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Decoding The Ascent of Mount Ventoux: How ‘Renaissance’ is Francesco Petrarch?

Historians from Georgio Vasari to Jacob Burckhardt, in conceptualising Renaissance, may well be intoxicated by the use of perspectives. In defining the Renaissance world and its natural man, the proses of Petrarch, such as The Ascent of Mount Ventoux, could have been over-cited to support the general thesis in establishing the argument of genuine existence of the historical tradition of Renaissance since the beginning of 14th Century.

Small wonder that reading The Ascent of Mount Ventoux with a Renaissance perspective in mind could readily perceive some of the essential Renaissance concepts, such as Humanism, Search for Truth, Humanism, Morality, Classicism, Scepticism, Secularism, Happiness, Individualism, Human All-roundness. Indeed, The Ascent of Mount Ventoux also gives various novel ideas about human beings and the world unknown in medieval times.

This paper argues for the death of a renaissance in Francesco Patriarch. On the one hand, it tries to convince that Petrarch, in writing The Ascent of Mount Ventoux, is just writing for the joy of writing, as his background and upbringing very much testify. On the other, it tells that Petrarch, a man of letters, could have been pigeonholed as most of his writings on literature do not concern that much with philosophical thoughts and history.

Search for Truth, Morality and Humanism

The Ascent of Mount Ventoux points clearly to the moral greatness of humanity and of the individual and their ability to discover truth and wisdom, which is often cited as a hallmark of the Humanistic Renaissance. Therefore, Petrarch's determination to climb the 6000-feet Mount Ventoux, albeit just for the view, points to his commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of purely personal interest. Mount Ventoux's ascent is not for God's glorification but for the sake of knowing. He does not climb for anyone but himself. Nor does he act so on any transcendental justification such as blind, dependent faith, the supernatural, sacred text, or religious creeds he climbs because he thought it right to do so, and he chose to do so.

Scepticism and Secularism

Experiencing is also a hallmark of the Renaissance. Human experience, past and present, is the key to opening the door to his new world; God's scripture is not the only source to explain this world. But then, Petrarch turns his back to Scholasticism but not to God.


Petrarch's choice to climb with his brother instead of with his other friends and take a more leisurely road in the climb involves mundane decisions. Patriarch is just following his 'personal taste and characteristics, a clear sign of individualism. Those choices, which could be considered newfound identity unknown to Medieval citizens, are clear manifestations of the spirit of the Humanistic Renaissance, which point to his stance that humans can shape their destiny. Small wonder if Petrarch were still with us today, he should have said that human is the centre of the universe and is, as Protagoras rightly put it, the measure of all things.

And it is through these internal conversations in the form of revelations that Pertrach can see the world in a different light—a world that was centred upon man and his relation with the world rather than solely on his one-to-one relationship with God, which warrants direct communication. With this view, he is telling us that the layperson, like himself, could interpret morality through the ancient text themselves without the assistance of the clergy.

Pursuit of Happiness

The hallmark of the Renaissance is Man's pursuit of happiness. In contrast, medieval life leads to an 'RK' life. It is just a short interlude until death; it bonds daily living to the serfdom of the ruthless lords and the vengeful God. Humans are just scum; life is just waiting and meaningless. Instead of climbing Mount Ventoux, Petrarch could have just stayed home and prayed to God. But instead, he chooses to sweat to bring himself closer to 'Heaven'.

Human All-Roundness

Petrarch convinces his all-aroundness is up to modern standards. More than a poet, a historian, a philosopher,

he can climb a high mountain such as Mount Ventoux! He uses the body as much as the soul. He is Leonardo da Vinci’s, new Man. He is sceptical about everything: he is too 'Vinci'ssuspicious' to the old Sheppard's warnings and acts on climbing Mount Ventoux. He lives up to the idea of a universal man, a renaissance man who could paint, sing, write poetry, advise and console his Prince, run, jump, swim, and wrestle.

