Zibaldone by Giacomo LeopardiZibaldone by Giacomo Leopardi


byGiacomo LeopardiEditorMichael CaesarTranslated byKathleen Baldwin

Paperback | August 11, 2015

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A groundbreaking translation of the epic work of one of the great minds of the nineteenth century

Giacomo Leopardi was the greatest Italian poet of the nineteenth century and was recognized by readers from Nietzsche to Beckett as one of the towering literary figures in Italian history. To many, he is the finest Italian poet after Dante. (Jonathan Galassi's translation of Leopardi's Canti was published by FSG in 2010.)
He was also a prodigious scholar of classical literature and philosophy, and a voracious reader in numerous ancient and modern languages. For most of his writing career, he kept an immense notebook, known as the Zibaldone, or "hodge-podge," as Harold Bloom has called it, in which Leopardi put down his original, wide-ranging, radically modern responses to his reading. His comments about religion, philosophy, language, history, anthropology, astronomy, literature, poetry, and love are unprecedented in their brilliance and suggestiveness, and the Zibaldone, which was only published at the turn of the twentieth century, has been recognized as one of the foundational books of modern culture. Its 4,500-plus pages have never been fully translated into English until now, when a team under the auspices of Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino of the Leopardi Centre in Birmingham, England, have spent years producing a lively, accurate version. This essential book will change our understanding of nineteenth-century culture. This is an extraordinary, epochal publication.

Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837) was born in Recanati, Italy. He was a poet, essayist, philosopher, and philologist.
Title:ZibaldoneFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:2592 pages, 8.96 × 6.23 × 2.09 inShipping dimensions:8.96 × 6.23 × 2.09 inPublished:August 11, 2015Publisher:Farrar, Straus And GirouxLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0374534640

