The Universality of Human Misery

Petrarch, Invective Against a Man of High Rank (33-34):

The human race lives for a few. Nay, and these few for whom the whole human race is said to live are not more frightening to the people than the people are to them. Thus, almost no one is free. Everywhere there is servitude, the prison, the noose, unless some rare person somehow dissolves the knots of the world with the aid of some heavenly virtue.

Just turn your attention wherever you’d like: no place is free of tyranny. Wherever there are no tyrants, the people tyrannize. When you seem to have escaped the iron fist of one, you fall into the tyranny of the many, unless you can show me some place ruled by a just and merciful king. If you can do that, I will move my home there and migrate with all of my luggage. Neither my love of my country, nor the charm and nobility of Italy will keep me here. I will go to India, to China, to the remotest reaches of Africa just to find this place and this king.

But the search is in vain – these things exist nowhere. Thanks to our age. Since it has made everything almost equal, it has spared us the work of trying to find somewhere better. To merchants examining grain, it is enough to take up a fistful, examine it, and judge the whole heap from that. One needn’t go skim the farthest coasts or pentrate to the remotest lands. Languages, clothing, and appearances are all different, but desires, minds, and customs are so similar wherever you go that those lines from Juvenal never seem more truly spoken:

To one who wishes to know the ways of all the human race

One house alone should do the trick.

Even when there were no people, you could still find tyrants.

Humanum paucis vivit genus; quin et hi pauci quibus humanum genus vivere dicitur, non formidolosiores populis quam populi illis sunt. Ita fere nullus est liber; undique servitus et carcer et laquei, nisi fortasse rarus aliquis rerum nodos adiuta celitus animi virtute discusserit.

Verte te quocunque terrarum libet: nullus tyrannide locus vacat; ubi enim tyranni desunt, tyrannizant populi; atque ita ubi unum evasisse videare, in multos incideris, nisi forsan iusto mitique rege regnatum locum aliquem michi ostenderis. Quod cum feceris, eo larem illico transferam, cumque omnibus sarcinulis commigrabo. Non me amor patrie, non decor ac nobilitas Italie retinebit; ibo ad Indos ac Seres et ultimos hominum Garamantes, ut hunc locum inveniam et hunc regem.

Sed frustra queritur quod nusquam est. Gratias etati nostre, que cum cunta pene paria fecerit, hunc nobis eripuit laborem. Frumenta mercantibus satis modicum pugno excipere, illud examinant, inde notitiam totius capiunt acervi. Non est opus oras ultimas rimari et terrarum abdita penetrare: lingue, habitus, vultusque alii, vota, animi, moresque adeo similes, quocunque perveneris, ut nunquam verius fuisse videatur illud Satyrici ubi ait:

Humani generis mores tibi nosse volenti,

sufficit una domus.

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