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Dr. Larry Arnn And Dr. Matthew Gaetano On Petrarch

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HH: It is time for an unusual Hillsdale Dialogue hour. Normally, I reserve the last radio hour of the week, the third hour on Friday, for these conversations. But I didn’t do it last Friday, because it was our Semper Fi Fund show. And the Friday before, it was the commencement at Hillsdale. So it’s been two weeks without your Hillsdale Dialogue fix. And I was accosted in Arizona on Thursday last by irate listeners who were wondering what was going on. And I said well, they had a commencement at Hillsdale College, Dr. Larry Arnn, and I hope it went well, and I hope it commenced well. But we now have an addicted population, and they get all twitchy when we don’t show up on time.

LA: Isn’t that great? And so that means that no matter what happens to us, we have to carry on.

HH: We’ll just keep recycling them and playing them. The classics will keep going on. Joining Dr. Arnn today is Dr. Matthew Gaetano. He got his undergraduate degree from Hillsdale. He got is Masters and his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. He teaches Western and American heritage, the Renaissance and the Reformation. And you’re back at Hillsdale. Does is feel a little boomerang to you, Dr. Gaetano?

MG: Well, when I first got back, it was, it’s a beautiful experience. It’s good to be back, and it’s good to be with you.

HH: You’re going to…

LA: Okay, so he won’t tell you this story, so I’ll tell you one.

MG: Uh oh.

LA: So when he’s just a kid, right, he’s still a kid, but when he’s just a kid and a student here, he comes in my office one time, and he starts asking me a bunch of questions about his faculty relations.

MG: Oh, this story.

HH: What?

LA: Yeah, and one of the questions is the Christmas bonus.

HH: What?

LA: At Hillsdale College, you get $25 dollars as a Christmas bonus. It’s been that way since years before I ever came here.

HH: What?

LA: And the point is, he hears a joke about it. And so he wants to know, and here’s the deal, he’s about to go off to Ivy League, you know, graduate school. You won’t be able to tell it by what he says today, but Gaetano is very smart. And so he wants to know if we’re treating our faculty right, because he’s thinking maybe I’ll come back here and teach. And I said well, I’ll have to teach you about management, because of course, we don’t really compensate people through the Christmas bonus. And I inherited that deal. And I can do one of two things. I can lower it, and if I lower it, it means eliminate it. Or I could raise it. Well, if I lower it, the jokes will still go on, except now, they’ll be about me being Grinch.

HH: Yes.

LA: Or I could raise it, and then I’m changing how we actually compensate people around here. So the point is, now…

MG: I’m a lover of justice.

HH: Yeah.

LA: Well actually, that was nothing but future avarice talking.

HH: Is the Christmas bonus still $25 dollars?

LA: I think so.

HH: Oh, it’s horrible.

MG: I don’t know if there’s anything.

LA: We might have gotten rid of it. He may be…

HH: We may take up a special collection for the faculty at Hillsdale.

MG: It’s all my fault.

LA: It’s possible that we got rid of it, and it’s possible he’s the cause.

HH: Oh, great. Now those people are looking at their empty stocking stuffers. Let me, before we dive into the Renaissance with you two, since it was the Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to begin by asking Dr. Arnn to tell us the story of the memorial of the Civil War troops there on Hillsdale campus, because you paused one time with me in front of it and told me that story. And I thought it was quite remarkable. And as we come out of Memorial Day, we really ought not in the month of May stop remembering these people. But that’s really quite something.