ISBN - 13:9780374534646


Read from the Book

Zibaldone [1] Palazzo Bello.1 Dog in the night from the farmhouse, as the wayfarer goes by.—Era la luna nel cortile, un latoTutto ne illuminava, e discendeaSopra il contiguo lato obliquo un raggio … Nella (dalla) maestra via s’udiva il carroDel passegger, che stritolando i sassi,Mandava un suon, cui precedea da lungiIl tintinnio de’ mobili sonagli.[The moon shone in the yard, one sideIn its full light, and a moonbeamSlanting obliquely down the next … On (from) the highway you could hearThe traveler’s carriage crunching on the stones,And before that, from a long way off,The jingling of harness bells.]And so Avianus tells a story about a country woman who threatened her crying child that if he didn’t quieten down she would feed him to a wolf. And by chance a wolf was passing by and heard her. He thought she meant what she said, so he sat down in front of the door of the house and stayed there all day waiting for the woman to bring him his food. How he stayed there all that time without the woman noticing him, or being afraid, or chasing him off with a stone or anything, only Avianus can explain. And he adds that the wolf didn’t get anything because the child fell asleep, and even if he had not, he wouldn’t have come to any harm. And when it got late, and the wolf went back to his wife without any prey, because he had wasted the whole day waiting, he said what you can read in the story.2 (July or August 1817.)3An elderly Lady asked a young man if she could read some of his poems, which had many old words in them. A little later, having read them, she handed them back and told him she hadn’t understood them because those were not words that were used in her day. The young man replied: “But I was sure they were used, because they are very old.”Tutta la notte pioveE ritornan le feste a la dimane:Fan del regno a metà Cesare e Giove.[All night it rainsAnd the festivities return tomorrow:Caesar and Jove share the realm between them.]4In literature, one passes from nothing to the middle and to truth, then to refinement. There is no example of a return from refinement to truth. The Greeks. Italians writing in Latin. Fine taste among the generality of men of letters can exist only while it is still uncorrupted. For example, the only fault of sixteenth-century writers in Italian was insufficiency rather than excess, and they were therefore well suited to judge of the right amount, that is of true beauty, as indeed they did.5The fourteenth century was the beginning of our literature, not yet its peak, since it had only three great writers;6 the fifteenth century was neither the corruption nor [2] the refinement of the fourteenth century, but a period of sleep for literature, which, while it had given way to erudition, still remained uncorrupted and erred rather on the side of insufficiency. Poliziano, Pulci. The sixteenth century was the real continuation of the fourteenth century and the peak of our literature. Then came the refinement of the seventeenth century, which in the eighteenth century was simply changed into corruption of another kind. But good taste among men of letters has not returned, nor will it return, in my view, because one can move to goodness from nothing but not, I think, from too much goodness, in other words from corruption.The object of the Fine Arts is not Beauty but Truth, that is to say the imitation of Nature in any form. If it were Beauty, the more pleasing would be that which was more beautiful, and that would be the road to metaphysical perfection, which is nauseating rather than pleasurable in the arts. It is no good arguing that it is beauty only within the limits of nature because this itself shows that it is the imitation of nature therefore that gives delight in the fine arts. For if it were beauty in itself, it follows, as I have said, that greater beauty should bring greater pleasure, and thus the description of a beautiful ideal world should bring more pleasure than the description of our own. And that the Fine Arts are not concerned with natural beauty alone can be seen in all poets, especially in Homer, because if the opposite were true, every great poet would have had to seek out the greatest natural beauty that he could, whereas Homer made Achilles infinitely less beautiful than he might have done, and the same with the Gods, etc., and Anacreon would be a greater poet than Homer, etc., and we find that we like Achilles more than Aeneas, etc., so that it is also untrue that Virgil’s poem is greater, etc. Passions, deaths, storms, etc., give us great pleasure in spite of their ugliness for the simple reason that they are well imitated, and if what Parini says in his Oration on poetry1 is true, this is because man hates nothing more than he does boredom, and therefore he enjoys seeing something new, however ugly. Tragedy, Comedy, Satire are all concerned with ugliness and it is just a question of names to argue about whether they are poetry. It is enough that everyone regards them as poetry, especially Aristotle and Horace, and that when I talk about poetry I also mean these kinds of writing. See Dati, Pittori, Siena 1795, pp. 57, 66.2Ugliness, like everything else, must be kept in its place: it will rarely have a place in epic and lyric poetry but very often will in Comedy, Tragedy, Satire, and it is a question of words, etc., as I said above. Baseness should rarely be described because rarely can it find its place in poetry (except in Satire, Comedy, and Bernesque poetry),3 not because it cannot be the object of