歐美研究季刊第46卷第1期 - page 13

Petrarch and Chaucer on Fame
13
When the two interlocutors turn their attention to Petrarch’s
literary pursuit, his unfinished epic the
Africa
becomes the focal
point of the conversation.
11
In a dream vision in the second book,
the wraith of Publius Cornelius Scipio acquaints his son with the
idea that fame is destined to be short-lived if the preservation of it
relies merely on material monuments:
. . . In hasty flight
the ages pass; all time is swept away,
and ye who rush toward death, ye are but shades
and only shades, light dust or wisps of smoke
tossed by the wind. This blood-stained glory, then,
what boots it? And what purpose, say, is served
by arduous effort on a transient earth? (1977: 34-35)
Thus marble inscriptions on imposing mausoleums by no means
guarantee posthumous immortality; on the contrary, they
exacerbate the sense of absurdity evoked by the “second death”:
the years will pass, your mortal form decay;
your limbs will lie in an unworthy tomb;
which in its turn will crumble, while your name
fades from the sculptured marble. Thus you’ll know
a second death. . . . (1977: 37)
Scipio continues his counsel by contending that an
accomplished writer who celebrates heroic exploits, such as Ennius,
can stave off the second death, albeit not indefinitely. That is,
books might extend a life that would be otherwise truncated by
“the second death,” but the ravages of time will eventually prevail
and lead to “the third death”:
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According to Simone Marchesi, the
Africa
plays a major role in Petrarch’s efforts
to establish himself as “the leading intellectual and poet-historian of his age”
(2009: 114). Since the
Africa
is intended for Petrarch’s self-promotion, his
various writings are strewn with references to its existence and progress. For
further understanding of the
Africa
, see Marchesi (2009, 113-130).
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