LA: Well, the early story of the college, and it’s really great, and it’s the reason I left what I was doing and came to work here, the college was founded by people who were part of the cause of what later became the cause of Abraham Lincoln. And they loved God, and they loved learning, and they loved freedom, and they hated slavery. And they taught those things. They didn’t really teach the military, they just taught those things. And people, when the Civil War broke out, basically all the young men went away to the war. There were hardly any boys left here at Hillsdale College. And the number is somewhere north of 400, and that’s the largest in absolute terms we can find for any college that’s not a military college except Yale, which was older and larger than we, and in percentage terms, probably the highest of anybody. And there several who won the Congressional Medal of Honor, there were several dozen in the wheat field at the Battle of Gettysburg. And three of our students were chosen to stand in the Honor Guard over the burial of Abraham Lincoln. So there was a great war record here, and it just shows that it’s the reason free people can fight, because it was no part of the purpose of the college to do pre-military training. And you know, we don’t even have that today, but we still have incredible numbers joining the armed services from here, and that’s because we love our freedom, and when it’s challenged, we rally to fight for it.

HH: I’m curious as to your reaction of our current commander-in-chief to the current scandal engulfing the Veterans Administration, especially on, again, the day after Memorial Day Weekend concludes.

LA: Well, so far, by the way, you know, what reaction?

HH: There you go.

LA: I mean, it’s a symptom of bureaucratic, what seems to be going on is a symptom of bureaucratic government in two senses. The first is they ration things by authority and by forming queues, and by people waiting their turn. But of course, there’s enormous incentives to cheat the system, and those incentives are heavily located inside the system. So Steve Levitt, the economist from the University of Chicago, in his book, Freakonomics, figures out that in the city of Chicago, for example, where there’s incentives to schools for their kids to do well on standardized tests, they were giving them the answers, or they were cheating in various ways, right? So what’s going on in the VA is people in authority are gaming the numbers so it looks like their wait lists are not long, whereas in fact they’re so long that people are dying. And the President of the United States has deigned now to, I mean, goodness, he managed to get himself attacked in the Washington Post.

HH: I know, and they were giving themselves bonuses for gaming the system.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Now speaking of bonuses at Christmas time, they had given themselves significant bonuses, many of which now the President purports to have withdrawn from them, and General Shinseki, Secretary Shinseki. But it’s just, it’s remarkable that he campaigned on the reform of the institution, and then instead of reforming it, let it lay and when leaving it lay, erected it across the rest of the United States’ medical system.

LA: And see, there’s, that’s exactly right. And you know, so first of all, there are evidences of shameful behavior. And there’s second, a lesson to draw, and that is if instead of VA hospitals, and waiting lists, you gave veterans vouchers and money and told them to go buy what they need on the open market, that would place them in charge of the system. And there, we have a distinction between two kinds of government.

HH: Well said. Now I have a bridge question, because we were talking about Lincoln’s war, and the college which was part of the party of Lincoln or in the movement that got Abraham Lincoln elected. So I’ll ask Dr. Gaetano, was Abraham Lincoln a humanist, because we’re going to study the father of humanism today.

MG: That’s an interesting question, Hugh. I think if you define humanism in the narrower sense that I was talking about earlier, that it’s a devotion to antiquity, it’s a devotion to the studia humanitatis, the studies of humanity – grammar, poetry, rhetoric, moral philosophy, I think you know, Abraham Lincoln, like many of his day in the 19th Century in America, were given that kind of education, that kind of liberal arts education rooted in Greek and Latin literature. I mean, Dr. Arnn can tell us more about the specific education of Abraham Lincoln, but I’m sure that he was deeply acquainted with classical literature, and that’s a real inheritance, a real consequence of what these Renaissance humanists gave to the Western European culture.

HH: What say you, Dr. Arnn? Was Lincoln a humanist?

