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Title: The philosopher poet : Petrarch's conception of virtue
Author: Lee, Alexander Christopher
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2009
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Abstract:
Francesco Petrarca ('Petrarch') is often referred to as the 'first Renaissance man', a pioneer of humanism and a poet whose influence was both powerful and enduring. Although the validity of the description has been the subject of intensive debate, the importance which has been attached to his humanistic interests and vernacular poetry continues to shape our understanding of his thought, and has significantly affected the way in which his engagement with moral philosophy is perceived. Comparatively little scholarly effort has been made to analyse Petrarch's moral philosophy, but where his ethical concerns have been addressed, his status as a humanist and poet has led to many of his Latin works being viewed as eclectic and frequently contradictory texts. Concerned more with literary imitation than with philosophical consistency, Petrarch is often held to have equivocated between Stoic and Peripatetic positions recovered principally from Cicero, and a fideistic theology derived from St. Augustine, and to have been influenced by a preoccupation with stylistic interests. In this thesis, I offer a reinterpretation of Petrarch's moral philosophy. Although Petrarch's influence on humanistic practice and vernacular poetry is considerable, his reputation as a poet by no means encapsulates either his own view of himself, or the manner in which his contemporaries perceived him. Petrarch not only saw himself as a 'moral philosopher and poet', but also viewed the practice of eloquence as being indistinguishable from the moral philosopher's task. This corresponds to the distribution of Petrarch's works in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, and also to the opinions expressed by contemporary friends and admirers. Far from being an inconsistent moral aphorist, I show that Petrarch elaborated a coherent system of moral philosophy and I offer a re-evaluation of Petrarch's debt to classical, patristic and medieval thought. Looking first at the Secretum, I argue that, rather than having been a contradictory author motivated primarily by a desire to emulate classical works, Petrarch constructed a consistent notion of virtue based on the early writings of St. Augustine, whose debt to classical literature he knew intimately. I then turn to examine the application of this abstract notion of virtue to a more practical philosophy of living. In chapters dealing with otium, solitude and friendship, Petrarch's treatment of these concepts is shown not merely to have been informed by his assimilation of St. Augustine's theology, but also to have interacted closely with key texts in the history of medieval monasticism. In a final chapter dealing with the relationship between moral philosophy and eloquence, I attempt to demonstrate that, far from having been an unreconstructed 'Ciceronian', Petrarch's rhetorical theory was derived from a more medieval and Christian understanding of the role of oratory, and I offer a new reading of his provocative attacks on the rhetorical claims of contemporary Aristotelians.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.726419  DOI: Not available
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