Petrarch on the violation of copyright and the choice of authors

Of all the early Renaissance figures, Petrarch is the most interesting. A devotee of Cicero ["I loved Cicero" (Letters on Familiar Matters 22.10)], he also claimed to have read "Virgil, Horace, [and] Livy...a thousand times" (Letters on Familiar Matters 22.2). They became not only part of his memory, but the very marrow of his prose. He even regarded Cicero as his father and Virgil as his brother (Letters on Familiar Matters 22.10). But he wanted it to be known that he "refrained from intellectual thefts as from thefts of property" (ibid.). The modern concern with the violation of copyright has a noble pedigree!

It is also noteworthy that in his mid-forties he began to read "Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory" with passion--the four doctors of the Western Church (Letters on Familiar Matters 22.10). He would defend the Church Fathers from their detractors. One of the latter he quotes as saying "Augustine saw much, but he knew little" (Letters on Familiar Matters 5.2), a remark that says far more about the person uttering it than Augustine!

The Scriptural author Paul became his "philosopher" and David his "poet"--he would sleep with David's Psalms under his pillow at night and always at hand while awake so that he might the more easily consult it, and he hoped it would be by his side when he came to die (Letters on Familiar Matters 22.10).