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Petrarch: The Forgotten Genius


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Who was Petrarch? For five centuries Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) was the most famous and influential poet in Europe. In more recent times, he has been acclaimed as the Father of Humanism. But so little today is known about the man and his writing. Despite being the first to label the Middle Ages the 'Dark Ages', Petrarch was himself closer to the ethos of the medieval than the innovative new thinking of the Renaissance. He chose to look back to the classical era by writing his major work - an epic poem called Africa - in Latin rather than in the modish vernacular of his native Tuscan.That immersion in the culture of antiquity partly explains why Petrarch's star has waned. Despite his genius, he is no longer fashionable. But he was in other ways a man defined by paradox, and difficult to pin down. Pious and devout, yet an inspiration to secular humanists; unrequited courtly lover, yet also a sexual predator on young women in the murky, twisting streets of papal Avignon; and a proud Florentine who envied his compatriot Dante, abandoning his homeland for the foreign culture of Provence: Petrarch was all of these, and more.Despite his fame, Petrarch's was above all a life scarred by tragedy. His best known work, the "Rime", was inspired by his passion for Laura, his life's love, who succumbed to the Black Death, leaving him bereft. In her elegant new biography, the first for many years, Barbara Reynolds reclaims Petrarch as writer, lover and statesman: a medieval man compellingly relevant to the modern age in all his tastes and talents.
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About the Author

Barbara Reynolds wrote the bestselling biography Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man (I.B.Tauris, 2006), which has now been translated into several European languages. One of the world's leading Italian scholars, she completed the Penguin translation of Paradiso after the death of her great friend Dorothy L Sayers. She also translated Dante's early work La Vita Nuova, Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, and was editor of The Cambridge Italian Dictionary.

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