Giacomo Leopardi 

Portrait of Giacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi was an Italian philosopher, poet, scholar and translator. He was born on 29th June 1798 in Recanati, Papal States, Italy and died on 14th June 1837 in Naples, Italy aged 38. 

Major Works

“Canti” (1823–1832)
“Operette Morali” (1824)
“A Silvia” (To Silvia) (1828)
Il Pensiero Dominante” (The Dominating Thought) (1831)
“Zibaldone di Pensieri” (pub 1898)

Biography Timeline

Count Giacomo Taldegardo Francesco di Sales Saverio Pietro Leopardi was born on 29th June 1798 in Recanati, Papal States, Italy. From childhood he suffered from problems with his spine, probably ankylosing spondylitis. His father was Count Monaldo Leopardi a traditionalist who liked literature and gambling. His mother was the Marchioness Adelaide Antici Mattei who was authoritarian and spent her time trying to build up the family’s fortune. He spent the time playing with his brother Carlo Orazio and his sister Paolina and was then educated by Father Sebastiano Sanchini in classical philology, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

1812: Aged fourteen he writes the poem “Pompeo in Egitto” (Pompey in Egypt) which attacks Caesar and defends the republic.

1813: He writes Storia dell’ Astronomia (History of Astronomy) and “Saggio Sopra gli Errori Popolari Degli Antichi” (Essay on the popular errors of the ancients).

1814: He translates many classical texts and writes more poetry and tragedies. Excessive study ruins his eyesight and he eventually becomes blind in one eye.

1815: He begins to dedicate himself to to literature full time in a search for beauty. He writes “Orazione agli Italiani in Occasione della Liberazione del Piceno” (Oration to the Italians on the liberation of Piceno). 

1816: Ignored by his parents he pours out his hopes and bitterness in his poetry. He publishes “Discorso Sopra la Vita e le Opere di Frontone” (Discourse on the Life and Works of Fronto) and Inno a Nettuno” (Hymn to Neptune). He argues against Madame de Stael’s position and asks Italians to stop looking towards the past but invent a new literature.

1817: He falls in love with his cousin Gertrude Cassi Lazzari and writes “Memorie del Primo Amore” (Memories of First Love) but she marries someone else. The classicist Pietro Giordani comes to the Leopardi estate and becomes his lifelong friend.

1818: Terese Fattorini, the daughter of his father’s coachman, dies from tuberculosis. He becomes very depressed and tries to leave the estate and travel to Rome but his father brings him home. He writes “All’Italia” (To Italy) and “Sopra il Monumento di Dante” (On the Monument of Dante). 

1819: He writes “Le Rimembranze” and “L’Appressamento della Morte” (Approach of Death, published 1835). He begins the six idylls which include “Il Sogno” (The Dream), “L’Infinito” (The Infinite), “La Sera del dì di Festa (The Evening of the Feast Day), “Alla Luna” (To the Moon), “La Vita Solitaria” (The Solitary Life) and “Lo Spavento Notturno” (Night-time Terror) which are mainly philosophical in tone.

1820: Cardinal Angelo Mai discovers “De Republica” by Cicero and he writes “Ad Angelo Mai” (To Angelo Mai) in a tribute to the older Italian poets.

1822: He is allowed a brief stay in Rome with his uncle but is disappointed by the corruption, decadence and hypocrisy of the Church. His physical condition starts to worsen.

1823: He writes the Canto “Alla sua Donna” (To his Woman) which outlines his feminine ideal.

1824: He is asked by a bookstore owner in Milan to write several works, including “Crestomazia della Prosa e della Poesia Italiane” (Collection of Italian Prose and Poetry). He visits Milan, Bologna, Florence and Pisa. He begins working on his major project “Operette Morali” (Small Moral Works) which consists of twenty-four dialogues and stories expressing his philosophical ideas. 

1827: He writes his most famous dialogue “Dialogo della Natura e di un Islandese” (Dialogue of Nature and an Icelander). He meets Alessandro Manzoni in Florence although the two do not get on.

1828: He refuses the offer of a professorship in Bonn or Berlin by the Ambassador of Prussia in Rome and returns to Recanati. He writes “Il Risorgimento” (Resurgence) and “A Silvia” a love poem, probably about Terese Fattorini.

1829: He writes “Le Ricordanze” (Memories) which is autobiographical in tone and discusses lost youth. He also writes “La Quiete dopo la Tempesta” (The Calm After the Storm) where pleasure and joy is conceived of as only fleeting and the highest pleasure can only come through death, and “Il Sabato del Villaggio” (Saturday in the Village). At the end of the year he writes the Canto “Notturno di un Pastore Errante dell’Asia” (Night-time Chant of a Wandering Asian Sheep-herder).

1830: He receives a letter from Pietro Colletta and moves to Florence where he receives an allowance from the Friends of Tuscany. He then moves to Naples to be near his friend Antonio Ranieri hoping the climate will improve his health. Speculation that he was gay has been discounted by his many other romantic friendships including Teresa Carniani Malvezzi and Charlotte Napoléone Bonaparte, daughter of Napoleon’s eldest brother.

1831: He writes “Il Pensiero Dominante” (The Dominating Thought), which describes love as a vitalising force, and the comic “Paralipomeni della Batracomiomachia” about the war between the frogs and mice where Zeus sends in crabs to kill them all. 

1832: He writes the Canto “Amore e Morte” (Love and Death) and “Consalvo” about a man who is kissed by a woman he has long loved (unrequitedly) only when he is at the point of death.

1833: He writes the Canto “A se Stesso” (To himself) after another of his fantasies, Fanny Targioni Tozzetti, declares her love for Antoni Ranieri. 

1834: His poem “Aspasia” is really about Fanny who he sees as a manipulator whose perfect body hides a corrupt and prosaic soul. 

1835: He writes the satirical “Palinodia al Marchese Gino Capponi “(Ode to Marquis Gino Capponi).

1836: He stays at a villa in Torre del Greco near Mount Vesuvius and writes “La Ginestra” (The Broom Bush), also known as “Il Fiore del Deserto” (The Flower of the Desert). 

1837: In March he begins to collect into one volume his “pensieri” (thoughts) on man and society from his Zibaldone (notebooks) but never completes it. He writes his last Canto “Il Tramonto della Luna” (The Waning of the Moon) in Naples.

Giacomo Leopardi died on 14th June 1837 of heart failure during the cholera epidemic in Naples, Italy. Antonio Ranieri asked that his remains were not placed in a common grave as required but buried at the Church of San Vitale in Fuorigrotta, Naples. In 1898 his tomb was moved to Parco Virgiliano (Mergellina) in Naples and declared a national monument. In 1845, Ranieri published the definitive edition of the “Canti”. The “Zibaldone di Pensieri”, a collection of personal impressions and philosophical observations, was published in seven volumes in 1898 under the title “Pensieri di Varia Filosofia e di Bella Letteratura” (Miscellaneous Thoughts on Philosophy and Literature).