Study Guide

Italia Mia Quotes

  • Foolishness and Folly

    Flattered by futile error,
    little you see, thinking you see so much,
    for you seek love and trust in venal hearts—
    he with more followers
    is more surrounded by his enemies. (23-27)

    Petrarch addresses the nobility responsible for inviting the mercenary soldiers into a tumultuous Italy. Basically he's saying, "What can you be thinking?! These guys are only out for the money!"

    If by our very hands
    this has been done, then who will rescue us? (31-32)

    It's a good question for the poet to ask. Since Italian nobility has asked foreign mercenaries to carry out the dirty work of in-house fighting, there's no easy way to ask them to leave. Also, what country or power will intervene to stop the madness, especially if they don't want to be targeted next? It's just not well thought out, at all.

    Nature provided well for our condition
    when she raised up the screen
    of Alps between us and the German rage;
    but blind desire fighting its own good
    then managed to contrive
    a way to make this healthy body sick. (33-38)

    So Nature was wise enough to protect Italy from foreign forces, but Italians themselves were not smart enough to take advantage of this by not inviting them in. Petrarch is calling out the nobility for their greed and anger, telling them that their own agendas are destroying the body politic.

    Now inside the same cage
    the savage beasts there with the gentle flocks
    are nested, so the best are made to groan (39-41)

    The poet uses an apt metaphor to describe the position of the everyday people ("the gentle flocks") who are trying to live with the violence and chaos brought on by warring bodies ("the savage beasts"). And yes, he's pretty much calling Italy a "cage" here.

    It seems—who knows by what malignant stars—
    that now the heavens hate us,
    and thanks to you, to whom so much was trusted. (52-54)

    Is it fate that has brought Italy to such a place? Or is it something more like the stupidity and shortsightedness of the nobility? Since Petrarch is pretty clear about who is at fault ("thanks to you"), we're going to vote for the second option.

    [...] if that fury up there, that savage race,
    conquer our intellect,
    the sin is ours, and not the course of nature. (78-80)

    Yes, this is Petrarch being xenophobic, but he kind of has good reason: he's only ever seen the Germans at their bloodiest. Notice that he's not shedding tears over them—he's disappointed in the Italian lords. No one else can be blamed for what the people suffer at the hands of warring noble houses.

    Now you are here, but think of your departure:
    the soul, alone and naked,
    one day will come to face the perilous pass. (100-102)

    Petrarch wouldn't have to remind the nobility to consider their deaths if they were being wise. This is, quite literally a last resort appeal to them to start behaving morally toward the people of the country, who are in their care.

  • Warfare

    [...] what are the swords of strangers doing here?
    In order that the verdant plain
    be painted red with that barbaric blood? (20-22)

    Petrarch is really good at showing us what Italy has lost because of the violence invited by warring nobility. In this case, he sets the natural beauty of the land against the foreign mercenaries who insist on bleeding all over it.

    What fault, what judgment, or what destiny
    makes you harass your wretched
    neighbor, and broken, scattered fortunes
    persecute, and seek out
    foreign friends, glad to know
    that they shed blood and sell their souls for money? (57-64)

    One major fault of the elite class is that they have no consideration for the lives they are destroying in their pursuit of war. They've forgotten the lower social classes are, in fact, people in their neighborhood—and people toward whom they have a responsibility. Petrarch also takes them to task for putting faith in people they've hired to murder their own countrymen.

    [...] and this comes from the seed
    (even worse pain) of the unlawful people
    whose sides, as the book tells us,
    Marius so split open
    that memory of the deed has yet to fade,
    when he thirsty and tired
    drank as much blood as water from the river. (42-48)

    Petrarch reminds his audience that Italy is now suffering as a kind of revenge for the butt-whipping that the ancient Roman Marius dished out to Germanic tribes. It might be ancient history, even back in Petrarch's day, but the outrageous slaughter can't have been forgotten by the current mercenaries.

  • Duty

    [...] and there the truth divine
    be heard through me, unworthy as I am (15-16)

    Petrarch speaks not only of the duty of princes, but also of the obligations of the poet. It's really his job to tell it like it is—even if the lords don't like what they hear. It's also a way for Petrarch to wiggle out of the nobility's wrath when they realize he's dissing them.

    I speak to tell the truth,
    not out of hate or scorn for anybody (63-64)

    And again, Petrarch is going with the truth thing. He's trying to show that he doesn't have an ulterior motive—like political or monetary gain—in the writing of this poem. He wants the nobility to know that he has to speak as he feels, because things are bad.

    From dawn to tierce examine
    yourselves, and you will see that one who thinks
    himself so cheap cannot hold others dear (71-73)

    For one thing, Petrarch says to the Italian princes, you've got a duty to meditate on your motives for wreaking such havoc. It's also their burden to consider the lives of their subjects and neighbors before they make the decision to bring foreign hostile forces into play.

    O noble Latin blood,
    release yourself from such a harmful burden,
    and do not idolize
    a name that is so empty (74-77)

    Petrarch is really pushing the nobility to understand their civic duty to the people of their lands. For one thing, they've got the noble lineage (i.e., ancient Rome) that should allow them to make good decisions on behalf of the people. For another, they should be sensible enough not to make war over something that isn't for the benefit of society at large.

