Petrarch in Renaissance
Petrarch’s letter about his ascent of Mont Ventoux truly offers little in actual methods of climbing, but more of a complex mental workout. And, although, Petrarch is not the first person to climb a mountain, he has still managed to become the spiritual father of mountaineering as he climbs to the summit and mediates on his experience, and documents it in writing this letter. He expresses, “”My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer””; and it is this small introspection, that when reading his letter with a Renaissance perspective in mind, one could readily perceive some of the essential Renaissance concepts, such as the new renaissance man and his views on humanism and morality; as well as, skepticism and individualism.
It is this documentation of his climbing experience in a way was the mark of the start of a new age, The Renaissance; as it was an experience that men began to see the world in a new way. Petrarch’s ascent according to Burkhardt was “”for its own sake and was unheard of””. This shows how monumental this climb was; as it was for fun and views rather than hunting or gathering supplies, or for an military purpose. His climb was the start of a shift in attitudes toward nature, leisure, and the place and purpose of humans in the world. Petrarch’s letter points clearly to the moral greatness of mankind and of the individual and of his ability to discover the truth and wisdom, which is often cited as a symbol of humanism in the Renaissance. Therefore, Petrarch’s climb to the summit, even though it was just for the view, points to his commitment to the search for of truth and morality through human means in support of purely personal interest.
Petrarch choice to climb with his brother instead of with his other friends, as well as his taking of an easier road in the climb, involves mundane choices. Petrarch is just following his ‘personal taste and characteristics’, a clear sign of individualism. Those choices, which could be considered as new found individualism unknown to to people of his time, are clear manifestations of the spirit of the humanism of the Renaissance, which point to his stance that humans can shape their own destiny. It is through his internal conversations in the form of revelations that Pertrach can be seeing the world in a different light””a world that was centred upon the man and his relation with the world, rather than solely on his one to one relationship with God which warrants is direct communication. With this view, he is telling us that a person, like himself, could interpret morality through the ancient text themselves, without the assistance of the clergy. Which is the start of the breaking apart from the church during this period.
During his climb, Petrarch and his brother along the way met up with an old shepherd who had climbed the peak years previous. The old man advised them to abandon their ascent, telling them that he had “”brought home nothing but regret and pains, and his body as well as his clothes torn by rocks and thorny underbrush.”” The old man’s warnings, however, only spurred their desire to climb the mountain “”for young people’s minds do not give credence to advisers.”” Petrarch convinces his all-roundness is up to modern standard. More than a poet, a historian, a philosopher, he can climb a high mountain such as the Mount Ventoux. He uses the body as much as soul. He is skeptical about everything: he is just too ‘suspicious’ as to the old Shepherd’s warnings and really acts on climbing Mount Ventoux. He very much lives up to the idea of a universal man, a renaissance man who could paint, sing, write poetry, advise and console his Prince, as well as run, jump, swim, and wrestle.
Certainly Petrarch probably did not write this letter with a ‘Renaissance’ view in his mind, but, his contribution to humanism of the Renaissance is more an unintended consequence of his love of writing and his eagerness to explore human thought. Perhaps no one knows exactly why Petrarch wrote this letter, but he might have felt extremely good as he stands with the Greats of antiquity in undertaking adventurous activities such as climbing the mountains and crossing the rivers; and his self-portrayal as having the qualities of a new ‘Renaissance’ man.