Exile and Petrarch’s Reinvention of Authorship

  • Laurence E. Hooper
  • Renaissance Quarterly, December 2016, University of Chicago Press
  • DOI: 10.1086/690312

What is it about?

This article demonstrates a systematic connection between the novelty of Petrarch’s authorship and his self-definition as an exile. Petrarch employs the unusual term "exilium"/"esilio" to substantiate his unprecedented claim that literature is a legally valid "officium" (civic role). Following Dante, Petrarch grounds his exilic authorship in the Christian discourse of "peregrinatio": life as pilgrimage through exile. But Petrarch’s new role allows him a measure of control over literary creation that no prior Italian writer had enjoyed.

Why is it important?

Prior readings of Petrarch’s exile have concentrated largely on personal intentions and motivations, leaving the legal-historical background unexplored. This missing context has resulted in an incomplete understanding of Petrarch’s innovations in authorship. This article illustrates Petrarch’s sustained engagement with the historical precedents for his exile, focusing on for the first time on the distinction he draws between exile as an existential condition and the contemporary legal status of banishment. Petrarch's reinvention of authorship rests on a dialogue between the specificity of the poet’s internal world and the historicity of the terms that describe it.

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The following have contributed to this page: Professor Laurence E. Hooper