Leopardi, Giacomo(jä`kōmō lāōpär`dē), 1798–1837, Italian poet and scholar, considered Italy's outstanding 19th-century poet. An intellectual prodigy, he taught himself Hebrew and ancient Greek and was devoted to the study of the classics and philosophy from early childhood. Although plagued by illness and physical and spiritual frustration, Leopardi became one of the most formidable linguists, thinkers, and writers of his time. His pessimistic view of the world, which he expressed in detail in his huge Zibaldone (or notebook), became increasingly uncompromising. His masterpiece, Canti [songs] (1816–37, tr. 2012), composed of 36 poems, represents the flowering of his poetry, and rests on a tension between past and present, innocence and rational consciousness. He spoke with romantic yearning for physical and spiritual oneness, even as he pointed to the unbridgeable gulf that separated people from one another and from completeness and the infinite. Leopardi was a liberal and agnostic at a time when independence of thought was dangerous in Italy. Many of his works are deeply patriotic and contemptuous of the Italian rulers of his day. He wrote political and social satire in the ironic dialogues entitled Operette morali (1826–27, tr. Essays, Dialogues, and Thoughts, 1893 and 1905). A complete edition of his works was issued in 1845 by his friend Antonio Ranieri.
See English translations of his poetry and prose by A. Flores et al. (1966), O. M. Casale (1981), and J. Galassi (2010); P. Shaw, ed., The Letters of Giacomo Leopardi 1817–1837 (1998); biographies by G. Carsaniga (1977) and G. P. Barricelli (1986); studies by G. S. Singh (1964) and N. J. Perella (1970).
Born June 29, 1798, in Recanati, in the province of Macerata; died June 14, 1837, in Naples. Count; Italian poet.
Leopardi began writing poetry and translating from ancient languages in his early youth. His canzone “To Italy” and “To the Monument of Dante” (both 1818) combine patriotic and freedom-loving sentiments with a tragic sense of life’s hopelessness. His most important book, Songs (published 1831; republished 1835 and 1845), contains political, intimate, and philosophical lyric poems. Paralipomenes of the War Between the Mice and Frogs (published 1842), a satirical narrative poem written in octaves, depicts the events of 1815–21 in Italy. Leopardi also wrote “Hymn to Neptune,” Five Sonnets (1817), prose dialogues (Minor Moral Works, published 1827), translations, and works on classical philology.
Leopardi’s work, an outstanding achievement of modern Italian literature, contradictorily reflects the ideas of the Risorgimento. Essentially a romantic, Leopardi still had classical ties. His reverence for classical antiquity was symptomatic of his profound dissatisfaction with Italian reality. In many ways, his poetry is in harmony with Byron’s Weltschmerz.
WORKSOpere. Edited by G. Getto. [Milan, 1966.]
In Russian translation:
Dialogi i mysli. Translated by N. M. Sokolov. St. Petersburg, 1908.
Pesni i otryvki. Translated by I. Tkhorzhevskii. [St. Petersburg, 1908.]
Lirika. Translated by A. Akhmatova and A. Naiman. Moscow, 1967.
REFERENCESDe Sanctis, F. Istoriia ital’ianskoi literatury, vol. 2, Moscow, 1964. (Translated from Italian.)
Poluiakhtova, I. K. Istoriia ital’ianskoi literatury XIX veka (epokha Risordzhimento). Moscow, 1970.
Bigongiari, P. Leopardi. Florence, 1962.
De Sanctis, F. Leopardi, 2nd ed. Edited by C. Muscetta and A. Paerna. Turin, 1969.
Mazzatinti, G., M. Menghini, and G. Natali. Bibliografia leopardiana, vols. 1–3. Florence, 1931–53.
N. B. TOMASHEVSKII