poetry. Further, as there can be many kinds of a thing, and these of greater or lesser worth, [3] there is no reason that one of the various kinds of poetry may not have the beautiful as its object in particular, another the sorrowful, another the ugly and the base, and that one may therefore be more noble and worthy, another less so, yet they are all kinds of poetry, and there is nothing to prevent the object of any single one of them from being the object of poetry and the imitative arts, etc.Perfection in a work of Fine Art is measured not by the greatest Beauty but by the most perfect imitation of nature. Now, if it is true that the perfection of things consists essentially in the perfect achievement of their object, what shall be the object of the Fine Arts?Usefulness is not the purpose of poetry although poetry can be useful. And the poet can be or deliberately intend to be useful (as Homer may perhaps have done) without usefulness being the purpose of his poetry, in the same way as a farmer can use an axe to scythe crops or for some other purpose without scything being the purpose of an axe. Poetry can be indirectly useful, in the same way as an axe can scythe, but usefulness is not the natural purpose without which it could not exist, in the way that it could not exist without delight, for to give delight is the natural office of poetry.Sentìa del canto risuonare le valliD’agricoltori ec.[I heard the valleys ring with farmers’ song, etc.]1A plant or animal seen in real life should give us more delight than when it is painted or imitated in some other way, because it is impossible for an imitation not to leave something to be desired. But the contrary is clearly true: from which it appears that the source of delight in the arts is not beauty but imitation.The fifteenth century did not create beauty but preserved the idea of it intact, so although it did not produce anything itself, it still admired what had been done before, and indeed sought it out: hence the endless study of the Classics and the scholarship that was dominant during that century. The sixteenth century, with the capital acquired in the 15th century and the direction set in the 14th, began to create again. But the seventeenth, because it was not weak but corrupt, was not only incapable of creating good work but despised work that was good, was even offended by it. Thus Dante, Petrarch, etc., were forgotten and no longer printed. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, we did not regain our strength but only good taste and a love for classical studies, and for that reason the first half of that century is like the fourteenth century. Little account is taken of this period of rebirth because (like the 1400s) it did not produce any work of art apart from Merope,2 and it lasted for such a short time that one man’s lifetime was enough to witness the corruption, the rebirth, and the decline. After our literature declined (into imitating and studying foreigners), our [4] last works of art appeared in the second half of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. These are by those writers who remain untouched by corruption, cannot be admired by many, etc. But art today has seen incredible growth, everything is art and more art, hardly anything is spontaneous, spontaneity itself is sought out with great fervor but through endless study, and cannot be achieved without it, yet without it Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, etc., and all the good fourteenth- and sixteenth-century writers had spontaneity in abundance (particularly as far as language is concerned). This is happening because we live today in a time of corruption (as well as among corrupt people) and we have to study as hard as possible to avoid corruption, particularly that of our own time, which takes hold of us before we can avoid it, and also that of the past, because we now know all the vices of art and want to protect ourselves against them. We no longer have the simplicity of the Greeks and Romans or the writers of the 14th and 16th centuries, because we have passed through the time of corruption and have become cunning in our art. We avoid those vices with our cunning and our art, not with nature’s help, as the ancients did, who did not know much about them, but who, because art was in its infancy and still not corrupted, neither avoided nor fell into such vices. They were like children who know no vices, we are like old people who know them but avoid them through judgment and experience. And we have a great deal more judgment and art than the ancients, who made endless mistakes (without recognizing them) that would not be made today by a schoolboy. Homer’s flaws, Petrarch’s conceits, Dante’s failures of taste, the seventeenth century flourishes of Ariosto, of Tasso, of Caro’s translation of the Aeneid,1 etc. And so our great works of today (very few because we are still in the midst of corruption from which very few writers stand out) will all be flawless, perfect, but in the end no longer original: we won’t have any more Homers, Dantes, Ariostos. Obvious example of Parini, Alfieri, Monti, etc. Therefore, what I said above is quite clear, that the arts having changed from being childish and uncorrupted into being mature and corrupt (like middle-aged men full of vices), when they grow old and mend their ways, they can no longer regain the vigor of their childhood and their youth. The arts among the Greeks and Romans, once corrupted, never recovered, now they are rising again among us: the first example so far in the world, from which alone practical proof can be obtained of my opinion.2 Except that in a certain way if the great poets and other writers of today are put beside those of the 14th and 16th centuries, they resemble Greek writers in the centuries of Augustus and the emperors, e.g., Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Cassius Dio, and Arrian, compared to Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. But they had passed through a period and still were in a period of weakness rather than corruption.