LA: Well, Lincoln, so of course, Lincoln, like Winston Churchill, lacked a college education. And really, he sort of lacked a high school education. So there are two things to say about him, they’re very alike, by the way. Churchill, who was consistently a friend of what we at Hillsdale call a liberal education, Lincoln loved more than anything to read. He loved Shakespeare and the Bible. And he knew his Shakespeare like nobody. I mean, he had a kind of academic knowledge of the play Macbeth, and in varying ways would compared one production of it with another. Lincoln said something about education and its purpose that’s very revealing, and seems to me profoundly true. There really are three things to get from education, and two of them are needed by everybody. And the first thing is what Matthew just described. He just actually described some parts of both of the first two things. There are basics. We human beings navigate through the world, and our souls operate around our gift of speech, which means talking and reading and writing are fundamentally important. So you need that. And any school system that’s not good at teaching those things to a high state of competence for everybody who walks in there, except the very rare impaired people is a shameful thing. It’s as bad as the VA. The second thing you need is development on that. And oh, by the way, that also includes arithmetic and calculation and all that kind of human reason functioning. The second thing you need is you need basic knowledge of the great story of the world, and that means history and literature and such. And then the final thing is you need knowledge of ends. What are you? What is God? What are you for? So those two groups of things.

HH: We’ll talk about that and how that goes into humanism and the father of humanism when the Hillsdale Dialogue, delayed from Friday, begins again after the break.

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HH: And coming up on Friday, and joining us again next week, I hope, will be Dr. Gaetano and Dr. Larry Arnn, because I doubt we’ll push very far through this introduction of the Renaissance through the works of Petrarch today, because I keep doing frolics and detours. I’m about to do two of them. One came from your mention of Churchill in the last segment, Dr. Arnn. In Britain, there were some elections last weekend, and a new party emerged as a strong contender for a future role in the governance of the isle. Do you think it has any part of Churchill’s legacy in it?

LA: Well, I pray so. You know, first of all, the West, so here’s, we were talking about Obama, and about the VA, and about that terrible scandal. And by the way, that’s just the scandal of the week, right?

HH: Right.

LA: This is the way government works. It’s very complicated. There’s an enormous hierarchy above you. If you need something from it, it might be hard to get, and you’ve got to pray that you don’t make it mad. And so that’s the story of Western and Chinese government. But there are two changes in the last ten days that offer some hope. And more important, in my opinion, than the British election, did you follow the Indian elections?

HH: Oh, yes, very closely, talked about it at length here on the air, because Mark Steyn and I were in agreement, and he’s frequently on Hillsdale’s campus, so that won’t surprise you, that though although Obama has paid very little attention to India, it has a robust, muscular and Reagan-like era ahead of it now.

LA: Yeah, and see, that guy is a tremendous guy, the fellow in India.

HH: Modi, yeah.

LA: Yeah, and it’s the same thing, you know. And first of all, India is incredibly important. Its population is growing faster than China. It has the institutions of representative government, and the basic institutions of freedom of speech and property rights. It’s terribly corrupt, right, and very centralized. And Modi is going to try to fix that. Well, just when you think the legacy of Churchill and Thatcher is destroyed, wow, where did those guys come from in Britain?

HH: Right.

LA: And that’s, so and see, here’s a thing that Churchill believed very much. Churchill believed that there were some things that were available to simple common sense, and that those things would always assert themselves. If you force out nature, it will return at the gallop, was one of his favorite expressions. So he always believed the Socialists would be beaten. He didn’t believed they would have ever won except for the world wars, which in his opinion, could have been avoided, and he worked to avoid them, and the Great Depression. And so you know, this drama that’s going on, are we really settling down into an age where experts dominate everything, and they can redefine and alter any institution they want to – family, property, religion included? And the answer is there’s reasons to think not.

HH: Yeah, and very good ones, very strong ones. And nature returns as a gallop. So does the desire to be left alone. And I think that is, it’s a huge desire. But now I want to gateway back to where this all began, which is in Italy 700 years ago, and by it all began, I’m talking about humanism and sort of the Western revitalization of the intellectual life. And we were talking Aquinas and Dante for many weeks, Dr. Gaetano, and then your colleague, Professor Rahe, said you’ve got to do Petrarch. And I said who, because I’m going to be the first to admit he had not crossed my path before, and I thought myself well-educated. So tell us a little bit about Petrarch and assume that my audience…

LA: Did you think that?

HH: Yeah, did you think that…

Duane: He may have been the only one.

LA: (laughing)

HH: (laughing) So tell us about him.

