100 Bibliophiles History Reading & Writing

Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374)

Francesco Petrarch was born in the city of Arezzo, in Tuscany, Italy on July 20, 1304. He moved to the French city of Avignon at age nine after having spent his early years in dire poverty.

Petrarch was an ardent book collector and amassed a significant personal library throughout his lifetime. An insatiable bibliophile, he traveled across Europe during the 1330s. Notably, he unearthed Cicero’s Letters to Atticus and catalyzed Homer’s first Latin translation.

His literary endeavors were prolific, spanning from Latin verses to vernacular poems. In 1341, Petrarch was officially crowned a poet in Rome.

His love for these texts went beyond mere collecting; he would transcribe, annotate, and compile these works, becoming an early advocate for textual criticism.

As for the exact number of books he owned, that’s hard to determine because records from that time are incomplete. It is believed though that he may have owned several hundred volumes, which was quite a significant amount for the 14th century.

An important thing to consider is that during Francesco Petrarch’s lifetime, books were handwritten manuscripts, not printed volumes. They were expensive, precious commodities, and owning even a small collection was considered a sign of considerable wealth and status.

During the Middle Ages, most collections were held by religious institutions and Petrarch was one of the first few to keep a private library.

In 1327, Petrarch fell in love with Laura de Sade who was already married. This unrequited love became the inspiration for many of his poems.

Canzoniere - Francesco Petrarca
Canzoniere by Francesco Petrarca, Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15612986

Petrarch’s life was full of diplomatic missions, vast study, and enormous literary output.

His notable achievements include discovering Cicero’s letters and reworking his collection of poems known as the Canzoniere to depict his spiritual evolution.

He also began his poem Trionfi, capturing the soul’s journey from earthly passion to divine fulfillment.

“Petrarch was the first to put together the kind of library described by Seneca, one not meant to lend prestige but to aid in understanding the world.”

Mark Van Doren, American Poet and Writer

Before his death, he arranged for his collection of Greek and Roman manuscripts to be donated to the Republic of Venice.

This significant gift helped establish the Biblioteca Marciana, one of the greatest libraries of the Renaissance period. It was one of the first public libraries in Italy, though Petrarch’s collection was unfortunately lost over time.

When we think about Francesco Petrarch and his life, we begin to understand how the idea of having a personal library started. He played an important role in keeping historical books safe for the future.

So, when we remember him, it’s not just because he was an important person in the history of writing. It’s also to inspire us and future generations to respect and keep safe the shared knowledge found in books.

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