Petrarch was apparently fascinated throughout his whole life by Cicero, in a way that his contemporaries apparently weren't. He even wrote letters to Cicero. But these letters don't mean much to me, other than displaying Petrarch's incomparable obsession.

In Petrarch's time intellectuals had many letters to read from great men past and present, and mountains of Christian theology to devour in pursuit of divine truth. So what made Petrarch so disinterested in the mainstream of medieval thought, and fascinated by Cicero in particular?

I'm completely clueless about secondary literature, so if you have any books to recommend that would help clarify this, I'd be just as happy to read them as a standalone answer.

  • these letters don't mean much to me I tend to think that fanmail would give insight into why a fan is fascinated with their idol, though. – Semaphore Jan 13 '16 at 16:29
  • I didn't mean that they were not valuable sources, just that I find them hard to interpret. I do grasp that the political tides that Cicero was dealing with seem dramatically present to Petrarch; that might go partway towards an answer, although it's just a guess on my part. – Avery Jan 13 '16 at 16:56

Ancient literature was not widely known and not read before Petrarch's time. He had a luck of discovering Cicero's letters. Apparently he personally discovered them in some storage. He read them and was excited. That this was Cicero, not someone else seems to be an accident. (Perhaps he would be even more excited is he discovered Caesar's works). This started his interest to ancient Latin writings. He also read Virgil and Seneca. The time was ripe for this, and his interest to the ancient literature quickly spread. What exactly so excited him and others? Well, everything. Language, style, topics discussed. After all, classical Greek and Latin literature is widely read by modern people, unlike medieval literature. It is just a higher level of development of civilization.

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