MG: Well, there actually are some nice bridges between Petrarch and what you and Dr. Arnn were talking about, that Petrarch grew up and lived in the very midst of the Avignon Papacy, a time that many look back on as a time of corruption or real challenges for the Latin Western Church. When he describes his own day and on his own ignorance, and that of many others, whenever he talks about the moderns, he sees them as not caring about learning, not caring about eloquence, because all they cared about, he said, was money. And Petrarch wanted rather to walk in the footsteps of the ancients. And he thought that ancient literature, you know, but especially a real personal encounter with figures like Cicero and also like Augustine, not just knowing their thought, but knowing them as human beings, could really enrich his own day. And he was someone who was very, very critical, not as much of the whole Middle Ages, which is the standard view of the Renaissance, but really of his own time as one that was lacking in the kind of virtuous and eloquent figures that antiquity was so filled with.

HH: Now you know what’s interesting to me about him is that when cornered as I was by massive ignorance, I do what all lawyers do, which is to assign those who work for you to research the subject and brief you on it. And so I sent Hillsdale Jack, our intern of the summer, off to do this précis for me. And he came back with the briefing that he would write letters to the ancients, and that he would try this device. And I thought well, that’s very odd, and that he took Augustine up a mountain with him, and did all these sort of odd things. Had it not occurred to anyone else to try that? And he was also a massive collector of manuscripts, which I found fascinating. That’s not really something we associate with the life of the modern public intellectual anymore.

MG: That’s right. These Renaissance humanists, they loved books. And they would travel throughout Europe to find that rare manuscript. It would be this public event when some manuscript was discovered. But of course, we can’t forget, I mean, you’ve just been talking to people about these medieval figures like Aquinas, Dante, you know, they certainly were very well-acquainted with ancient culture, ancient learning and civilization. So what are the humanists really adding? And I think it is that kind of sense of wanting to really understand people like Cicero and Augustine in their own context. You know, Aquinas would take all sorts of quotations, all sorts of materials from the works of Augustine, but do you really get the sense that Thomas Aquinas would carry around the Confessions, this autobiographical account of Augustine in his garments? That’s not the image that we have. But Petrarch, it’s very much, as you said, he’s writing letters. It’s very personal, antiquity is to him. He really wants to be like the ancients in the midst of what he sees as a dark period. But also, we can’t forget that he’s an Italian. So when these Italians want to live as good citizens of their republics, where are they going to look but to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome for examples of civic virtue and living the kind of life that the ancients so clearly expressed that they were attempting to live?

HH: When we come back from break, we’ll talk a little bit about his body of work, Petrarch, who lived from 1304-1374. But it was Ulysses S. Grant who said tell me something of the childhood, then I’ll know the man. And I found one interesting detail, is that his father’s buddy was Dante. And so if your father’s friend is Dante, you’re almost compelled to go into the poetry line, I think, if you’ve seen a little bit of that.

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HH: I’m curious, you know, I think it would probably lead to an academic scuffle of sorts if you actually tried to date the Renaissance and the Dark Ages, Professor Gaetano, given some of your colleagues’ trying to put Aquinas and Dante into the Renaissance, and others struggling to hold them back, because I think you just pushed them back over the cliff into the medieval period there. So what is the deal? For we lawyers who like to date things, and want very simple questions answered, when does it start?

MG: That is an academic scuffle of huge proportions. But you know, I would be very comfortable saying Thomas Aquinas, Dante, these are medieval figures. But the Middle Ages is not some dark period, some kind of bad thing. The Middle Ages, the high Middle Ages starting, say, you know, the later Middle Ages starting around the year 1000, moving into the middle of the 14th Century with the Black Death and these real challenges of the 14th Century. This is a high point in European civilization. The University of Parish, scholasticism, the re-appropriation of Aristotelian philosophy, this is a significant achievement of the Latin West. But what’s going on when we talk about the Renaissance, you know, one might think of it as at least beginning as a movement, right? In the 14th Century with figures like Petrarch, and some figures before him – Lovato Lovati, some other Italian poets, and it’s not as much that they are trying to start a whole new era or anything like that, of course. But what they’re trying to do is say that someone like Thomas Aquinas, you know, this Aristotelianism of the University of Paris, these are really important movements and achievements and so on. But we don’t know someone like Thomas Aquinas for his literary flair, right?

