Schopenhauer referred to him as his “spiritual brother”; Italians consider him one of their greatest ever intellects, and his thoughts have been said to “go beyond those of every other European man of letters, from Goethe to Paul Valéry”.
Yet, despite these many accolades, the 19th-century poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi remains unknown in the mainstream anglophone world.
“If today I say to a non-Italian scholar that the Canti are no less beautiful than the poems of Hölderlin or Goethe or [Baudelaire's] Fleurs du Mal, and I insist that the prose of [Leopardi's] Zibaldone is no less unsettling than that of Nietzsche, no one believes me,” wrote the writer and critic Pietro Citati recently. “And yet that is exactly how things are.”
After seven years of toil involving a team of translators in three different countries, however, that may be about to change with the publication in Britain on Thursday of the first complete English translation of Leopardi’s famous notebook, the Zibaldone di pensieri.
A collection of the writer’s ideas, observations and analyses over 15 years, the Zibaldone, or Hodge-Podge, as it is affectionately known by some, was published in Italy at the turn of the 20th century – more than 60 years after its author’s premature death – and until now only parts had been put into English.
See: The Guardian