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Poet Petrarch to Be Exhumed

Experts are curious about the height, looks and ailments of the scholar famous for his love sonnets.

November 08, 2003|From Reuters

The 14th century Italian poet Francesco Petrarch left hundreds of letters detailing his life and thoughts. Now scientists plan to dig up his remains to find out more about his flesh and bones.

Researchers will open the poet's marble casket this month in Arqua Petrarca, a village in northern Italy where he died in 1374.

"If the remains are in good condition, we will be able to find out what Petrarch looked like, his height and girth, and also his illnesses," said Vito Terribile Wiel Marin, professor of pathological anatomy at the University of Padua.

Petrarch became famous for the hundreds of love poems he wrote to the mysterious Laura, a woman he worshiped from afar.

He was also a great classical scholar and is considered a precursor of the humanists, who turned away from the Middle Ages' focus on religion in favor of an emphasis on secular concerns.

Marin, who has taken part in other exhumations of illustrious figures, including St. Anthony of Padua, said a 19th century study of Petrarch's bones had left dubious results that he was eager to correct.

"They wrote that Petrarch was 1.83 meters [6 feet] tall, which in his age was freakishly tall. If he had really been that height he would have gone down in history as a giant," Marin said.

He also said his team hoped to reconstruct Petrarch's cranium, which was split into several pieces in the earlier exhumation, and use it as a basis for computerized imaging of his features.

"Medieval portraiture was very inaccurate, but thanks to these modern techniques we may yet find out what Petrarch looked like," Marin said.

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