HH: Yes.

MG: He wrote some beautiful poems as Professor Cole, I think, talked to you about.

HH: And some beautiful hymns, yes.

MG: And some beautiful hymns, but using the ancient Latin poets especially as exemplars for how to write poetry, to realize, as I was saying before, to have this kind of very personal experience of antiquity, to walk in the ruins of Rome in the footsteps of the ancients, this is something that’s going on in 14th Century Italy, and that only expands in the 15th Century, which is often called the Quattrocento, the 1400s, and then is kind of transported throughout all of Europe in the late 15th Century and the 16th Century.

HH: And I think of it partly as a massively successful branding exercise.

MG: That’s right.

HH: And now I’m going to lay it on Petrarch, because he has a very self-aware, I’m different from them, much the same way, Dr. Arnn, you referred to the progressives who bent this country, much the same way that they branded themselves as different from all that had gone before. So was Petrarch the first progressive?

MG: I think I would say no, because for him, it’s antiquity. It is the ancients, ad fontes, back to the sources, that he’s using to distinguish himself from his immediate forbearers.

HH: But the ancients thought themselves scientists, right? And Aristotle was a scientist, and there’s some Platonists running around here, but they’re very rationalistic. And isn’t that what the progressives thought?

MG: So you have this turn to antiquity, but I think you’re fundamentally right that Petrarch is one of the first who has this, it’s very, it’s not all that pronounced in him, as we’ll see later in the Reformation period and beyond. But in Petrarch, you do see this patricidal tendency, this idea that we’re going to push away from the generations immediately before us, the tradition that we’ve inherited, and kind of leapfrog over centuries back to a very different period that, as you said, is a kind of branding exercise, right? It’s Petrarch’s vision of antiquity.

HH: And it’s condescending, isn’t it, Dr. Arnn? I mean, it is, Aquinas and Dante, my dad’s friend, you know, they’re not up to my level. I’m doing something new and different, or the classic temptation of youth.

LA: Yeah, but so mostly, I have questions for Matthew, because we’re talking about a distinction that’s difficult to make.

HH: Frame them, and then we’re going to go to break. Frame them, and let him think about them during the break.

LA: Okay, so the one is the idea that you arise as a new force and say that you’re more interested in the classics than Thomas Aquinas is obviously foolish. That’s one. But then the second is you can look ahead later to Machiavelli, which we’re going to go to, right?

HH: Yes.

LA: And then you can really see some differences. And so is Petrarch the colonel of Machiavelli? Or is he some development on Thomas Aquinas?

HH: Oh, interesting. It is very interesting, actually. It may tell us a lot about how to prepare for what’s coming next in this country as well, if you do believe in that cycle.

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HH: You can read all about Hillsdale at You can sign up for Imprimus, their speech digest, which I assume will have the commencement address that was delivered at the college two weeks ago somewhere down the road.

LA: Yeah, Eric Metaxas, pretty good.

HH: And how did he do?

LA: Well, he wasn’t as good as you said he’d be, but he was really good. He was excellent. He’s a tremendous guy, and I met him for the first time.

HH: Oh, that was the first time you’d spent…oh, interesting.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And he’d never been to Hillsdale before. Interesting. So then we are talking about earlier in the year, I was talking with Jonah Goldberg about his book, Liberal Fascism. And then he wrote on the progressives. And Charles Kessler wrote on the progressives. And we began this hour unintentionally talking about the progressives. And here we are talking about Petrarch, and he has that attitude. And when we went to break, Dr. Arnn had asked Dr. Gaetano what is it that would allow someone to call themselves a new force that could dismiss Aquinas as not up to snuff, and he suggested foolishness, but I’m not going to call Petrarch a fool. And then is he a coda, and a riff on Aquinas? Or is he the colonel of Machiavelli? What do you think?

