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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.
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.
“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
“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