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Giacomo Leopardi

iacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi, Count (June 29, 1798 June 14, 1837) is generally considered, along with such figures as Dante, Ariosto and Tasso, to be among Italy's greatest poets and also one of its greatest thinkers in general.

Biography Born in Recanati, Italy, he was a son of Monaldo Leopardi, a minor nobleman of a small village in Marches that at the time was ruled by the papacy. Giacomo's mother was the marquise Adelaide Antici Mattei.

His father was a weak, reactionary man, bound to antiquated ideas and prejudices, while his mother was a despotic, cold, religious fanatic who was obsessed with rebuilding the financial fortunes of the family, destroyed by the tragic gambling addiction of Monaldo. At home, the rigorous discipline of religion and savings reigned supreme. Giacomo's infancy, which he passed with his younger brothers Carlo and Paolino, left its mark on the poet, who recorded his experiences in the poem Ricordanze.

Leopardi began his studies under the tutelage of two priests, as was family tradition. But his innate thirst for knowledge found its satisfaction primarily in the extraordinary paternal library. Initially guided by the priest Sebastiano Sanchini, Leopardi quickly liberated himself by immersing his mind in vast and profound reading. He committed himself so deeply to his studies that within a short time he had acquired an extraordinary classical and philological culture, but he suffered for the lack of an open and stimulating formal instruction.

Between the ages of twelve and nineteen, his uninterrupted studies which were provoked by an anxiety to learn as much as possible as well as a need to escape, at least spiritually, from the rigid environment of the paternal palazzo, undermined his already fragile physical constitution. His illness denied him even the simplest pleasures of youth and the young man buried himself in the anguish which engulfed his soul, meditating on the tragic condition of all of existence.

In 1817 Pietro Giordani, a classicist, arrived at the Leopardi estate. Giacomo became his lifelong friend and he derived from this friendship a sense of hope for the future. Meanwhile, his life at Recanati weighed on him increasingly, to the point that he attempted finally to escape in 1818, but was caught by his father and returned home. From then on, relations between father and son continued to deteriorate and Giacomo was constantly monitored in his own home by the rest of the family.

When, in 1822, he was briefly able to stay in Rome with his uncle, he was deeply disappointed by the atmosphere of corruption and decadence and by the hypocrisy of the Church. He was extremely impressed by the tomb of Torquato Tasso, to whom he felt naturally bonded by a common sense of unhappiness. While Foscolo lived tumultuously between adventures, amorous relations, and books, Leopardi was barely able to escape from his domestic oppression. To Leopardi, Rome seemed squalid and modest when compared to the idealized image that he had created of it while fantasizing over the "sweaty papers" of the classics. Already before leaving home to establish himself, he had experienced a burning amorous disillusionment caused by his falling in love with his cousin Geltrude Cassi. His physical ailments, which continued to worsen, contributed to the collapse of any last, residual traces of illusions and hopes. Virtue, Love, Justice and Heroism appeared to be nothing but empty words to the poet.

In 1824, the bookstore owner Stella called him to Milan, asking him to write several works, among which a Crestomazia della prosa e della poesia italiane. During this period, the poet had lived at various points in Milan, Bologna, Florence and Pisa.

In 1824, at Milan, Leopardi met Alessandro Manzoni, but they did not quite see things eye to eye. In Florence, he made some solid and lasting friendships, paid a visit to Giordani and met the poet Pietro Colletta.

In 1828, physically infirm and worn out by work, Leopardi had to refuse the offer of a professorship at Bonn or Berlin which was made by the ambassador of Prussia in Rome and, in the same year, he had to abandon his work with Stella and return to Recanati.

In 1830, Colletta offered him, thanks to the financial contribution of the "friends of Tuscany", the opportunity to return to Florence. The subsequent printing of the Canti allowed the poet to live far away from Recanati until 1832.

The tomb of Leopardi (Parco Virgiliano, NapoliLater, he moved to Napoli near his friend Antonio Ranieri, where he hoped to benefit physically from the climate. He died during the cholera epidemic of 1837. Thanks to Antonio Ranieri's intervention with the authorities, Leopardi's remains were prevented from being ignominiously tossed into a common ditch - as the strict hygienic regulations of the time required - and he was buried in the atrium of the church of San Vitale at Fuorigrotta. In 1939 his tomb, moved to the Parco Virgiliano, was declared a national monument.

In 1828, Leopardi composed perhaps his most famous poem A Silvia (To Silvia). The young lady is the image of the hopes and illusions of the young poet, destined to succumb far too early in the struggle against reality, just as the youth of Silvia is destroyed by tuberculosis, the "chiuso morbo". It is often asked whether Leopardi was actually in love with this young woman. But this is to miss the point. Leopardi seems to express a capacity to sacrifice his own life just to see the budding of this beautiful and unique flower and with it the possibility of a happy life. A Silvia is the expression of a profound and tragic love of life itself, which Leopardi, despite all the suffering, the psychological torments and the negative philosophizing, could not suppress in his spirit. It is in this poem that Leopardi demonstrates why his so-called "nihilism" does not run deep enough to touch the well-spring of his poetry: his love of man, of nature, and of beauty.

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