Jordan Parkinson - Running With Petrarch.docx - Jordan...

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Jordan Parkinson Running With Petrarch 1 History 308 April 5, 2016 In Petrarch’s The Ascent of Mount Ventoux he writes, “Today I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region…My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer.” 1 Petrarch is often known in history as the man who created the idea of humanism. His words in The Ascent of Mount Ventoux perfectly summarize this type of humanist thinking that he is known for. He passed on to others the idea of active and contemplative lives and a strong faith in human rationality. 2 Throughout the era of the Renaissance, other great thinkers continued on with the humanist tradition and created ideas of their own. Two specific authors and their respective works illustrate this latching on of Petrarchan humanist ideas and running them in different directions. In comparing and contrasting Thomas More’s Utopia with Giovanni Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man and their relation to Petrarchan thought, cords can be drawn between these different types of humanism and therefore lead to a conclusion that the original form of humanism as lived by Petrarch is the most beneficial to both society and the individual. The humanist tradition begins with Petrarch for many reasons, one of which lies not in his study of antiquities and the subsequent revival of such pursuits but in his survival of the Black Plague. We know from history that the Black Plague brought much more than death – it also brought the Renaissance. 3 Humanism in all of its pursuit of antiquity and classicism, all of its human exploration and understanding goes hand in hand with the Renaissance. Petrarch not only survived the years of the Black Plague, while many of his friends did not, but he climbed mountains in the world of study and scholarship. It is easy to look back at history and understand how such a grand thing as the Renaissance, a movement celebrating humanity and life, could 1 Pigott Study Guide Page 60 2 Zophy, A Short History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe: Dances over Fire and Water (Prentice Hall, 2003), 73 3 Cahill, Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World (Anchor Books, 2014), 67.
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2 have grown out of years of death and destruction. Petrarch is our perfect individual example of something that was happening across society. It is important to note that Petrarch spent his entire life in this pursuit of knowledge and scholarship, and in doing this he passed on the great humanist tradition to many others. Historian Thomas Cahill informs us, “What Petrarch discovered in his reading was an ancient literary and philosophical tradition that, though once vigorous, had been rent and left in tatters by subsequent ages…the time had come to renew the once vibrant tradition.” 4 In his narrative Cahill continues to inform us that such decisions led Petrarch to begin collecting old books and manuscripts, which was a highly unusual pastime for the day. And not only did Petrarch collect these books and manuscripts, but he derived great pleasure and knowledge from them. Cahill continues,
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