In a letter dated May 30, 1342, Petrarch invites his friend Cardinal Johannes Columna to visit him in his mountain retreat of Vaucluse. In several places, I've come across English translations of one passage, like this by Morris Bishop, which are in the first person:

I flee men’s traces, follow the birds, love the shadows, enjoy the mossy caves and the greening fields, curse the cares of the Curia, avoid the city’s tumult, refuse to cross the thresholds of the mighty, mock the concerns of the mob.

Here's the full, original sentence in Latin, which is in the future tense and the second person:

Videbis a mane ad vesperam solivagum, herbivagum, montivagum, fontivagum, silvicolam, ruricolam, hominum vestigia fugientem, avia sectantem, amantem umbras, gaudantem antris roscidis pratisque virentibus, execrantem curas curiæ, tumultus urbium vitantem, abstinentem liminibus superborum; vulgi studia ridentem, a lætitia mœstitiaque pari spatio distantem; totis diebus ac noctibus ociosum, gloriantem musarum consortio, cantibus volucrum et lympharum murmure, paucis servis sed multis comitatum libris; et nunc domi esse, nunc ire, nunc subsistere, nunc querula in ripa, nunc tenero in gramine lassatum caput et fessa membra proiicere; et (quae non ultima solatii pars est) neminem accedere nisi perraro, qui vel millesimam vaticinari possit suarum particulam curarum.

and my attempt at a literal translation:

You'll see from morning 'til evening a solitary wanderer, a grass-wanderer, a mountain-wanderer, a spring-wanderer, a woodsman, a rustic—fleeing the footprints of humans, attending to daisies, loving the shadows, delighting in dewy caves and greening meadows, cursing the cares of the curia, shunning the bustle of the cities, keeping off the thresholds of the haughty, laughing at the preoccupations of the crowd, keeping an equal distance from joy and sorrow, idle all the days and nights, glorying in communion with the Muses, in the songs of birds and the murmur of waters—accompanied by few servants but many books—now at home, now going, now pausing, now on the bank of the warbling river, now laying his wearied head and tired limbs on the soft grass; and (which is not the least part of the relief) approaching no one except rarely—who could foretell even a thousandth part of his troubles?

I'm wondering if Petrarch is actually describing not himself but Columna. That is, is Petrarch saying, "If you come to Vaucluse, this will be you!"?

A few other facts that suggest this interpretation to me are as follows:

  • Columna complains to Petrarch of gout, poverty, and the troubles of old age. Petrarch's future-tense description promises an escape from troubles. See especially the rhetorical question at the end, and non ultima solatii pars, which I'm taking as "not the least part of the relief". Since Petrarch lives there and doesn't suffer from Columna's troubles, presumably he's not in need of solatio.

  • Among the delights to be experienced is execrantem curas curiæ. I assume that the Curia referred to is the one in Avignon, which is not far from Vaucluse. At this time, the Pope held court in Avignon rather than Rome. I don't think Petrarch was involved in Church politics, so this seems like a strange self-description to make in the future tense—and a playfully naughty one to suggest to a Cardinal.

  • The previous sentence is "Videbis quem desideras optime valentem, nullius egentem rei, nil magnopere de fortunæ manibus expectantem". (My attempted translation: "You'll see what/whom you desire in the best health, lacking for nothing, awaiting no great gifts from the hands of fortune.")

However, I'm not familiar enough with Latin idiom or Petrarch's style to say for sure if writing in second-person future tense about a person whom "you'll see" is analogous to the English idiom "you'll find yourself ⎯⎯⎯⎯ing". Is videbis or something similar used elsewhere with this meaning?

Of course, it could also just be a playful rhetorical device of Petrarch's, used one time only.

  • 2
    Thanks for posting this. I didn't know that passage and the original Latin is truly enjoyable with its rhythm.
    – Francesco
    Jul 5, 2016 at 18:10
  • 2
    What a lovely passage. I think avia sectantem means "frequenting pathless regions", from avius -a -um (since the plant name avia is feminine).
    – TKR
    Mar 9, 2017 at 21:39

1 Answer 1


After reading the quoted passage in context (no, I did not read the whole letter), I think you are missing a key sentence that introduces this whole "videbis" trope: It occurs towards the end of the previous page. After describing a peaceful place outside the city, Petrarch says:

. . .Illic tandem in terra depositus ad dexteram me videbis.

There at last, having disembarked on dry land, you shall see me to your right.

(caveat lector: this and below are my quick translations: please correct in the comments)

The subsequent "videbis" repetition all seem to understand "me" as the object. Thus, in the next sentence:

Videbis autem [me] modicis, sed umbrosis hortulis, angustoque contentum hospitio sed quod tanti hospitis adventu factum putes angustius.

You shall see [me] contented with moderate but shady little gardens and a narrow dwelling--one which you may think even narrower at the coming of such an important guest.

"Me" (Petrarch) is indisputably understood along with "contentum." The rest of the passage, which transitions directly into what you quoted earlier, makes perfect sense as it paints Petrarch in this blissful pastoral scene.

The "quem desideras" seems to refer to himself. Ignoring the larger context of this correspondence, I can only surmise, but such language is fairly typical of effusive friendly correspondences of this nature: something like "you shall see me, whom you so much desire to be with, etc."

Of course, Petrarch is vicariously tempting his friend by this portrait of how content he himself is. I think your reasons for supposing that what is meant is "You will find yourself X'ing" are not terribly cogent:

  1. I see no reason why "solace" should not refer to Petrarch himself, who uses this as his retreat.
  2. The dwelling described by Petrarch is "Sorgia" (probably modern-day "Sorgues"), which is quite close to Avignon. Petrarch could very well have had his own interest in avoiding the curia, just as much as his correspondent.

This is a scattered answer, in outline: feel free to comment so I can make it point more specifically to your questions.

  • 5
    Fantastic! I thought this question was probably too obscure to get an answer anytime soon, but you just provided a very convincing and informative answer less than two hours after I posted it. Hooray for latin.stackexchange.com!
    – Ben Kovitz
    Feb 29, 2016 at 20:32

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