From what has been said it follows that Italian literature does not have the Middle Ages. Arising from that powerful rebirth of human spiritual energies which created national unity at the opening of the new millennium, it unfolded without interruption until the middle of the century. XVI, when with the rise of the critical problem of art, the second period dawns, to which we give the name of romantic. The renewal of classical studies between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was once considered the beginning of a new literary age that succeeded the medieval one, like the end of the sixteenth century, the beginning of an age of decline. Divisions and subdivisions perhaps didactically opportune, but historically false, because that renewal of classical studies is a secondary fact, nothing other than the consequence of the awareness that the Italians first had, of the new world created for itself by humanity after the year 1000; and decadence, that is, the dissolution of the past, cannot be the mark of an age, when new facts of life accompany it which announce and prepare the future.
At least literally, the Middle Ages had ended with the end of the first millennium, and prehumanism (see p.934) had shortly thereafter infused a fervor of life into classical studies as well, which following the development of the resurrected human soul, led them to the philology of Petrarch and the its followers. The vivifying spirit of the classical studies was in full force since the century. XII and Dante had already stated that he could not be a good vulgar poet without the study of the ancients, and confessed to having removed from Virgil the “beautiful style” of his lyrics. What the fourteenth century brought to those studies again, which had reached about halfway through its course, was only the awareness of the gap which by now separated antiquity from current time, awareness that was opposed to the idea and sentiment of the men of the first centuries after the year 1000 and of Dante himself, who kept their age and the Latin and vulgar literature of their time as an uninterrupted continuation of ancient political and intellectual life . Of course this awareness could not have been, before the new world was created; and Petrarch had it first. Consequences were precisely the dream that he first dreamed of, of a return to the ancient, which one began to see beyond a millennium of barbarism, both in life and in literature, and the renewed method of studies intended to discover it. in its entirety and purity.
According to Holidaysort, Francesco Petrarca was a fortunate man of agios and honors; yet a perpetual self-discontent, a melancholy without why, an incurable boredom of life assiduously tormented him; state of mind that said “sloth” and that he analyzed acutely in stupendous pages of the Secretum (1342-43) and in some of the innumerable epistles he collected in the two large collections of the Familiars and the Seniles . Spirit of strong and full humanity, and I will oppose the rationalism and empty formalism of the scholastics who had forgotten the human interest in philosophy ( Invectivarum libri in medicum , 1355; De sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia, 1368), he sought a science which, by claiming the freedom and dignity of the spirit, would move man to knowledge of the world; perpetual nagging aspiration, which, unsatisfied, pushed Petrarch to take refuge in the ancestral faith, integral and steadfast in him, but left his need for rationality unsatisfied, creating the perpetual discomfort of that soul, skeptical of traditional science and in vain yearning to a new one.
In addition to the Secretum , the De otio religiosorum and De vita solitaria (1346-56) reflect the uncertainties of the Petrarchian soul between the ideals of the ascetic and his overbearing humanity. But with clearer evidence it reveals what is historically the most important aspect of the Petrarchian soul, the ponderous treatise De remediis utriusque fortunae (1360-1366) pervaded, yes, with ascetic spirits, but intended to rationally solve the problem of happiness, seeking in the human soul the comfort of pain and the brakes against the exultation of joy; book of humanity, whose enormous fortune, equal if not superior to that of the songbook, can be explained only by considering it precisely as an expression of the first critical effort towards the interpretation of that new moral world, of which history gave an intuitive awareness.
Having become reflected in Petrarch, it was precisely this consciousness that revealed the ancient world to him no longer as an immanent force in daily life, but as a world for richness and vigor of human spirituality similar to the newly created one, to which one should return with thought and with the act by way of meditation and study. Beyond the mark traced by the Veronese and Paduan prehumanists, he renewed the methods of the studies on ancient Roman literature, researcher and discoverer of manuscripts and works that have lost sight of sight, acute destroyer of legends that clung to the history of antiquity during the Middle Ages, happy initiator of diplomatic criticism and criticism of texts, renovator with individuality characters of the Latin style, the first methodical advocate of the effort towards a frank and genuine vision of classicism and of the anti-historical dream of a classical restoration in language, in customs, in politics. From which dream was born, between 1338 and 1340, the double plan of singing Scipio Africano, as national hero yes of the Romans and yes of their Christian heirs, and of writing a history of Rome through biographies from Romulus to Titus; L’Africa and the De viris illustribus .
The completed part of the Rerum memorandarum books is also made up of Roman examples ; and Rome is always the center and the destination whence it radiates and to which Petrarch’s political thought is based; medieval thought when he urges Charles IV to come to Italy to consecrate his dignity as emperor in Rome; serious thought of the future when he feels the unifying force of Italy in Cola’s Rome. And in Rome he recalls with an indefatigable voice, in the metric epistles and in the prosexts, the exiled popes, and sees in their absence the cause of the decadence and corruption of the curia, harshly lashed in the epistles Sine nomine , in two eclogues and with more impetuous vehemence in three famous sonnets.
Moreover, the dream of the classical restoration could not, in a high mind and aware of reality, like that of Petrarch, be a complete denial of history. His humanity as a fourteenth-century Tuscan could not renounce what was its necessary historical form, the vulgar Tuscan; and in fact in Tuscany he wrote not just the rhymes of love, which are the excellent part of the songbook, but rhymes of political and family matter, and the Triumphs , a poem of a religious-moral subject.
The songbook is the representation of Petrarch’s spiritual intimacy as he saw it pose and unfold, when he resolved to collect and gradually collected and ordered his “scattered rhymes”; representation that arises and is defined in contrast with that, at first slightly overshadowed and then gradually more and more revealed of Laura’s spiritual intimacy, in an environment between idyll and elegy exquisitely drawn, colored and set with music. The psychology investigating the innermost and subtle reactions of the soul to the most varied and delicate impressions of the external world is very fine; the revealing images of that psychology are magnificent and effective; the vigor of the interior does not always dictate that its shape does not detach itself to live its own independent life, now wonderfully bright and flowery, now dry and cold in refinement, affectation, quarrel, pun. In the Trionfi Petrarch imagined an ideal story of his spirit that would rise from worldly troubles to the placid serenity of celestial contemplation, and this story represented in a series of allegorical visions, in which the action of Dante’s model is evident. The elegant freshness of the descriptive peculiarities wrapped in a very sweet wave of musicality, can make us forget in the Triumphs the cold dryness of the story, which too often disappears in catalogs of names; but true and living poetry is only there where the lyricism of the Petrarchian soul bursts into the memory and representation of Laura.