Petrarch's Penitential Psalms and Prayers
146 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: May 2024
- ISBN: 9780268207854
- Published: May 2024
- ISBN: 9780268207847
- Published: May 2024
- ISBN: 9780268207830
The first English translation of Petrarch’s Psalms and Prayers provides an intimate look at the personal devotions of the “Father of Humanism.”
Throughout Petrarch’s work, there is an undercurrent of tension between the secular and the sacred. In this captivating new translation of the Psalms and the Prayers, Demetrio Yocum turns to a previously overlooked area of Petrarchan studies to open a window on the scholar’s innermost religious thoughts.
The Psalms and Prayers are intricately crafted poetic and devotional works, presented in facing Latin/English format. In his extensive introduction and commentary, Yocum situates these bold, original compositions within their historical, literary, and religious contexts, deftly drawing connections to classical texts, the Bible and the writings of the church fathers, and Petrarch’s own life, work, and poetics.
This remarkable first-ever English translation of the Psalms and Prayers helps to reconcile Petrarch’s classical humanism with his devout, deeply personal Christianity.
Abbreviations and Other Conventions
2. A Note on the Translation
3. Petrarch’s Seven Psalms
4. Petrarch’s Prayers
“An important contribution to Petrarchan studies and to late medieval religious literature in general.” —Christopher Kleinhenz, co-editor of Approaches to Teaching Dante’s “Divine Comedy”
“Both experienced and first-time readers will find the insightful explication of the text and the rich exploration of its cultural echoes in his commentary definitely rewarding.” —Simone Marchesi, co-editor of The “Decameron” Ninth Day in Perspective
In Petrarch’s last letter to his brother Gherardo, who earlier in life had abandoned his literary ambitions to become a Carthusian monk, and most likely written in the spring of 1372, that is, two years before his death, Petrarch describes how he spends his time at Arquà: “always reading and writing and praising God.” These carefully chosen words seem almost intended to reassure Gherardo of the fact that, at last, his older, more restless brother had finally found, in the world outside monastic cloister walls, the peace and quiet of a “modest, and solitary life” similar to his own at the charterhouse of Montrieux.
In effect, these three activities, which may be considered the essence of monastic life, sum up well Petrarch’s entire life and were essentially his ordinary, constant occupations. Interestingly enough, Petrarch lists these activities one after the other in close succession. However, from what we know of Petrarch’s life and work reading, writing, and dedicating time to praising God were deeply intertwined, with the praise of God often perceived as the loftiest goal and often pervading the other two. As a cleric with minor orders, who took the recitation of the Divine Office seriously, this should hardly come as a surprise. The same testament, written later in life, confirms the importance Petrarch attached to the bequeathing of his breviaries. Even at the time of his more overt and active political engagement – his support of Cola di Rienzo’s failed coup of 1347 comes immediately to mind – and pursuit of worldly ambitions such as fame and glory – epitomized by the crowning as poet laureate – there is always a clear emphasis on the ultimate good and on God as worthy of praise. This awareness emerges most clearly on the occasion of Petrarch’s acceptance of the laurel crown as poet in Rome, on the Capitoline on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1341. In his coronation oration, despite the overall focus on and references to the role of the poet and poetry in classical Latin authors, God is ultimately praised as the giver and bestower of his poetic genius.
If the praise of God is expressed on numerous occasions and in many forms throughout Petrarch’s writings, the expression “Deum laudans” in Sen.15.5 may well imply the reciting of the Divine Office, traditionally referred to as liturgy of the hours, orOpus Dei. As a cleric, Petrarch was in fact very familiar with reciting the Divine Office, which, since early Christianity, had been considered part of the official and public worship of the Church, thereby continuing a long-established Jewish tradition of reciting prayers and psalms at certain hours of the day and night. This is confirmed by the fact that Petrarch owned two breviaries, namely the liturgical book containing the canonical hymns, prayers, and Psalms for daily use, one of which, it would seem, has come down to us. In several letters Petrarch mentions his time spent reciting the Divine Office, and in one of his letters to his brother Gherardo he would specifically write that he now heeds to his advice not only in avoiding women and confessing his sins, but also in rising at night to pray the Divine Office.
Petrarch was, therefore, very familiar with the Psalms, that still to this day, constitute the backbone of the liturgy of the hours. Although this included other prayers, antiphons, versicles, and readings, depending on the various liturgical seasons, the reciting, or singing, of the Psalms was unquestionably the main component of the Divine Office. As part of the daily readings and devotions of Christians throughout Western Europe in the Middle Ages, thanks to the increasing circulation and production of books of hours – smaller in format and portable – the Psalms had a profound and lasting impact on European culture, spirituality, faith, and literary production.
Not surprisingly, the Psalms are among the most cited books (if not the most cited) in Petrarch’s writings. In his letter to Francesco Nelli – who may have provided Petrarch with his second, portable breviary – he would write that he desires “to have his [David’s] Psalter always at hand and within sight while awake and beneath my pillow while sleeping and at point of death.” Years later, and perhaps more powerfully, he would express the same thought in his last letter to Gherardo cited earlier (Sen. 15.5). Writing about how he is “praying incessantly to Christ for a good end of life and for His mercy and forgiveness,” he adds: “there is nothing that sounds sweeter on my lips than those words of David, ‘Do not remember the sins of my youth and my follies’ [Ps. 25.7].” Earlier, in another important letter to Gherardo, he wrote: “As for the Psalms, undoubtedly you are following the advice of Jerome, that they never slip from your hands. [...] divide all your life between contemplation and psalm singing and homilies and readings.”
(excerpted from the introduction)