In so climbing, Petrarch follows the footsteps of the classical, Greco-Roman scholars like Livy, Philip of Macedon, Pomponius Mela, Titus Livius, Ovid, St. Augustine and St. Anthony in experiencing what they should have participated in living the world of each of the Great's own time. Petrarch has also experienced what probably what God would have experienced up there, on Mount Ventoux, watching over the Rhone Valley, the Pyrenees, the Alps, and overlooking the bay of Marseilles and the shores of Aigues Mortes.

The ascent of Mount Ventoux manifests Petrarch as the ‘Happy Man'' who is 'skilled' and daring enough to understand 'Nature's hidden causes'. In living life, Petrarch casts aside 'death's relentless doom' to live in a civic and fearless way. Through this apparent meaningless exercise as climbing Mount Ventoux, he flexes the muscles of his body and soul muscles to seek great happiness and natural and wholesome life. This act can be likened to a modern man aerobicizing for health, fitness and euphoria. Having climbed Mount Ventoux, he is happy, as he has at last accomplished something today.


Frequent reference to classical Greco-Roman literature, which is often cited as a hallmark of the Renaissance spirit, is also practised by Petrarch. In the heart of the Greco-Roman, scholars like Cicero, Livy, Philip of Macedon, Pomponius Mela, Titus Livius and Ovid, and Petrarch explored Mount Ventoux. When he reached the top, he read St. Augustine's Confessions and came across the 10th Book, which abashes him by reminding him that Men do not appreciate enough the natural surroundings as they should. He flashes back and recalls the teaching of St. Anthony’s pleading for mundane almsgiving.

Emulating these classical scholars, Petrarch reflected and concluded put ourselves to good use, get ourselves incessantly closer to God and shun all easy paths in the attempt. Petrarch then believes that we should not 'Anthony'slook about us for what is to be found from within'. Instead, we should 'set free our will, desert its original estate, and turn what God has given it for its honour (rather than dishonour)'. Through this continuous and conscious self-education and self-reflection, Petrarch gets his joy out of the discovery from antiquity.

Why The Ascent of Mount Ventoux: A Conclusion

Living in Avignon during the weak 'Avignon Papacy' period, Petrarch rediscovers the classical ideals that the philosopher, or humanist, is a wise man who could help the government. In particular, he sees Cicero as the experimental philosopher who teaches him the art of living and that studying classical poetry and rhetoric can infuse daily life with ethical values. Borrowing from the writings of Socrates, Plato and Cicero, Petrarch forms the subject matter of the prose works that emphasize the wonder of the wholesome human life. Hence, therefore, his 366 poems.

Canzoniere's poetry is mostly glorifying and soothing in nature; his Laura is more about the probably fictitious love affair with 'Laura'. His infrequently resounding of some political and religious themes, however, points more to his love for the antiquated past, which is more an intellectual and literary revival exercise. Petrarch could have been too obsessed with antiquity and so fixated to the extent of self-gratification. Small wonder, in toying with classics, he admits that "among the many subjects which interest me, I dwelt especially upon antiquity, for our age has always repelled me.'

Certainly, Petrarch will probably not write with a 'Renaissance' view. He could have known about the definition of Renaissance. His contribution to the Humanistic Renaissance is more an unintended consequence of his love of writing and his eagerness to explore human thought and history.

Perhaps no one knows precisely why Petrarch wrote The Ascent of Mount Ventoux. He might have intended it as pure classical prose telling his outing, albeit a strange one just for the view and just what the idea had to offer, to Mount Ventoux; he could have considered it an attempt to show off his high standard of classical writing skills or imitation flair of the classical style; he might also have intended the prose as a boastful comparison of himself to St. Augustine along the hero-think-alike vein; he might have felt extremely good about as he stands with the Greats of antiquity in undertaking adventurous activates such as climbing the mountains and crossing the rivers; he might also have felt good about of the self-portrayal and depiction of himself as having the qualities of a new 'Renaissance' man.

And….. Petrarch might not have visited Mount Ventoux at all!!!

How Petrarch are we in writing about wines? Are we too 'renaissance' without being enlightened enough? Have we done too much purely for the joy of writing? Written in 2005, this small piece had nothing to do with wines and their report. And indeed, this writing has nothing to do with wines from Cotes du Ventoux.

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