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Giacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi, Count (born in Recanati, Italy[?], June 29, 1798; died in Naples, June 14, 1837) was an important 19th century Italian poet.

Giacomo Leopardi was a son of Monaldo, a minor count of a small village in Marches[?] that was ruled by the Papacy, and of the marquise Adelaide Antici. He grew up in nearly complete isolation, having his father and some priests as teachers. The father's figure was extremely influential to the poet: perhaps a man of limited practical sense, he lost most of his patrimony in failed businesses, but he assembled an expensive and extraordinary library (that in 1812 he opened to the public).

Giacomo's loneliness, not mitigated by the formality of family manners (for example, from the age of six, he dressed in black like his father), impelled him to find refuge in his father's library, where he eclectically read in many fields. A sort of child prodigy, Giacomo at the age of 10 no longer needed his tutors and increased his learning to cover almost all current areas of knowledge by the time he was 17. Leopardi himself later referred to this devolution to study as "crazy and desperate". The result was an excellent self-taught expertise in classical languages (he learned at least seven languages, including Hebrew), and also history, philosophy, philology, natural sciences, and astronomy. The long periods of study while in uncomfortable positions may have contributed to his asthma and scoliosis, and his weak eyesight was attributed to reading by candle light.

Leopardi started his first employment as a translator (mainly of ancient classical works -- notably a version of Horace's Ars Poetica, that he rendered in ottava rima). He also wrote some minor treatises such as a History of Astronomy (1813) and an essay on Popular errors of ancients (1815), both interesting works with plenty of curious facts and anecdotes. He also wrote a well done fake Greek poem (Scherzi epigrammatici). In 1816 he wrote to the Biblioteca Italiana (literary magazine), defending the position of Italian classicists in answer to the famous assertions of Madame de Stael about translations and academic poetry. This was the time he is considered to have passed "from erudition to beauty", from study to poetry and other composition, abandoning aseptic philology and the false taste of Arcadia[?] in favor of a fresh neoclassical modern style.

At this time he started writing the Zibaldone, his immense collection of thoughts and verses, and began his correspondence with Pietro Giordani[?]. These letters reveal the intellectual depth of the young poet, as well as the proportional depth of his psychological problems, with his difficulty in accepting and acting within the context in which he lived. He also may have fallen in love with his married cousin Gertrude Cassi during a visit to the family at Recanati. However, Natalino Sapegno[?], one of the most important Italian literary critics, suggests that perhaps he composed his Diario d'Amore while experiencing the discovery of romantic love, like many adolescents, in a platonic yet lyric state of mind.

In 1819 Leopardi tried to run away from home, but his father discovered his plan and stopped him. He wrote about his physical diseases in his letters, after a temporary blindness forced him to stop reading. But soon after, he wrote some of the Idilli, among which are L'Infinito and Alla luna. He also developed his philosophical theory about pleasure (piacer, figlio d'affanno - pleasure is son to worry, to anguish, and it requires great labor to achieve).

In 1822 his father allowed him to leave Recanati for a brief stay in Rome, but the poet was unhappy and unable to find a suitable job, and was soon back in his familiar palazzo. In the meanwhile he had lost his faith, and the ornate celebrations of the Papacy's temporal power that he saw in Rome were another disgusting element that prompted his return. Before leaving Rome, however, Leopardi became somewhat famous, and his work was appreciated; but he was also unkind to some of his admirers.

With the composition of his Operette Morali, Leopardi put into his works his saddest philosophical thoughts, and his historical pessimism (rationality as a cause for unhappiness) and his cosmic pessimism (nature as the source of human troubles because it gives illusions -- Ahi Natura, Natura, perché non rendi poi, quel che prometti allor?) were rendered in their complex entirety.

In 1825 he finally left Recanati for Milan, where he started working for an editor, Fortunato Stella. Then he visited Bologna (vainly following the countess Teresa Malvezzi, who fascinated him) and Florence, where he met Alessandro Manzoni (the other great Italian poet of the century), Viesseux, and Gioberti. In Pisa he wrote A Silvia. In 1830 some friends provided him with a regular stipend, which allowed him to finally forget Recanati and establish himself in Florence. Here he fell in love (this time more seriously) with Fanny Targioni Tozzetti (another married woman), but his love was unrequited.

He met Antonio Ranieri in Florence, a Neapolitan gentleman in exile, with whom he later visited Naples which his friend suggested would helped him with its warm climate. In Naples he discovered a genuine passion for ice cream, the affection that Ranieri's sister Paolina showed him (in the Ranieris' villa Ferrigni on the slopes of Vesuvius), and the valued confidence of Basilio Puoti[?] (the purista). He died of edema in Naples a few months later.

Several works in English: http://www.geocities.com/leopardileopardi/p

His major works include the Zibaldone, the Operette Morali (a collection of short stories), and the Canti collection of poems. He held a pessimistic view of nature as a bad mother always on the verge of destroying humanity, while happiness came from the absence of pain (as expressed in La quiete dopo la tempesta where he says "piacer figlio d'affanno" (pleasure son of pain).

One among his best known poems is L'infinito which nearly every Italian student has to learn by heart:

Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo colle,
E questa siepe, che da tanta parte
De l'ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando, interminato
Spazio di là da quella, e sovrumani
Silenzi, e profondissima quiete
Io nel pensier mi fingo, ove per poco
Il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
Odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
Infinito silenzio a questa voce
Vo comparando: e mi sovvien l'eterno,
E le morte stagioni, e la presente
E viva, e 'l suon di lei. Così tra questa
Infinità s'annega il pensier mio:
E 'l naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare.

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