"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 Ascentof Mount Ventoux, could have been over cited for the purpose of supporting the general thesis in establishing the argument of genuine existence of the a historical tradition of Renaissance since the beginning of 14thCentury.

Small wonder that in reading The Ascent of Mount Ventoux with a Renaissance perspective in mind, one 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 of human being and the world unknown to the medieval times.

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

Search for Truth, Morality and Humanism

The Ascent of Mount Ventoux, however, points clearly to the moral greatness of mankind and of the individual and his or her ability to discover truth and wisdom, which is often cited as a hallmark of 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 of truth and morality through human means in support of purely personal interest. The ascent of Mount Ventoux is not for the glorification of God, but rather for the sake of knowing. He does not climb for anyone but for himself. Nor does he act so on any transcental justification such as a 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.

Skepticism and Secularism

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


Petrarch choice to climb with his brother instead of with his other friends, as well as his taking of an easier road in the climb, involves mundane choices. Patrarch is just following his ‘personal taste and characteristics’, a clear sign of individualism. Those choices, which could be considered as new found individualism unknown to Medieval citizens, are clear manifestations of the spirit of Humanistic Renaissance, which point to his stance that humans can shape their own destiny. Small wonder if Petrach were still with us today, he should have said that human is the centre of the universe and human is, as Protagoras rightly put, the measure of all things.

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

Pursuit of Happiness

The hallmark of Renaissance is Man’s pursuit of happiness. To contrast, medieval life leads a ‘dark’ 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 scums; life is just waiting and is meaningless. Instead of climbing Mount Ventoux, Petrarch could have just stayed at home and prayed to God. He chooses to sweat just to bring himself closer to ‘Heaven’.

Human All-Roundness

Petrarch convinces his all-roundness is up to modern standard. More than a poet, a historian, a philosopher, he can climb a high mountain such as the Mount Ventoux! He uses the body as much as soul and. He is Leonardo da Vinci’s new Man. He is sceptical about everything: he is just too ‘suspicious’ as to the old Sheppard’s warnings and really acts on climbing Mount Ventoux. He very much lives up to the idea of a universal man, a renaissance man who could paint, sing, write poetry, advise and console his Prince, as well as run, jump, swim, and wrestle.

In so climbing, Petrarch is following the foot steps 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 experienced in living the world of each of the Great’s own time. Petrarch has also experience 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 is a manifestation of 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 his muscles of the his body and soul to seek for the great happiness, as well as a natural and wholesome life, an act that can be likened to be a modern man aerobicizing for health, fitness and euphoria. Having climbed the 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 spirit of the Greco-Roman scholars like Cicero, Livy, Philip of Macedon, Pomponius Mela, Titus Livius and Ovid, Petrarch explores Mount Ventoux and when he reached the top, he read St. Augustine’s Confessions and comes across the 10th Book which abashes him by reminding 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 elms giving.

Emulating these classical scholars, Petrarch reflects and comes to the conclusion that we should put ourselves into good use, get ourselves incessantly closer to God and shun all easy paths in the attempt of our present life. Petrarch then forms the opinion that we should not ‘look about us for what is to be found from within’. We should ‘set free our will, dessert its original estate, and turning what God has given it for its honour (rather than dishonour)’. It is though this continuous and conscious self-education and self-reflection that Petrach get his joys 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 government. In particular, he sees Cicero as the experimental philosopher who teaches him the art of living and that the study of classical poetry and rhetoric cold infuse daily life with ethnical values. Borrowing from the writings of Socrates, Plato and Cicero, Petrarch forms the subject matter of the prose works that emphasizes the wonder of wholesome of human life. Therefore, his 366 poems

from Canzoniere are poetry mostly in glorification of feminity and the soothing 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 well have too obsessed with antiquity so fixated to 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 in mind. He could have known about the definition of Renaissance. His contribution to Humanistic Renaissance is more an unintended consequence of his love of writing and his eagerness to explore human thought that history.

Perhaps no one knows exactly why Petrarch wrote The Ascent of Mount Ventoux. He might have intended it as a pure classical prose telling his outing, albeit a strange one just for the view and just what the view 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 may have felt good about of the self-portrayal and depiction of himself as have 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 its writing. And surely this writing has nothing to do with wines from Cotes du Ventoux.

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