AFTER ROME: RENAISSANCE EPIC
Predictably, posterity has judged Petrarch’s Africa* to be a noble failure, a misguided attem pt to revive the supreme genre of antiquity on its own terms. Such a view seems to be endorsed by Petrarch’s own doubts about the value of his enterprise, by his unwillingness to make public his drafts, and by the naked fact of the epic’s incompletion. But the question o f what achievements are truly valuable and the difficulty of acquiring lasting fame are central themes of the Africa itself; the poem has become a too successful advertisement o f its own ‘faults’. The failure to complete is itself as much a literary gesture as a biographical misfortune; in the Secretum Petrarch is impelled to voice again Virgil’s wish for the crem ation of his poetic offspring. Recent criticism o f other works of Petrarch has taught us to value the incom plete as an expres sion of his restless search for goals that always receded;3 the Africa too may be understood not as a frigid attem pt to resuscitate an alien and outm oded form, but as a m onumental expression of that same search for an identity, personal and cultural, that produced the Canzoniere and the Secretum.