[5] In the same way as children and young people, though they may be of good character, nevertheless through natural wickedness slip into some fault from time to time and despite this are totally different from adults who are bad, so also the ancients, who, without either understanding or loving the vices of the arts, but by virtue of the mind’s natural tendency toward affectation and similar things sometimes slipped into them without realizing that they were vices, were nevertheless infinitely different from the adult art-makers of the 1600s and 1700s, who were rooted in corruption. And now anybody, even with the most basic schooling, can see at first sight that those are errors and that the ancients erred. For example, who cannot now see how ridiculous and affected Olympia’s lament, etc., is in Ariosto, and Erminia’s, etc., in Tasso?1 And yet these great poets fell into such errors in good faith because their art was young and inexperienced, while we, because we are old in the art with the experience and judgment of these corrupt times, laugh at them and shun them. But this judgment and this experience is the death of poetry, etc. How then can it be said that Ariosto, for example, was the possessor of supreme art if he so often lapsed into mistakes that the most wretched artist of today can recognize at first glance? He possessed not supreme art but supreme genius, crystal clear, but untarnished, and still less polished to perfection.To avoid the vices and corruption of writing, we now need endless study and intense imitation of the Classics to a much much greater extent than the ancient writers needed. If one does not have these things, one cannot be an eminent writer, and if one does, it is not possible to become as great as the great models. Like the coachman who, guiding his horses down a slope, gives them short rein so that they don’t carry him away.Padron, se con lamenti e con rammarichiSi rimediasse a le nostre miserie,Bisognerebbe comperar le lagrimeA peso d’or: ma queste tanto possonoLe disgrazie scemar, quanto le preficheSvegliare i morti con le loro istorie:Ne’ guai non ci vuol pianto ma consiglio.[Master, if with regret and lamentationsWe could cure our miseries,The tears would need be boughtBy their worth in gold: but they can as muchLessen the pain as mournersAwaken the dead with their wailing:Times of trouble demand not tears but counsel.]2[6] When a certain gentleman was asked by some people who were discussing an ancient terracotta statue of Jupiter what he felt about it, he answered: I am surprised you have not noticed that this is a Jupiter in Creta, meaning: made from terracotta, but appearing to mean: from the island of Crete, where Jupiter was brought up.1SYSTEM OF FINE ARTS.Purpose—to give pleasure; secondary purpose sometimes, usefulness. —Object and means of obtaining the purpose—the imitation of nature, not necessarily of beauty. —Primary cause of the outcome produced by this object or by this means—wonder: power of the wonderful and desire for it inborn in man: tendency to believe in the wonderful: wonder is thus produced by the imitation of the beautiful as well as by the imitation of any other real or truthful thing: hence the delight of tragedies, etc., produced not by the thing imitated but by the imitation, which creates wonder. —Secondary causes, relating to the different objects imitated—beauty, memory, the attention that is paid to things that we see every day without noticing them, etc.2 —Original cause of the delight aroused by wonder, etc., and therefore consequently of the delight aroused by the fine arts—man’s natural abhorrence of boredom, research into the reasons for this abhorrence, etc. —Causes of defects in the fine arts—Disproportion, unsuitability, things out of place, which the defects of baseness ugliness deformity cruelty filth wretchedness all come down to (contrary to the opinion of those who think that it arises from the beautiful being the object of the arts), all things which when represented or used in their place are not defects, since they please and produce wonder by means of imitation, but which are defects when they are out of place, e.g., in Anacreontic verse the image of a cyclops (generally), or the figure of a deformed person in an epic generally, etc. Other defects and vices, affectation, etc., almost all come down to unsuitability and implausibility, which arise from the fact that the attributes of the implausible thing do not go together in nature, thanks to which the mind that understands the [7] unsuitability of the attributes perceives the implausibility. —Different branches of imitation that form the different objects of the fine arts and the various genres, e.g., of poetry, which are the more worthy and noble the more worthy, etc., are their objects, whence a genre that has deformity as its object will be little esteemed and should not be placed, e.g., with the epic, although it too is a kind of poetry that arouses wonder and hence delight through the medium of imitation1— Copyright © 2013 by The University of Birmingham

