A previously unknown piece of juvenilia by great 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi has been found in Naples and published for the first time. Leopardi is considered Italy’s greatest poet after Dante.
Discovered in the Fondo Leopardiano in the National Library of Naples by Marcello Andria and Paola Zito, is an eight-page exercise book. In it, a 16-year-old Leopardi wrote his observations on poetry, philosophy, politics and society also contains a list of 160 favourite authors both ancient and modern.
The authors are cross-references by over 550 numerical codes by the precocious youth, whose learning at a young age was prodigious.
An edited version of the text is ready for publication by Le Monnier Università.
“We have a text by Leopardi just turned 16, an assiduous frequenter of his father’s library, who has compiled a thorough and wide-ranging analysis of the opera omnia of the emperor Julian,” the editors said.
Who was Giacomo Leopardi?
Leopardi (1798-1837) is Italy’s greatest poet after Dante and also one of the country’s greatest philosophers. His canonical works are studied in every Italian school.
A precocious, congenitally deformed child of noble parents, Giacomo quickly exhausted the resources of his tutors. At the age of 16 he independently had mastered Greek, Latin, and several modern languages. He had also translated many classical works, written two tragedies, many Italian poems, and several scholarly commentaries.
Excessive study permanently damaged his health: after bouts of poor vision, he eventually became blind in one eye and developed a cerebrospinal condition that afflicted him all his life.
He died suddenly in a cholera epidemic in Naples.
Much of Leopardi’s poetic works were inspired by a feeling of despair. Whether that was from his parents’ seeming lack of concern over his wellbeing, unrequited love or frustration at life, the despair was genuine.
Leopardi moved from his home to Rome, Milan, Bologna, Recanati, Pisa, Florence and finally Naples.
He poured out his hopes and his bitterness in poems such as Appressamento della morte (written 1816, published 1835; “Approach of Death”). It is a visionary work in terza rima, imitative of Petrarch and Dante.
Two experiences in 1817 and 1818 robbed Leopardi of his optimism: his frustrated love for his married cousin, Gertrude Cassi (subject of his journal Diario d’amore and the elegy Il primo amore), and the death from consumption of Terese Fattorini, subject of one of his greatest lyrics, A Silvia.
In 1825, the poet headed to Milan after accepting an offer to edit Cicero’s works.
Leopardi published Versi in 1826, an enlarged collection of poems. Operette morali followed in 1827; it is an influential philosophical exposition, mainly in dialogue form, of his doctrine of despair.
Through the financial help of friends, Giacomo published a further collection of poems, I canti (1831). Frustrated love for a Florentine beauty, Fanny Targioni-Tozzetti, inspired some of his saddest lyrics. A young Neapolitan exile, Antonio Ranieri, became his friend and only comfort.
After finally settling in Naples, Leopardi wrote Ginestra (1836), a long poem included in Ranieri’s posthumous collection of his works (1845).