Petrarch's Literary Empire


Francesco Petrarch
Cola di Rienzo

How to Cite

Petrarch’s Literary Empire. (2023). The Political Science Reviewer, 47(2), 57-85.


Francesco Petrarch’s incessant letter-writing made him one of the best-connected private figures of the fourteenth century. Yet the range of political views expressed across his collected correspondence poses an interpretative challenge. Should Petrarch be read as a classical republican? An advisor to princes? Or just an inconsistent poet? One source of political consistency across his Latin letters is Petrarch’s praise for Caesar Augustus. This article therefore highlights three statemen whom Petrarch compares to Rome’s first emperor: 1) Robert, King of Naples 2) Cola di Rienzo and 3) the emperor Charles IV. Despite their very different political commitments, each of these rulers appears as part of Petrarch’s Roman ideal. Petrarch’s Familiares foreground an early modern vision for cosmopolitan citizenship, in which poets and politicians (re)discover a mutually reinforcing respect for art and virtue. Petrarch envisioned poets and statesmen working in tandem to recover an empire of Roman culture.