This year marks the seventh centenary of Petrarch’s birth, on July 20, 1304, in the town of Arezzo. The son of an exile—his father Petracco was of Dante’s generation and exiled from Florence in the same wave—Petrarch was to spend his life in restless peregrination, moving back and forth from Italy to France and venturing at times as far afield as the Netherlands and Prague. In “A Letter to Posterity,” he states (in J. G. Nichols’s translation), “I was never able to stay still; and I went not so much from the desire to see once more what I had already seen a thousand times, but, as sick men do, endeavouring to cope with tedium by a change of scene.” In fact, tedium—or what he more commonly terms “acedia”—motivated Petrarch as much as passion. The outer restlessness of his migratory life found its analogue in an inner turbulence which allowed him little of the peace he sought. His...


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