Italy from Dante to Petrarch


The period of beginning from Dante to Petrarch and the respective transition between the two great personalities forms a critical component in the development of Italian concepts. According to Sforza, “Hardly had it taken its first steps when it produced Dante, its most universal genius; and with him Petrarch and Boccacio…But Dante is Dante, unique. And unique also after him are Petrarch and Boccacio…But Poets like Dante and Petrarch, and after period of renaissance…represent only themselves and through themselves universal consciousness…Dante moved by Italian Passions; Petrarch thanks God that he was born Italian”  (Sforza 18). This merely serves to show the manner in which the two great poets form an important element when it comes to the analysis and representation of the Italian cultural and interpersonal development. The relevance of Dante and Petrarch in the Italian landscape is of great importance with regard to the enhancement of ethical practices and aspects of self identity.

How did the society of Italy in terms of ethics and self identity change between the time of Dante and that of Petrarch?


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Dante made significant efforts at enhancing the ethical initiatives while focusing upon the Italian conceptual understanding in as far as ethical initiatives are essentially concerned. According to Sforza, “…he replied: ‘Cannot I then perchance contemplate wherever I may be the light of the sun and of the stars? Cannot I meditate anywhere on Supreme Truths?” (Sforza 19). This fundamentally brings out his elemental concern aim and concern in developing and enhancing the ethical standards in far the Italian societal values in which he grew up knowing.

Dante contributed immensely to the emancipation of self identity based on the Italian way of life and the manner in which society evolved. Through his poems, Dante was essentially able to elevate the concept of self identity among the overall Italian population in the 13 century. This enabled him to build an immensely great following of his works leading to the potential elevation of self appreciation as seen in those times. According to Sforza, “Dante himself, intensely Italian though he was, declared that his fatherland was ‘the world in general’, and to those who would have made peace for him, who worked to bring his exile to an end, but humiliating conditions, who worked to bring his exile to an end, but on humiliating conditions” (Sforza 19).

Dante was essentially marveled by many in the Italian society as a poet whose aim was to elevate the appreciation of the Italian fundamentals both at individual levels and society as a whole. According to Sforza, “All Italians brought up in the Dantesque religion; Dante has exercised a greater influence over them than Shakespeare over the English and Racine over the French. Even the most dense Italian will have been moved at least once in his life by some of those swift and clear than in any other poetry” (Sforza 19). This elementally shows the manner in which Dante essentially succeeded in building a strong following through framing a belief system that essentially promoted a perspective of national importance and individual integrity.


Petrarch immensely contributes to the portrayal of the Italian society as one in which the individuals are proud of being what they are especially focusing upon the elevation of the sonnet style used in poetry as an origin of the Italian identity. According to Hallam, “In this respect Petrarch has as much the advantage over Dante, as he was his inferior in depth of thought and creative power. He formed a school of poetry, which, though no discipline comparable to himself came out of it, gave a character to the taste of his country. He did not invent the sonnet; but perhaps, was the cause that it has continued in fashion for so many ages. He gave purity, elegance, and even stability to the Italian language, which has been incomparably less changed during near five centuries since his time” (Hallam 43). Through Petrarch the Italian style was able to develop progressively and became adopted by many other artists in the literary industry as a result of its unique perspectives promoted by Petrarch. As Hallam declares, “…and none have denied him the honour of having restored a true feeling of classical antiquity in Italy, and consequently in Europe” (Hallam 43).

In reference to the development of ethical initiatives and fundamentals focusing on the Italian context between the thirteenth and fourteenth century, Petrarch has played a significant role in the enhancement of these aspects. This is essentially seen through his analysis of the ethical perspectives implied in the works of previous phenomenal literature artists in this context. As Petrarch objects, “I should say more if those who are as much friends of the truth as they are of sects permitted. By God, I am convinced and I have no doubt that ‘he went astray,’ as the saying goes, ‘the whole length of the way,’ not only in what is of little weight, where an error is unimportant and by no means dangerous, but in matters of the greatest consequence, and precisely in those regarding supreme salvation. Of happiness he has indeed said a good deal in the beginning and at the end of his ethics” (Mazzotta 81). Here Petrarch fundamentally aims at disapproving the insinuations of previous factual establishments by relegating them to a lower status through denunciation.

