Giacomo Taldegardo Francesco di Sales Saverio Pietro Leopardi was an Italian poet, essayist, philosopher, and philologist. Although he lived in a secluded town in the ultra-conservative Papal States, he came in touch with the main thoughts of the Enlightenment, and, by his own literary evolution, created a remarkable and renowned poetic work, related to the Romantic era.
Giacomo Leopardi was born of a local noble family in Recanati, in the Marche, at the time ruled by the papacy. His father, the count Monaldo Leopardi, was a good-hearted man, fond of literature but weak and reactionary, who remained bound to antiquated ideas and prejudices; his mother, the marquise Adelaide Antici Mattei, was a cold and authoritarian woman, obsessed over rebuilding the family's financial fortunes, which had been destroyed by Monaldo's gambling addiction. At home, a rigorous discipline of religion and savings reigned. However, Giacomo's happy childhood, which he spent with his younger brother Carlo Orazio and his sister Paolina, left its mark on the poet, who recorded his experiences in the poem Le Ricordanze.
Leopardi, following a family tradition, began his studies under the tutelage of two priests, but his innate thirst for knowledge found its satisfaction primarily in his father's rich library. Initially guided by Father Sebastiano Sanchini, Leopardi quickly liberated himself by vast and profound readings. He committed himself so deeply to his "mad and most desperate" studies that, within a short time, he acquired an extraordinary knowledge of classical and philological culture—he could fluently read and write Latin, Greek and even Hebrew— but he suffered from the lack of an open and stimulating formal education.
Between the ages of twelve and nineteen, he studied constantly, driven by a need to learn as much as possible, as well as to escape, at least spiritually, from the rigid environment of the paternal palazzo. His continuous study undermined an already fragile physical constitution, and his illness denied him youth's simplest pleasures.
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 he 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 bound 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 was 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 1827, in Florence, Leopardi met Alessandro Manzoni, but they did not quite see things eye to eye. There, he made some solid and lasting friendships, paid a visit to Giordani and met the historian 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.
Later, he moved to Naples 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 buried in the common grave (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.
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