The Impact of Petrarch

Francesco Petrarch was a 14th century Italian scholar and the father of the Italian renaissance of humanism. His ideals of focusing on man and his own actions rather than on God and His divine affairs did more to foster the development of humanism than anyone else. He was the first person to characterize the Middle Ages as the "Dark Ages" because of how scholars and leaders eschewed science and favored divinity.

First Modern Intellectual

Renaissance scholars consider Petrarch the first modern intellectual. The Italian poet laureate had a deep understanding of Greek philosophy and believed in the concept of solitary life. He also founded philology, the study of all linguistic and literary phenomena. He disdained wealth and believed that one should not actively seek it. Petrarch's writings paved the way for education in that he believed the church's stance against science and classical literature was barbaric and detrimental to progress. Petrarch's love of the ancient classical languages influenced the rise of the romantic languages in favor of Latin, the preferred written language in the medieval era.

The Concept of Self

In direct contrast with contemporary scholars, Petrarch believed in the concept of self. He believe that it was not God that gave us peace of mind and it was not God that guided us to success. Instead, Petrarch advanced the idea that we are responsible for our own happiness, and the way to achieve that is through constantly cultivating the mind through reading and writing. Cultivating the self through spiritual exercises, particularly writing, was at the core of his humanist philosophy and concept of self. His admiration for the highest achievements of man become known as humanism as opposed to the medieval concept of scholasticism, which was based on Christianity and the achievements of God.

Precursor to Modern Universities

Petrarch's enthusiasm for human achievements led to the establishment of several academies dedicated to the study of ancient classical texts. One of his most famous followers, Boccaccio -- who authored "Decameron" -- helped him collect ancient and forgotten texts from Greece. Students of these academies attempted to perform music and dramas in the style of the pagan classics, despite some arrests for practicing pagan rituals. Petrarch's academies were in the tradition of Plato's ancient academy, which studied math, science, the arts and philosophy. Because of this, Plato and the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed renewed attention.

From Divine Truth to Self-Examination

Petrarch fixated on writing as a means to improve the inner mind. Whereas the medieval Augustinian-monastic tradition of reading and writing sought to remove guilt and abolish the attachment to one's self, Petrarch believed it useful to shape the inner self; to establish authority over himself and his desires and passions. Because Petrarch wrote about everything in his life -- his thoughts, feelings, inner struggles -- his stream of consciousness writing revived the "examination of conscious" practiced by the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca.