Petrarch’s Ascent to Mont Ventoux


In perhaps his most famous letter,  Petrarch writes of his experience climbing Mont Ventoux in Provence on April 26, 1336. For the great Italian poet, the ascent becomes an allegory of the glorious agony of life itself, which, for all truly great thinkers, is a tremendous struggle; this struggle, however, will provide tremendous reward in Eternal Glory if accomplished. Reflecting on this matter, Petrarch says to himself:

“What you have so often experienced today while climbing this mountain happens to you, you must know, and to many others who are making their way toward the blessed life. This is not easily understood by us men, because the motions of the body lie open while those of the mind are invisible and hidden. The life we call blessed is located on a high peak. “A narrow way,” [Matthew 7:14 (Sermon on the Mount)] they say, leads up to it. Many hilltops intervene, and we must proceed “from virtue to virtue” with exalted steps.

On the highest summit is set the end of all, the goal toward which our pilgrimage is directed. Every man wants to arrive there. However, as Naso says: “Wanting is not enough [Ovid, Ex Ponto iii. 1.35.]; long and you attain it.” You certainly do not merely want; you have a longing, unless you are deceiving yourself in this respect as in so many others. What is it, then, that keeps you back? Evidently nothing but the smoother way that leads through the meanest earthly pleasures and looks easier at first sight. However, having strayed far in error, you must either ascend to the summit of the blessed life under the heavy burden of hard striving, ill deferred, or lie prostrate in your slothfulness in the valleys of your sins. If “darkness and the shadow of death” [Psalter 106 (107): 10; Job 34:22] find you there -I shudder while I pronounce these ominous words – you must pass the eternal night in incessant torments.”

More than getting rich or ripped in the gym (which are both goods), this is the true epic quest.





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