Works of these two authors and other general studies,


Through Dante’s works the thematic concerns regarding the Italian society and its values are essentially promoted as seen in various instances. For instance, Dante explores various issues regarding the aspects of vengeance based on his contextual understanding of the Italian society fundamentals. This can be seen in, “…Under Titus, the fourth Caesar, Jerusalem was taken in a bloody conquest which Dante saw as a vengeance taken for just vengeance. His argument would probably run that it was just to exact vengeance upon for Adam’s sin and that God sent His only begotten son to mankind for that purpose…What is free will in confrontation with a preordained act of God’s will?” (Dante and Ciardi 81). This fundamentally explores the ideas that are contained focusing on the respective human practices knowing the importance with which religion meant in the Italian society in formulation ethical perspectives based on Catholicism.

In a bid to steer away from the ethical domain Dante explores other virtues of the individual self while focusing on the emancipation of personal will and individual development. This is shown in the following poem excerpt by Dante,

Back to the limits of her native hell,

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Whence Envy drew her first-with potent hand

From place to place shall he the beast repel

Wherefore, reflecting on thy future good,

I will conduct thee from this dismal land,

And through eternal regions guide thy road (Dante 8)


Through his works Petrarch is fundamentally promoted as the representative factor of the Italian literary scene focusing on the emancipation of Italian literary scene. As Reeve objects in ‘the man of letters’, “The poetic style of Canzoni followed straight track from the Sicilians to the Bolognese, and thence to Cavalcanti, to the supreme Alighieri, and to Cinto da Pistoia; but these fell short of the ultimate and inimitable perfection given to poetic diction by Francis Petrarch…there is no similar instance in literature of a writer whose language attained perfection at the first jet, and retains an immaculate purity for five hundred years” (Reeve 9). Petrarch fundamentally uses his works to sensitize the Italians regarding the importance to appreciate their personal selves with regard to personality development and individual progression.

Petrarch fundamentally uses his literary skills to develop the perspective of ethical initiative in society. He fundamentally aims at elevating the degree of ethical practices to reflect aspects of morality and wrong doing as discouraged in the Italian religious fundamentals. According to Petrarch, “Nothing is so immoral or pernicious as to keep up the illusion of greatness in wicked men. Their crimes, because they have fallen into the gulf of time, we call misfortunes, and, amid ten thousand mourners, grieve only for them who made them so. Is this reason, Is this humanity? Alas! It is man” (Reeve 116). He therefore aims at sensitizing the average citizen during these times, specifically focusing on the Italian lifestyle between the thirteenth and fourteenth century.

How are those changes represented in Dante and Petrarch themselves?


Dante successfully manages to develop a living proof personality to the average Italian during these medieval times using his works and extending this to his life practices as witnessed by many other significant authors. According to Sforza, “Dante has become in Italy a national altar at which all are communicants or pretend to be. The fact is that Dante has been utilized in every age as a measure of national feeling; in the ‘Divine Comedy’ we find described those ‘natural frontiers’ that France has sought in her geography and history, but never found in her poets” (Sforza 19). This shows the manner in which Dante became a role model who fundamentally contributed to the sensitization and development of the Italian literary scene. He uses his poems to exemplify his approach to life and formalizes his appreciation of the Italian way of life focusing on cultural distinctions and literature.

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Petrarch becomes one artist who promotes a living philosophical perspective, which is essentially exemplified in himself using his literary works to develop his initiatives. Other significant persons in the literary scene have fundamentally developed his works through situational analysis and marching this to his Italian unique perspectives. This is shown by Mazzotta as follows: “The consciousness of the discrepancy between philosophical virtue and Christian beatitude brings Petrarch to focus on and dramatize the presence of the discordant strains of his moral-intellectual tradition. As a general principle Petrarch consistently refuses to acquiesce in the belief in a harmonious, unifying synthesis of contrary intellectual forces. In ‘On His Own Ignorance’ he perpetuates the oppositions by contrasting Aristotle’s inability to urge the love of virtue and the hatred of vice…with the power to move the will toward the beauty of virtue” (Mazzotta 82). Through Petrarch’s analysis of other significant works done by previous world renowned philosophers. This serves to elevate his approach by giving his works a unique element aimed at creating opposition while promoting Italian perspectives.


Dante and Petrarch have fundamentally developed and promoted the unique Italian perspectives through their poetic devices and literary analysis of other philosophers’ works. They have significantly shown this as seen in the transition in the works, which essentially shows an element of continuity the literary works. Through their works and way of life they have essentially formalized their relevance in the Italian landscape due to the great importance as seen in the enhancement of ethical practices and aspects of self identity.

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