MG: So those are great questions. You know, there is something, as much as my job is to defend Petrarch a bit here, but you know, he is a little cocky and pretentious. I mean, he claims never to have read Dante. I mean, everyone in Italy was reading Dante. And he says well, you know, I didn’t have time to read Dante Alighieri. And that’s just one example of this. You know, his father was actually named Ser Petracco, not Petrarch, right, this kind of beautiful, much more mellifluous name that he employed throughout his life. You know, he was invited by the great University of Paris to be crowned as the great poet of his era, and he declined that to go to Rome, because even though Rome wasn’t all that, the Pope wasn’t even there, it wasn’t the greatest place to be, it was symbolic of Petrarch being this great reviver of this ancient Roman tradition. So there is something cocky and pretentious about him, but I do think that we don’t see as much of a rupture as we might think when we think of the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the rebirth, the light shining again.

LA: And not to lose one of your points, Matthew is arguing that the Dark Ages were not dark.

HH: Right.

LA: And you’d call them middle. And you’d call them bright, too, and not dark, but bright.

MG: Quite bright. And I mean, obviously the idea of a middle age is kind of absurd. I mean, we all live in a middle age. There are times before us, and there are times to come. And so this is really kind of problematic way of thinking about a whole period of history, one filled with achievements. But I don’t think Petrarch, as much as he began that process of thinking of the Middle Ages that way, he’s not as bad as the later Enlightenment philosophes and others who just completely dismissed the achievements of the Middle Ages as…

HH: Well, you sent me an excerpt…

MG: …of darkness.

HH: …of his coronation oration, the Petrarch, that reads, there was a time, well, you read it to people. You’ll probably be better at it than I, but this is awfully doggone dismissive of all that has gone before him except the Romans.

MG: Right, there was a time, there was an age that was happier for poets, an age when they were held in the highest honor, first in Greece, and then in Italy. But today, as you well know, all this has changed.

HH: Well, that is dismissive.

MG: That’s right, but notice what he focuses on here is poetry, right? It’s not everything the Middle Ages produced. It’s medieval poetry. And he sees himself as, and many of the humanists did, as reviving interest in particular disciplines focused on, as I said, poetry, grammar, moral philosophy, other things all under the rubric of eloquence. And why is that? And I think this is where he actually is more in touch with Thomas Aquinas than we might think. And in this, on his own ignorance and that of many others, which is part of the Western Heritage reader at Hillsdale, he is opposing Aristotelianism. And he might assume that oh, he’s opposing Aristotelians. That’s like Thomas Aquinas. But who are these Aristotelians? They’re ones who are saying oh, look, Aristotle said the world was eternal, the soul was mortal. And they’re using Aristotle to say that the Christian faith is just filled with fables, that Augustine was an ignorant man. Would Thomas Aquinas say anything like this? Certainly not.

HH: So you’re then putting him more of the iteration of Aquinas than with Machiavelli. And I…

MG: Yeah, I think they have a common enemy in this so-called secular Aristotelianism.

HH: And that would preserve, then, and I don’t have to go back and start over, because my teacher as an undergraduate always called Machiavelli the break, Larry Arnn, and you know Harvey. And he would talk about it endlessly.

LA: Well…

HH: And that…

LA: So Petrarch is a Christian, and Machiavelli was not. And Thomas Aquinas was, and so in that sense, you see, the reason we’re having to make fine distinctions is it’s obvious, or I think it is, that Petrarch is closer to Thomas Aquinas than he is to Machiavelli.

MG: I agree with that.

