Of Petrarch and Revival

A towering historical figure with something to teach us today.

It has been about 4 years since I stumbled across this website searching the now-censored internet in the hope of finding uncensored "conservative websites". This site went live in 2007 and there is a great "commencement essay" published under the "About Us" tab, explaining the reasons the founding members created the site and why they chose the name "Scragged". I'm a regular reader and have even written a few articles the editors graciously published, and I've commented on a few others.

Recently, I've noticed that no new articles have been published in over 1 month, so I emailed the editors asking if all was ok. I received a response pretty quickly from "Francesco Petrarch". The email stated that the editors were a bit busy with life lately, but articles would continue to be published again in the very near future. Petrarch asked if I might want to write an article for publication on the site. I replied that I would think about a topic to opine on and left it at that.

It was then the thought appeared: "Who is Francesco Petrarch?" I once had the good fortune to visit Tuscany, Italy in 2010 and was familiar with the name "Francesco" for a man and "Francesca" for a woman, but I had never heard the name "Francesco", so I typed the full name into my browser and got a hit. I had assumed the editor was either a man of Italian descent, or the person was using a "nom de plume".

The first selection in the search results was from Wikipedia, in my opinion, not the best source of accurate, unbiased information. But I clicked anyway and found that sure enough, Francesco Petrarch was an Italian scholar, but an Italian scholar who lived from 1304-1374 and is credited with kickstarting the Italian Renaissance. He was very interested in reviving interest in the virtues that created both the Ancient Greek and Roman cultures. He held the writings of Saint Augustine in high regard and considered him a mentor. I'm not attempting to write a biography of Petrarch. Anyone whose interest might be piqued can look online.

What jumped out at me was something in the second section on Wikipedia, titled "Mount Ventoux", which I stopped to read. Seems Petrarch and his brother decided to climb this 6200-foot mountain in Italy for fun. Rather than me paraphrase what I read, it's better I quote it directly from Wikipedia:

Petrarch was dazed and stirred by the view of the Alps, the mountains around Lyons, the Rhone, the Bay of Marseilles. He took Saint Augustine's Confessions from his pocket and reflected that his climb was merely an allegory of aspiration toward a better life. As the book fell open, Petrarch's eyes were immediately drawn to the following words:

"And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not."

Petrarch's response was to turn from the outer world of nature to the inner world of "soul":

"I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again... We look about us for what is to be found only within... How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation."

Two phrases jumped out immediately:

1.    "but themselves they consider not", and

2.    "We look about us for what is to be found only within".

At this point in my little research project triggered by the name of an editor on a website, I had even more questions. Realizing that the editor was using "Francesco Petrarch" as a nom de plume, and that the editor selected this name specifically, knowing full-well who Petrarch was; I knew everything was not as I had assumed or as it seemed to me.

I thought the site was a standard, run of the mill website, with moderators, authors, editors, etc. and it is, only a bunch more thought went into it than meets the eye, or my eye at least. I felt like Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, when they're being chased by the posse, and they can't lose them, and Newman says as he looks back at the posse chasing them, "Who are those guys?"

I emailed Petrarch stating that I had discovered his nom de plume and did a little research on Petrarch. He responded and asked if I would write something on what I found. This is the result.

And now back to those two statements, one from Saint Augustine, and the other from Petrarch himself: "But themselves they consider not", and "We look about us for what is to be found only within."

Both statements, in my opinion, reflect what is missing, what has been missing, and what has purposely been obscured and suppressed in schools, colleges, universities, families, and communities. And that is the knowledge of the presence of something greater than ourselves within each of us and that resides in everything in the Universe. The flip side of this, and what we are seeing throughout society, is the hedonistic, ego-driven, and never-ending desire for instant gratification, with no moral or ethical restraints. The result of living a life driven by the ego, for the sole purpose of gratification, is suffering, conflict, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and any other negative word you can think of.

Years ago, I took a trip to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Anyone who's been there will tell you, there's no way to imagine such immense wealth and what it can purchase. I've also been to Longwood Gardens and Winterthur - two DuPont estates donated and operated as non-profits. What struck me about the Biltmore was that the Vanderbilts still own it, although they no longer reside in the estate - it's how they support themselves and for which people buy a ticket to take the ride and marvel at.