    In God's name may your mind
    for once be moved by this, and look with pity
    upon the tears of all your grieving people (87-89)

    A good prince, Petrarch implies, would listen to the pleas of his people. If he can't act out of love for his people, he needs to go back to nobility school.

    [...] and all the time you spend
    in giving others pain, to some more worthy act
    of hand of intellect
    to some beautiful praise,
    to worthy dedication be converted (106-111)

    Here's a thought: if Fortune favors you to be born part of the ruling class, you should probably act like a noble person. Petrarch wants to slap the nobility upside the head for their (self) destructive behaviors and urges them to turn their minds to something more productive and optimistic.

    But you must try your fortune
    among the valiant few who love the good;
    tell them: "Who will protect me?
    I go my way beseeching: Peace, peace, peace." (119-122)

    Here's one way to get a medieval lord to think kindly of your poem: dress it up like a damsel in distress. Petrarch does just that in his congedo when he tells the poem that it's going to have to work hard to convince the nobility to grow up and step up.

  • Betrayal

    You, in whose hands Fortune has placed the reins
    of these beautiful regions
    for which it seems no pity moves your heart,
    what are the swords of strangers doing here? (17-20)

    Petrarch sees the lack of social responsibility on the part of the nobility as the greatest ill of the day. Because they've traded loyalty to their own people and land for the ability to gain power and fortune, Petrarch calls them out.

    O deluge that was gathered
    from what strange wilderness
    to inundate all our sweet countryside!
    If by our very hands
    this has been done, then who will rescue us? (28-32)

    Petrarch has a real problem with the princes of Italy for importing foreign mercenaries to fight their battles (stupid battles, at that). He feels that they have traded paradise to the Germanic horde, which will destroy their lands and people.

    Your disagreeing wills
    despoil the fairest part of all the world.
    What fault, what judgment, or what destiny
    makes you harass your wretched
    neighbor […]? (55-58)

    The Italian nobles can't play nice with each other and because of their pride and anger will destroy their beautiful land. Petrarch tries his best to show that this fault will have wide-ranging and long-term effects. It's not just about personal reputation and familial fortune. He's also interested in drawing their attention to the lives of their countrymen, which they are destroying.

    [...] and seek out
    foreign friends, glad to know
    that they shed blood and sell their souls for money? (60-62)

    With friends like these, Petrarch seems to say, who needs enemies? And it works both ways: what kind of people are these Italian nobles, who have no problem betraying their own people and then buying friends that they know will die senseless deaths? It's a lose-lose.

    With all the proof are you not yet aware
    of the Bavarian treason
    which with hand raised makes death into a game? (65-67)

    Petrarch reminds the nobility that it's a bad idea to hire Germans to fight their wars, since they have a major grudge against the Italians because of a centuries-old massacre—bad choice of friends.

    The shame seems worse to me than the actual loss.
    But you let your blood flow
    more generously, for other anger whips you. (68-70)

    Not only are the nobility willing to spill the blood of foreigners and their neighbors, they're also willing to waste their own lives in the pursuit of strength and money. It's all a game to these guys, who value nothing but power.

  • Patriotism

    O, my own Italy, though words be useless
    to heal the mortal wounds
    I see covering all your lovely body,
    I wish at least for my sighs to be one
    with Tiber's hopes and Arno's
    as well as Po's (1-6)

    It's pretty amazing to see someone in medieval Italy write the phrase "Oh, my Italy." This is because the idea of Italy as a nation doesn't come along until many centuries later. But Petrarch is a unique guy, so it doesn't surprise us that he feels such affinity for the land and his cultural heritage.

    what are the swords of strangers doing here? (20)

    It may strike you that Petrarch is being a bit harsh on foreigners—and you'd be right. To be fair, he's got pretty good reason. German mercenary armies have been pillaging the land and spurring on the fighting between the noble houses of Italy—not cool, strangers.

    Nature provided well for our condition
    when she raised up the screen
    of the Alps between us and the German rage (33-35)

    This is the darker side of patriotism: xenophobia and isolationism. Petrarch can't understand why Italian princes had to go spoil the perfection of Italy by inviting those German barbarian warriors in.

    Your disagreeing wills
    despoil the fairest part of all the world (55-56)

    Petrarch's disgust at the destructive behavior of the Italian princes is in direct proportion to his admiration for his Italy. She really is the fairest one of all.

    Is this not the first soil my body touched?
    Is this not my own nest
    In which I found myself so sweetly nourished?
    Is this not my own country I have trust in,
    kind mother, merciful,
    who serves to shelter both of my dear parents? (81-86)

    If Petrarch seems overly defensive and prideful when it comes to his country, this might be the reason. He presents this speech of admiration as a general one that any Italian might be able to speak. In this emotional address, we see that the poet's loyalty lies with the land, not with the political mess its nobility has made of it.

    [...] then virtue against rage
    will take up arms, and battle will be short,
    for all that ancient valor
    in the Italian heart is not yet dead. (93-96)

    Petrarch still seems to be optimistic about the Italians' ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Why? Because they have that good, ancient blood with old Roman values (like civic responsibility) in it. Better than vitamins...