LA: And light years closer…but look at this, you have to ask yourself the question, the academic disciplines, and the way they’re arranged, constitute a statement about the hierarchy of knowledge, and therefore, the hierarchy of kinds of things. And so to separate poetry from philosophy, and claim that a revival of that is the most urgent thing may constitute some demotion of philosophy, and possibly of theology. Certainly later it did in the Renaissance. So you’ve got something complicated here, and you could say there’s a disturbance here. There’s some greatness here, too. There’s a disturbance here, and we know in the afterlife that that goes very far. And whether he’s responsible for that or not, Matthew’s the one who can save anybody in this conversation can.

HH: And…

MG: Do we have time for me to read a passage from…

HH: We have three more minutes.

MG: Yeah.

HH: And I want to save that passage for the end.

MG: Okay.

HH: But I do want to say at the same time, he does save Cicero. Am I right in understanding in your notes that he saved Cicero for us?

MG: Well, you know, Cicero was quoted every once in a while by the medieval scholastics, because he was a great thinker as far as virtue and other sorts of matters were concerned. But Petrarch found all of these letters, these very personal writings of Cicero, and really was able to encounter Cicero as a man, as a person, but also saw Cicero as someone who is not just talking about the nature of virtue, and the different definitions of virtue, but actually had, as Petrarch puts it, the words that sting, that set afire, and could actually inspire someone not only to know what virtue is, but to live virtuously.

HH: That’s quite an accomplishment, that is.

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HH: I’m hoping, Dr. Gaetano, you can tell us why you selected this poem that you sent me, and then read it, and explain why it matters so much in understanding Petrarch.

MG: You know, I’ve been arguing that to a great extent, Petrarch is not as large of a break between these figures that we think of as medieval, as we often think. But there are certain things about Petrarch that do anticipate the way that we, as modern Western people, think about ourselves. One is what we were saying earlier, that there’s this patricidal tendency, and we’re killing our fathers, we are willing to say we’re not like those who came before us and we’re moving into the future. So we talked a bit about that. The other thing is just thinking about the self in a certain way as something problematic, something that’s kind of very deeply, and not that medieval people weren’t introspective, certainly someone like Thomas Aquinas was, but that the self was something problematic. So let me read this poem, the first of his songs that are inspired by Laura, this woman that he claims to have seen in church during Holy Week. You who hear the sound and scattered rhymes of those sighs on which I fed my heart in my first vagrant youthfulness when I was partly other than I am, I hope to find pity and forgiveness for all the modes in which I talk and weep between vain hope and vain sadness, and those who understand love through its trials. Yet I see clearly now I have become an old tale amongst all these people, so that it often makes me ashamed of myself. And shame is the fruit of my vanities, and remorse, and a clearest knowledge of how the world’s delight is a brief dream.

HH: Boy, does that anticipate Hamlet. I mean, he’s just nudging himself onto the stage here, and that, you’re saying…

MG: It’s really stunning.

HH: Yeah, that’s, he’s really going inside. Dr. David Allen White, who’s been on this show many times, always says Hamlet is the first modern figure, because he’s so absorbed in himself. But you’re saying look, here’s Petrarch absorbed in himself.

MG: I think there’s something, you know, this idea of lyric poetry, which is, you know, Petrarch was one of the great lyric poets of all modernity, or since the Middle Ages, and the idea of lyric poetry as something to reflect upon the self, and when I was partly other than I am, these kinds of line, this is something really Petrarch to a certain extent created. You see instances of it in the classical world, but we just immediately associate introspection in lyric poetry, and that’s a real important achievement or inheritance of what Petrarch was doing.

HH: And next week, we’re going to have to ask whether that is a good thing ever, that degree of self-absorption. But we are out of time this week. Dr. Matthew Gaetano, thank you for your original appearance on the Hugh Hewitt Show. I really am very grateful for that in filling in some of the gaps here. Dr. Arnn, thank you for going gently on me this week. You weren’t too merciless, as is usually the case.

LA: You’ve seemed a little frail lately, Hugh.

HH: for all of this and more, for every Hillsdale Dialogue. We’ll be back on Friday.

End of interview.


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