Persevere in the study of literature

“To desert our studies shows want of self-confidence rather than wisdom, for letters do not hinder but aid the properly constituted mind which possesses them; they facilitate our life, they do not retard it.  Just as many kinds of food which lie heavy on an enfeebled and nauseated stomach furnish excellent nourishment for one who is well but famishing, so in our studies many things which are deadly to the weak mind may prove most salutary to an acute and healthy intellect, especially if in our use of both food and learning we exercise proper discretion.”  Petrarch, “To Boccaccio, May 28, 1362,” in The Great Tradition, ed. Richard M. Gamble (Wilmington: ISI, 2007), p. 307.

Francesco Petrarch, known as the father of Renaissance humanism, lived from 1304 to 1374.  Although he studied law, Petrarch spent his life reading the great literature of from antiquity and writing his own works.  He rediscovered Latin texts in monastic libraries and promoted the study of Latin according to Cicero’s style.  However, he also embraced the writings of the New Testament and the Latin Church Fathers (Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great).  In this letter he encourages Boccaccio to persevere in the study of literature instead of renouncing it.  Petrarch defends the idea that one may be truly pious and well-read simultaneously.


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