I did a little research on the Vanderbilt family who used to live there and found a quote from one of the children that grew up there.  He said, and I'm paraphrasing: "Money is a curse because one can buy anything they can imagine yet none of what you buy satisfies for long".

Petrarch knew that the ancient Greeks and Romans put a huge emphasis on what is now referred to as "The Perennial Philosophy" - the philosophical tradition of the world's great thinkers from Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas to their modern successors dealing with problems of ultimate reality (as the nature of being) and sometimes emphasizing mysticism - directly opposed to skepticism. This reflects a perspective in spirituality that views all of the world's religious traditions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown.

According to the Traditionalist School, the perennial philosophy is "absolute Truth and infinite Presence". Aldous Huxley wrote a book titled "The Perennial Philosophy" and said "The Perennial Philosophy is expressed most succinctly in the Sanskrit formula, tat tvam asi ('That thou art'); the Atman, or immanent eternal Self, is one with Brahman, the Absolute Principle of all existence; and the last end of every human being, is to discover the fact for himself, to find out who he really is." Ramana Maharshi, the great Indian sage that lived from 1879-1950, when asked who and what he was, having attained enlightenment replied: (paraphrasing) "the best description using words to describe what cannot be described, of what I am, and what you are too, comes from the Bible when Moses when up the mountain and asked God what He was and God replied, "I Am That I Am".

All of these great thinkers say the same thing: "find out what you are". No desire manifested from an ego, no matter how grandiose on the level of form, can compare to what is within.  That is what they are telling us. Same thing Christ said; same thing the Buddha said.

It's the journey into the inner world where one finds completeness and bliss. Contemplation and introspection used to be staples of a well-lived life, where the provoking of thought was welcomed and expected.

That is what's missing from our world today.

As Eckhart Tolle says "it was there all along (the presence within). But nobody ever told me to look there so I never looked".

Petrarch knew this and wanted to revive these ancient introspective traditions passed down, yet often lost in religion. As a result, he is credited with initiating the 14th-century Italian Renaissance.

The word Renaissance, I've come to learn, means "revival". And I think most who frequent this website would agree... human beings today desperately need a revival of the way of life where the inner journey is emphasized, rather than the relentless pursuit of fleeting, never-satisfying, ego-driven desires that can only result in pain and suffering.

No law, no force, no government, no punishment, can remove this knowledge that dwells within - although they will try, and surely are trying.

Is it a coincidence - that one name, Petrarch, led to all of what I wrote? I think not.

There are many pointers on the road of life. Some we notice, some we miss. I'm glad I noticed this one.

This article was reprinted from a different site. Commentary may be added.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Guest Editorial or other articles on Culture.
Reader Comments

There is a problem with just "finding yourself" by just looking inward. By nature, people are selfish and lazy, that's why Confucius was so enthusiastic about parents teaching their children virtue. Parents knew that the "real you" was a lazy bum. They forced their children to find the "best possible you" by making them work hard at learning.

Parents used to have a very strong motivation to do that - children were their only possible support in old age, and only virtuous children would do that.

Western societies have more or less decided that the government will support them when they get old and their societies care less about educating the young to be productive. French schools were told to reduce homework because kids from 2-parent families where at least one parent had the time and emotional energy to help then with their homework had an "unfair advantage" over kids from single parent homes. that sort of stupidity renders a society uncompetitive over time particularly if you start celebrating diversity.

Productive people are having fewer and fewer children and seem to be treating them as fashion accessories instead of long-term investments.

Government support for the aged is clearly not going to work all that much longer. One wonders how many older people will starve when the gravy train slows down.

August 23, 2021 3:18 PM

Well, put, Sam. Having failed to instill much virtue in one of my two children, I acknowledge your point.

August 23, 2021 4:44 PM

"There are many pointers on the road of life. Some we notice, some we miss. I'm glad I noticed this one."

As am I. Thank you.

August 23, 2021 7:10 PM

There's a mistake in the article I wrote. I originally saw and thought that Petrarchs first name was "Franceso", not "Francesco".hence the third paragraph about the name Francesco.

And thank you soljerblue... I've found that the pointers all point to the same thing

August 23, 2021 9:40 PM
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