On April 26, 1336, the poet Petrarch, along with his brother, climbed Mont Ventoux in Provence. Though he was not the first to climb the mountain, Petrarch’s ascent is considered to be first awakening of the modern spirit of mountaineering.
He wrote of his experience upon reaching the summit: “At first, owing to the unaccustomed quality of the air and the effect of the great sweep of view spread out before me, I stood like one dazed. I beheld the clouds under our feet, and what I had read of Athos and Olympus seemed less incredible as I myself witnessed the same things from a mountain of less fame.”
Petrarch claimed to be the first person since ancient times to climb a mountain for the view alone. His experience on the summit united him with the adventurers of ancient Greece and today’s mountain climbers. Michael Kimmelman, following in Petrarch’s footsteps, climbed Mont Ventoux in 1999. He wrote about his experiences in an entertaining article in the New York Times Magazine NOT Because it’s There.
Kimmelman points out that
“mountains have not always been a source of reverence and awe. We take it for granted that since the beginning of time people have climbed them for pleasure and written paeans to their beauty, because we assume that our own responses to them are, like Nature itself, eternal and, well, natural. This is not true. Throughout most of Western history, at least since the ancient Greeks, people felt unmoved and even repelled by mountains. The Romans found them desolate, hostile places. Donne, reflecting the general attitude of his age, called them warts on the planet. Luther believed them to be part of God’s retribution for Man’s fall, an outcome of the flood, before which the Earth had been perfectly round.”
Thanks to the Romantic poets, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and other lovers of the natural world, we see things differently. Petrarch’s ascent of Mont Ventoux marks the first return of an ancient way of seeing Nature and man’s place within it.
Petrarch was a scholar, a poet and an early Humanist. Here’s an introduction to his life and work.