Petrarch

Petrarch’s “Giunto Alessandro”

Today is Petrarch‘s birthday (1304-1374).

Frye in “The Survival of Eros in Poetry”:

There is no need to rehearse in detail the familiar story of courtly love in medieval poetry.  Influenced largely by Virgil and Ovid, the poets worked out an elaborate correspondence between sexual love and Christian agape.  One might be living one’s life carelessly, in complete freedom from the perturbations of love; then the God of Love, Eros or Cupid, would suddenly strike, and from then on one was Love’s abject slave, supplicating the favour (usually) of a mistress.  Sometimes, as in Dante, the cult of Eros is sublimated, in other words assimilated to the Christian one.  It is Eros who inspires Dante with his vita nuova that started from his first sight of Beatrice, but Beatrice in the Paradiso is an agent of divine grace.  In another medieval epic, however, The Romaunt of the Rose, the climax of the poem is clearly sexual allegory, and in Petrarch, who did far more than Dante to popularize the theme, at least in English literature, love for Laura is rooted in Eros throughout, even though again it is sublimated, involving no sexual contact and easily surviving death.  (CW 18, 255)

Translation of the poem after the jump.

Alexander, having reached the famous tomb
of fierce Achilles, sighing, said:
“Oh, fortunate one, that you found so clear a trumpet
and one who wrote so grandly about you!”

But this pure and white dove
of which I don’t know if the like has ever lived in the world
in my frail style resounds so little…
(Thus to each one are their own fortunes fixed.)

…that is worthy of Homer and of Orpheus,
or that shepherd whom Mantua still honors,
that they might go always singing only of her.

A deformed star and fate, guilty only in this,
trusted her to one who adores her beautiful name
but perhaps mars her praises in speaking.

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