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He was also one of the pioneers in the ‘humanist’ movement, which radically transformed Europeans' worldviews and culture and society. Moreover, the Italian can be said to have invented the Renaissance concept, which he defined as a return to classical values after the ‘Dark Ages’ of the Medieval World.
==Europe in the 14th century ====
The 14th century was, in many ways, a time of disaster and darkness. It was marked by terrible wars, famines, and of course, the Black Death, the most lethal pandemic known in European history. However, despite these disasters, there were dramatic changes in European societies. There was an increase in long-distance trade and urbanization, and feudal society began to break down in many areas. The Catholic Church was dominant, and it influenced every aspect of life in Europe. However, it was corrupt and worldly and was riven by disputes. These problems lead many people to adopt a more secular worldview and reconsider key beliefs such as humanity's imperfectability.
The most advanced region of Europe at this time was Italy. It was a patchwork of city-states that had become centers of trade and industry. The peninsula was also the heir of the Roman Empire, and the wealthy urban elite increasingly became interested in the classical world. These led to dramatic cultural changes and new ways of looking at the world, and novel forms of artistic expression that soon spread beyond Italy by the 15th century.
==The life and works of Petrarch ====
[[File: Petrarch 3.jpg|300px|thumb|left|The real-life Laura was Laura De Noves]]
Francesco Petrarch (in Italian Petrarca) was born in Arezzo in Northern Italy. His father was a lawyer and a member of the minor nobility. He spent some of his early childhood in a village near Florence, and his family later moved to Avignon in Southern France. His father followed the Pope's court, who moved to Avignon to escape Rome's disorders and instability.
Despite taking orders, as a cleric, Petrarch, fathered two children outside of marriage and legitimized both a son and a daughter. He had a deep interest in education and became involved in some polemics against those who championed the traditional approach to education, which was largely influenced by the Church's teachings.<ref> Mazzotta, Giuseppe. The worlds of Petrarch. No. 14 (North Carolina, Duke University Press, 1993), p. 119.</ref>In the 1360s, he settled in Florence and later Padua but had to move regularly because of outbreaks of the Black Death. In 1367 he returned to Padua and remained there until he died in 1374.
==His impact on the literature of the Renaissance====
While Petrarch wrote in both Latin and Italian, it is arguably his works, especially his poetry in his native tongue, that was most influential. Vernacular poetry had begun to flourish in the 13th and 14th centuries, and the works of Dante and the Sicilian School are still considered masterpieces of European literature.<ref> Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (London, Penguin Books, 1990), p 117</ref> Dante, one of the world’s greatest poets, was a friend of Petrarch’s father. The writer had a major impact on the development of poetry in the Renaissance. Petrarch is often credited as the sonnet's inventor, one of the most popular poetic forms in the western tradition. This is a fourteen-line poem in the meter known as iambic pentameter. However, he really only perfected the form, and he introduced innovations that allowed poets to use language in a very expressive way.
Petrarch's verse became the model for lyrical poets for many centuries. His sonnets, known as the Petrarchan Sonnet, were very popular in Elizabethan England. The Italian clearly influenced Shakespeare, and he developed his own style of the sonnet, known as the Shakespearian sonnet, based on Petrarch’s verse. The Italian wrote his poetry in the Tuscan dialect, as had Dante. This led it to become the standard form of literary expression in the Italian Peninsula, which had many regional dialects. The Italian was not only a great poet; he also was a great prose writer. He wrote the first autobiography since the classical era, and this was a landmark in the development of the genre and encouraged more writers to compose their memoirs and life-story. His dialogues, letters, and other works, in Latin, inspired many imitators in the Renaissance.
==The First Humanist ====
[[File: Petrarch Two.jpg|300px|thumb|left| Mont Ventoux’ which inspired Petrarch to write one of the most important documents of the Renaissance]]
Humanism was a cultural movement that valued human qualities, such as reason, and argued that this world had worth and meaning, contrary to Christian teachings. It taught that human agency could improve society and give dignity and freedom to individual life.<ref> Nauert, Charles G. Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe: Second Edition. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006), p 115</ref> Petrarch is often regarded as the Father of Humanism because he helped popularize the classical world and literature study. He rediscovered many manuscripts in monasteries and had Greek works translated to Latin so that they could be more readily read and studied.
Petrarch initiated the move to the world's re-discovery after the Middle Ages and its focus on the life to come, which was a characteristic of the humanists. This ultimately led to the world's rational examination, which had dramatic consequences in fields as diverse as science, politics, and philosophy. Moreover, the poet in his writings was very interested in a person's interior life and suggested that everyone had a rich inner life, a key tenet of humanism. He held that the individual was important, and this was radical for the time. <ref>Bishop, Morris Petrarch, and His World. (Bloomington, Indiana. Indiana University Press 1963), p 118</ref> However, Petrarch was conflicted, he was a very religious man, yet he admired the pagan classical world. He was ultimately able to resolve this by arguing that the classical and pagan world could help a person become more moral and achieve salvation. This did much to ensure that humanism and its love of the classical past were acceptable in an Italy and Europe that was still staunchly Christian.<ref>Bishop. p. 201</ref>
==Inventing the Renaissance ====
[[File: Petrarch four.jpg|200px|thumb|left|Petrarch from a 15th century Italian painting]]
In some ways, the poet was not only one of the most important figures in the Renaissance; he invented it in a sense. The Renaissance is widely seen as a period of ‘re-birth’ when Europe rediscovered classical values and, in the process, used the ancient past for models, which ultimately led to the development of more modern ways of thought.<ref>Bishop, p. 213</ref> Petrarch was the first to recognize that the study of the past by the humanists was a new period in history and one that would revive the glory of Rome and Greece. He portrayed it as distinct from previous centuries, which he described as ignorant and a ‘Dark Age.’
This was not strictly true because learning in Europe had been growing since the 12th century. Indeed, many have argued that the Renaissance in Italy and elsewhere were a direct result of trends in the Middle Ages. Petrarch’s conception of the Renaissance as something distinct from the Medieval world has been profoundly influential, and it remains so to this day<ref> Burckhardt, Jacob. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.
[[Category:European History]] [[Category:Italian History]] [[Category:Wikis]] [[Category:Renaissance History]]