Leopardi, Giacomo

Leopardi, Giacomo jäˈkōmō lāōpärˈdē [key], 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Italian Literature: Biographies