In the labyrinth of the library: Petrarch's Cicero, Dante's Virgil, and the historiography of the Renaissance
Petrarch's 1345 discovery of Cicero's personal letters in Verona has long been regarded as a foundational moment in the historiography of the Renaissance. In the traditional view, Petrarch's discovery engenders a new historical self-consciousness that has frequently been described, since the middle of the twentieth century, in terms of a contrast between a medieval Dante and a Renaissance Petrarch. In keeping with recent work rethinking periodization, this essay revisits Petrarch's letters on his discovery to reconsider the distance between Dante and Petrarch and to reveal how Petrarch constructs his new relationship with Cicero through Dante's characterization of Virgil. While some critics have noted this Dantean presence, they have not examined its meaning. This study argues that Petrarch's borrowing from Dante is significant because it shows how Dante's complex relationship to the past embodied in the figure of Virgil shaped Petrarch's construction of his Cicero and informed Renaissance ideas of history.
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