Editorial Reviews

"The greatest intellectual diary of Italian literature, its breadth and depth of thought often compared to the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. The Zibaldone's long-overdue translation into English in this handsome edition is warmly to be welcomed . . . With its excellent introduction, its generous notes and cross-referencing, this edition is a huge achievement, making available at last a key document in the history of European thought and throwing light on Leopardi's unique poetry and prose works." -Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books"Beautifully rendered into English by seven translators, superbly edited and annotated by Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino under the auspices of the Leopardi Centre at the University of Birmingham, with its more than 2,500 pages elegantly printed on thin, Bible-like paper, this is not just a triumph of scholarship but a work of art of which its author could have been justly proud. The first full English version of the Zibaldone is a major event in the history of ideas. With its publication, Leopardi will be ranked among the supreme interrogators of the modern condition." -John Gray, The New Statesman"There are several titans of world literature whose complete works still languish in their native language . . . To the ranks of heroes who tackle such enormities we must now add the seven translators who have given us Leopardi's Zibaldone at long last, after seven years' labor, a confluence of biblically significant numbers we would scarcely believe in fiction . . . There is something miraculous, too, about the text itself, as Franco D'Intino, one of the editors of this edition, makes us realize. The manuscript lay buried for years in a trunk, unknown to the world. Not until sixty years after Leopardi's death was the Zibaldone first published. Here, suddenly, was Leopardi the thinker and philosopher, whereas Italy before had known only the doomed Romantic poet. So it has been for us. Only now are we seeing Leopardi whole. His poetry had made him the peer in world literature of Whitman and Wordsworth, but the 4,526-page Zibaldone places him in a different realm entirely . . . There are moments of great beauty, aphorisms of penetrating insight . . . Leopardi's diary is undeniably the record of a great mind divesting itself of illusions . . . His writing, which repudiates existence, enriches our own; his diary in English represents an almost embarrassing increase in our accounts. The book of twenty million pages is life, and is also the Zibaldone, inexhaustible and worthy of endless meditation." -Brian Patrick Eha, The American Reader"In the history of Italian literature, arguably only Dante occupies a more exalted position than Giacomo Leopardi . . . Both Leopardi's verse . . . and his works of prose . . . enjoy an unassailable reputation for lyrical beauty, philosophical depth, immense erudition, and indefatigable originality. The Italian language has known no more brilliant master of both its native extravagances and its native subtleties . . . In short, he was a literary giant, and was for the most part recognized as such in his own time. His most gigantic achievement, however, may have been the work we have come to know as the Zibaldone-the 'gallimaufry,' 'hodge-podge,' or 'miscellany'-his heterogeneous, sprawling, positively oceanic journal intime . . . Had this work never become known to the public, Leopardi would still be revered as a genius, but the sheer magnitude of his genius would scarcely be suspected. He poured everything into its pages: philosophy, philology and general linguistics, historical studies, cultural observations, critiques of the arts, political ruminations, personal confessions, and much more. It is a vast compendium of impromptu treatises, ringing aphorisms, hoarded curiosities, subtle observations, oracular pronouncements, and flights of invention. It is wholly absorbing and unflaggingly brilliant . . . It is a magnificent achievement, rich and varied and well worth both its large price and the strain it will put upon one's bookshelves and wrists. The seven translators and two editors who produced this English edition have accomplished something heroic and precious, and they deserve the gratitude of the Anglophone literary world . . . Zibaldone is written in a voice that, again and again, bears the inflections of someone whose life consisted to a great degree in the tension between, on the one hand, physical and cultural constraints and, on the other, boundless imaginative and theoretical creativity. It is an almost titanically exuberant treasury of astonishing insights and mental adventures; it is also in many ways one of the bleakest books ever written. Leopardi's vision of reality was, before all else, unremittingly atheistic-which is to say, it was a vision purged not only of faith, but of every one of those lingering vestiges of faith with which shallower, less reflective atheists console and seduce themselves, and shield their minds against the logical conclusions their unbelief entails . . . His repudiation of every soothing idealism-moral, social, historical, what have you-was uncompromising and, in a quietly constant way, ferocious . . . Leopardi's literary genius, philosophical agility, colossal erudition, and immense fertility of imagination make his eyes somehow as much entertaining as provoking . . . Frankly, the bleakness of Leopardi's vision is so free of any pathetic self-deception that at times it seems positively sublime. In the end, he concluded, we possess no real knowledge of anything, because we ourselves are nothing, arising from and returning to nothingness, with nothing to hope for . . . The Zibaldone is a great surging ocean of brilliant insights . . . The book is, unquestionably, a work of magnificent genius." -David Bentley Hart, First Things"It is only now, almost two hundred years after Leopardi wrote, that the Zibaldone has been translated in its entirety into English. To get a sense of the sheer scope of Leopardi's intellect, the range of subjects that engaged him and the bodies of knowledge he mastered, consider how many scholars it took to translate and annotate this enormous book. In addition to the Zibaldone's two editors, Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino, there are seven credited translators, an editorial board of seven people, and a list of 'specialist consultants' in subjects ranging from Chinese, Hebrew, and Sanskrit to musicology, law, and the history of science . . . This complete Zibaldone gives us . . . an unfolding sense of the excitement and variety of Leopardi's inner life--the feeling that we are making his discoveries along with him . . . At some of the most powerful and revealing moments in the Zibaldone, we are able to see how Leopardi's theory of despair was born from the experience of despair . . . Perhaps this book is most significant as a vast objective correlative--bringing us as close as we can come, or want to come, to the brilliant bleakness of his inner life." -Adam Kirsh, The New Republic"The Zibaldone can firmly establish [Giacomo Leopardi's] role as one of the 19th-century's greatest thinkers . . . Thanks to this translation, we now have a window on his workshop and can delight in his readable and thought-provoking reflections on politics, philosophy, literature, philology--even a bit of phrenology--and a wealth of tastefully selected quotes. Finally available in English thanks to a monumental effort by Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino--who shepherded a team of seven principal translators--the Zibaldone marks the end of nearly a decade of work at the University of Birmingham's Leopardi Centre. There is something heroic about such a project . . . Congratulations are due to everyone involved in this landmark publication. Leopardi's Zibaldone is quite simply a work of genius." -André Naffis-Sahely, The Independent"The Zibaldone is surprisingly fun to dip into, a nightstand book rather than a doorstopper, and something to think about as you head to the beach this weekend--if you can fit it into your bag." -Daniel Berchenko, Publishers Weekly"This is the first complete English edition of the Zibaldone . . . Editors Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino are to be commended for bringing this daunting task to fruition . . . The scale of the undertaking becomes readily apparent when you peruse the book." -Leslie Jones, The Quarterly Review"The central thesis of Zibaldone is that life is miserable and there is nothing to be done about it . . . The seduction of Zibaldone is in reading the words of a man who hasn't flinched from the hardest thoughts. Reading Zibaldone is like getting permission to go into a room that is usually locked. It is a chance to let the dark thoughts speak. It is a chance to look at the desolation without brushing it away. It is a chance to sit and soak in the melancholy. Right now, at this moment in history, soaking in the melancholy seems the right thing to do. We are surrounded, after all, by a civilization that seeks pleasure and distraction with a shrillness that makes Imperial Rome look reserved. The current mainstream discussion of human happiness and infinite progress is so coarse that it has been more or less abandoned to the technocrats. Reflective persons have nowhere to turn. And then a volume like Zibaldoneturns up. Leopardi, in his infinite gloom, takes on the guise of a savior. This is what it must have been like to stumble across a volume of Pascal's Pensées in the late 17th century. It is like plunging into a very cold, very fresh mountain stream after days of walking in the hot sun." -Morgan Meis, The Smart Set