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From Jacob Burckhardt's 2nd edition of the Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy; edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
Part Three: The Revival of Antiquity
» Full Contents of this PartPage 2
The least success of all was attained by the epic narratives drawn from the history or legends of antiquity. The essential conditions of a living epic poetry were denied, not only to the Romans who now served as models, but even to the Greeks after Homer. They could not be looked for among the Latins of the Renaissance. And yet the 'Africa' of Petrarch probably found as many and as enthusiastic readers and hearers as any epos of modern times. Purpose and origin of the poem are not without interest. The fourteenth century recognized with sound historical sense that the time of the second Punic war had been the noonday of Roman greatness; and Petrarch could not resist writing of this time. Had Silius Italicus been then discovered, Petrarch would probably have chosen another subject; but as it was, the glorification of Scipio Africanus the Elder was so much in accordance with the spirit of the fourteenth century, that another poet, Zanobi di Strada, also proposed to himself the same task, and only from respect for Petrarch withdrew the poem with which he had already made great progress. If any justification were sought for the 'Africa,' it lies in the fact that in Petrarch's time and afterwards Scipio was as much an object of public interest as if he were then alive, and that he was regarded as greater than Alexander, Pompey, and Caesar. How many modern epics treat of a subject at once so popular, so historical in its basis, and so striking to the imagination? For us, it is true, the poem is unreadable. For other themes of the same kind the reader may be referred to the histories of literature.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * The Making of Europe