Petrarch's Private Politics: <i>Rerum Familiarum Libri</i> 19

Albert Russell Ascoli

in A Local Habitation and a Name

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780823234288
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823241231 | DOI:
Petrarch's Private Politics: Rerum Familiarum Libri 19

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This chapter focuses on one book, the 19th volume of the Familiar Letters, beginning with two “political” letters concerning historical personages and events that “actually occurred”. One (XIX.3) recounts Petrarch's meeting with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV and his efforts both to shape his powerful interlocutor's thoughts and actions and to maintain a significant degree of autonomy from the sphere of politics. The other is directed, on behalf of the powerful Visconti of Milan, to warning an Augustinian friar to cede back the town of Pavia, and to return to his true contemplative vocation (XIX.18). Both letters exemplify the manipulation of rhetorical forms to persuade the subject or addressee of a given letter to a given course of public action. Both illustrate the use of those forms to persuade others—the readers of the Familiares—of the essentially private and autonomous existence of Petrarch himself. Petrarch manipulates the “macrotextual” form of the epistolary collection to generate a complex, often contradictory, understanding of his vocation as private intellectual in intimate contact with the central political figures and events of his time. In other words, if one does not understand the formal structures of the Familiares, one does not grasp the work's historical significance.

Keywords: Francis Petrarch; Rerum Familiarum Libri; Familiar Letters; formalism and historicism; public and private; poetry and power; rhetorical exemplarity; microtext; macrotext; epistolary genre

Chapter.  18190 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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