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Petrarch reviewed in the London Review of Books

on Fri, 02/01/2019 - 12:24

Francesco Petrarca, known in English as Petrarch, is one of the tre corone – the ‘three crowns’ – of early Italian literature. There was a brief period when all three were alive: Dante died in 1321, when Petrarch was 17 and Boccaccio eight; the younger writers worked in his shadow.

They were all Florentine, and in the phrase’s first coinage they were the ‘three crowns of Florence’. This was both a statement of civic pride (conveniently forgetting that both Dante and Petrarch had troubled relations with the city) and a celebration of their role in making Tuscan the pre-eminent language of Italian culture and scholarship.

Of the three Petrarch is the most prolific, the most eclectic, the hardest to pin down – and, nowadays, the least read. He is chiefly remembered as a love poet, and particularly a sonneteer, though this represented only a fraction of his output.

His masterpiece in this field is a mesmeric sequence of 366 sonnets, songs, madrigals, ballads and sestine – one a day in a leap year is the recommended dosage.

Its date of composition is disputed, though internal evidence suggests it was begun in or shortly after 1327. If its title is not on the tip of the general reader’s tongue, in the way that The Divine Comedy and the Decameron are, this is mostly because it has three different names, all still in use. 

Read full article here.

Petrarch: Everywhere a Wanderer (Renaissance Lives Series)
Christopher S. Celenza
Reaktion Books
ISBN 9781780238388
Hardback, £15.95

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