Study Guide

Italia Mia Themes

  • Foolishness and Folly

    Petrarch is doing something astonishing in Canzone 128. He's basically calling out the Italian nobility for their stupidity in hiring professional killing machines to enhance their own fortunes. He's not being delicate with his critique, either. Petrarch calls them haughty, hard-hearted, easily flattered, full of wicked desires, careless of their people, and… downright brainless. While we can't fully appreciate Petrarch's courage here, consider this: both Dante Alighieri and Petrarch's father were exiled from Florence because they were on the wrong side of the political scene. Maybe that shows how foolish Petrarch is about his own personal good. One thing is for certain: the violence and chaos in Italy during his day have become intolerable. Petrarch's call for change is a challenge to the most powerful—and that's taking a huge risk.

    Questions About Foolishness and Folly

    1. Why is Petrarch so upset with Italian nobility?
    2. What is he asking them to do or re-consider?
    3. What are the effects of the behavior of Italy's elite class?
    4. What are the effects of the elite's foolish behavior on themselves?

    Chew on This

    Petrarch equates foolish political behavior with moral degradation in the "noble classes" of Italy (cold burn, noble classes).

    Petrarch's objection to mercenary forces in Italy is more about his hatred of Germans than his concern about the violence in general.

  • Warfare

    The opening stanza of "Italia mia" is filled with blood and guts (the "mortal wounds" of Italy) and we're told straight-up that Mars has captured the hearts of the elite. Petrarch wants to use his poem to put a stop to this nonsense by appealing to the Italian lords and princes involved. The poet's rage against the war machine is not just for the greedy nobles who want power and money at any cost. It's also about the Bavarian mercenary armies who want to avenge ancient wrongs and make some good coin at the same time. Petrarch does a good job pointing out their idiocy—but it's going to take a few more centuries before the Italian princes get the memo about the stupidity of mercenary warfare.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. What is Petrarch's purpose in writing this canzone?
    2. Whom is he addressing in Canzone 128?
    3. Why does Petrarch think that the mercenary armies are a bad idea?
    4. What images does the poet use to paint a picture of war in Italy?

    Chew on This

    Petrarch uses biblical imagery to heighten his description of the strife happening in northern Italy.

    The poet calls out the Italian nobility not because they are engaged in warfare, but because they are betraying their proud lineage by fighting for no reason. (Seriously—get it together, guys.)

  • Duty

    Petrarch writes "Italia mia" to make the Italian nobility step up and act like good stewards of Italy. First order of business? Learn civic responsibility. Petrarch's irked because the ruling class thinks only of itself and doesn't care that the rest of Italy suffers for its lame-brain desires. He can't see how a nobleman could be given everything by Fortune—including the beautiful Garden of Eden that is Italy—and not undertake his duty to care for it. Petrarch does his duty by speaking the harsh truth to the nobility, regardless of the consequences. By sending Canzone 128 into the world, he's speaking the truth and fulfilling his responsibility as a public figure and poet. At least someone in this scenario has his priorities right.

    Questions About Duty

    1. What does Petrarch see as the major problem with the elite class in Italy?
    2. In what ways does the poem discuss duty beyond the obligations of the ruling class?
    3. What are the obligations of the nobility, as Petrarch sees it here?
    4. What part do the mercenary forces play in this poem? Does Petrarch place any responsibility on them for the state of Italy?

    Chew on This

    The biggest sin of the Italian nobility in Petrarch's eyes is that they do not pay attention to the needs of those who are in their care.

    Petrarch shows that responsibility for civic prosperity lies not just with princes and lords, but also with the dissenters who are not afraid to speak up about social ills. (Get up, stand up...)

  • Betrayal

    In "Italia mia," Petrarch lays it down for the Italian nobility: you have a civic duty to behave responsibly and compassionately to your people and the land. But they don't. Instead, they privilege their pride, reputations, and desire for power. The leading houses (in this case, the d'Este and Gonzaga families) war with each other for supremacy. The mercenaries they hire take it out on the Italian people when they get tired of their contracts, or are unemployed.

    Petrarch rightly abuses the noblemen for destroying themselves and their neighbors. He ends the poem with a warning: clean up your act, princes, or you'll have some 'splaining to do when you meet your Maker. This sounds harsh and potentially risky, but Petrarch knows that he can't betray his moral imperative to speak the truth.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Who or what has been betrayed in Petrarch's "Italia mia"? Who's doing the betraying?
    2. Why does Petrarch feel that bringing the Germans into Italy is a particularly bad idea?
    3. Take a look at the last lines of the poem. Why does Petrarch make his poem speak, do you think? Why does it say the words it does?
    4. In what ways does the nobility betray itself and its own best interests?

    Chew on This

    Petrarch believes that the worst betrayal on the part of the Italian nobility is to their own "Latin blood," since they prefer their own interests over civic duty.

    The Italian nobility will have more to answer to on Judgment Day, according to Petrarch, because they have been given much by Fortune.

  • Patriotism

    Patriotism is a complicated issue in "Italia mia," especially since Italy is not a unified country in Petrarch's day. Nevertheless, Petrarch loves him some Italy. It's clear that his loyalties lie with the land of his birth. This fierce love may seem curious, since Petrarch grew up in France after his father was exiled from Florence. Perhaps the loss of his homeland encouraged such strong loyalty. In light of this love affair, our poet's righteous indignation at the shenanigans of the ruling class is understandable. He wants to remind the ruling class why they all live and breathe: to preserve the precious body of the beloved homeland.

    Questions About Patriotism

    1. Why is Petrarch so full of praise and love for Italy?
    2. Where do Petrarch's loyalties lie? With a particular prince or commune? How can you tell?
    3. Why does Petrarch focus so strongly on the geography of Italy in this poem?
    4. What is Petrarch actually asking the Italian princes to do in this poem?

    Chew on This

    Petrarch isn't an amateur cartographer. He's using geographical details to illustrate what is endangered by the nobility's risky behavior.

    Although Petrarch is writing his poem to beg for peace, his goal is a return to the values of the Roman Republic, including the virtues of civic responsibility and self-denial.