Leopardi’s Homer: Lost in Translation?

Leopardi’s Homer: Lost in Translation?

Giacomo Leopardi and his 1816 translation of the first book of the Odyssey

2023.08.03 | By Aldo Paolo Bottino

Tutto si è perfezionato da Omero in poi, ma non la poesia (“From Homer onward everything got better, except poetry” Z 58). As Franco D’Intino recalls introducing the English edition of Leopardi’s Zibaldone, the poet never changed his mind on this point: years after from this first 1817 comment, he remain consistent with such an opinion and write that:

Omero non conoscendo l’arte (che da lui nacque) e seguendo solamente la natura e se stesso, cavò dalla sua propria immaginazione ed ingegno un’idea, un concetto, un disegno di poema epico assai più vero, più conforme alla natura dell’uomo e della poesia, più perfetto, che gli altri, avendo il suo esempio e in esso guardando, e ridotta che fu ad arte la facoltà ond’egli avea prodotto que’ modelli, e determinata, distinta e stretta che fu da regole la poesia, non seppero di gran lunga fare

[Homer following only nature and himself, derived from his own imagination and intellect an idea, a concept, a design for the epic poem that was much truer, much more in conformity with the nature of man and poetry, more perfect, than the others, who had him as their example, and who in looking to him, when the faculty from which he had produced these models had been reduced to art, and poetry was determined, marked, and constrained by rules, could not even come close to achieving] (Z 3166-67, 5–11 August 1823).*

If possible, Leopardi’s admiration for Homer grew indeed over time. When he had the occasion to read, study, and reflect on Wolf’s Prolegomena (and Vico’s Scienza Nuova) in the summer and fall of 1828, he developed a mature and profound appreciation of the unique role of orality and oral cultures in the creation of everlasting poetry, a belief he manifested early on in his youth (or, rather, late childhood!).  On 28 May 1821, Leopardi records his first childhood recollection in the Zibaldone and astonishingly enough but not surprisingly it is narrated not as a merely visual one, nor as an instance of purely episodic memory, but rather as a visual, semantic, and auditory experience, where the three components cannot be and must not be separated: “Come la prima mia ricordanza è di alcune pere moscadelle che io vedeva, e sentiva nominare al tempo stesso [Just as my first memory is of some musk pears I saw, and heard being named at the same time] (Z 1103, 28 May 1821).” I regard this remembrance as a fundamental point of departure to analyze Leopardi’s own contribution to the understanding of Homer’s orality, as well as to frame his translation activity in the larger horizon of his conception of poetry, literature, and fame. And this is because, as D’Intino incisively summarizes, “for Leopardi, poetry is conceivable only as voice, song, the material emission of sound and breath (D’Intino in Leopardi 2013: 76).” It is a telling sign that his own growing collection of poems will be entitled Canti (Songs) from 1831 on with a specific and very conscious choice. Back then in 1813, young Giacomo, born in 1798, taught himself ancient Greek and, two years later, felt ready or somehow invited to confront the Source of poetry itself, and he started to compose a poetic translation (unrhymed hendecasyllables) of the first book of the Odyssey which was published in the literary review Lo Spettatore Italiano in 1816. In fact, Leopardi was partial to the Iliad and clearly preferred Achilles over Odysseus, but he probably avoided a confrontation with ‘two’ great poets at the same time, as Vincenzo Monti had published his own poetic translation of the Iliad in 1810. Indeed, the poet Vincenzo Monti, who was widely considered the author of the most ‘successful’ translation of the Iliad up to that time, aimed first of all to produce an elegant poetic text well-suited to the contemporary taste of Napoleonic (neo)classicism, and he was so successful in that endeavor that his work was not only exceptionally well-received by his contemporaries (also by those who, like Ugo Foscolo, searched for their own path to transmit the essence of Homer’s poem with a more ‘faithful’ translation), but had a durable impact and influenced the ‘taste’ for Homeric translations and also partially oriented Homeric reception itself in Italy for decades (or centuries!). Vincenzo Monti’s intellectual stature among his contemporaries can be measured by reading the entry of Stendhal’s journal for 12 December 1816 vividly describing the setting of the Milanese theatre La Scala: Monti is named as “the greatest of all poets now alive” and already at that time his renown was due in no small measure to his Homeric translation.

Before delving into Leopardi’s Homer, more than a few words are due about his thinking on translation in general and on translating Homer in particular, that is, translating the poems that, according to Giacomo’s persistent and consistent opinion, were and would be the absolute benchmark for all past, present, and future poetry, including his own. Leopardi called fedeltà “faithfulness” or “fidelity” the cornerstone of translating Homer, the key criterion everyone had to keep in mind when trying to measure himself with Homeric Greek:

Sa ogni buon letterato che a tradurre Omero vuolsi piena fedeltà, e che ogni parola del testo trascurata è una gemma perduta poiché d’ordinario basta togliere a un verso d’Omero le parole che sembrano di niun rilievo, per privarlo di ogni sapore omerico e renderlo come un ramo senza foglie

[As literary scholars should know, complete fidelity is needed in Homeric translation because every lost word is a lost gem: usually, removing those words that appear to be devoid of significance from the Homeric verse amounts to deprive it of Homeric flavor and make it like a leafless tree branch] (PP, II 593).

But to what exactly should one be faithful? As Leopardi’s own words make clear, not to a generic message or to the assumed sameness of the feelings evoked by the translator’s effort to re-produce the whole Homeric text (or emotional world). Discussing the opinion of Quintilian about the practical impossibility of emulating “the unaffected grace of Xenophon (Xenophontis iucunditatem illam inaffectatam) Institutio Oratoria, 10.1), Leopardi broadens the argument and targets the difficult task of the translator, who strives to convey someone else’s character and also to reproduce what someone else feels and artistically expresses in the same way and with the same flavor. This is particularly true “when the principal or one of the principal merits of the original lies precisely in its being unaffected, natural, and spontaneous, whereas the translator, by his nature, cannot be spontaneous (Massime quando il principale o uno de’ principali pregi dell’originale consiste appunto nell’inaffettato, naturale e spontaneo, laddove il traduttore per natura sua non può essere spontaneo) (Z 320, 13 Nov. 1820).” In this perspective, and according to Leopardi’s understanding of his poetry, Homer is located at the top of ‘poetic sensibility’ (while the moderns are generally far removed from this position) as it means the poet’s capacity “to respond emotionally to things presented by imagination just as readily as one responds to objects, as they are in themselves, through one’s sense perceptions. The more poetic this sensibility, the more powerfully and more spontaneously it reacts to the imaginative version of things and the less hampered it is by “the obstinate questionings” of sense or intellect (Singh 2014: 114).” That being said, an apparently minimalist (but with far-reaching implications) answer would seem to be fidelity to Homeric words, all of them, first of all those words that appear to be devoid of significance (di niun rilievo): none can be lost or removed from the Homeric verse without fatally depriving it of its fragrance, value (a lost word is “a lost gem” una gemma perduta), and taste or flavor (sapore).

So, all words (ogni parola del testo) should be kept in translation, if sapore omerico has to be preserved. Unfortunately (or rather fortunately), this is not what Leopardi has in mind, much less a so-called literal translation. In a passage from his Zibaldone di Pensieri he bluntly says:

L’esattezza non importa la fedeltà ec. ed un’altra lingua perde il suo carattere e muore nella vostra, quando la vostra nel riceverla, perde il carattere suo proprio, benchè non violi le sue regole gramaticali. Omero dunque non è Omero in tedesco, come non è Omero in una traduzione latina letterale

[Accuracy does not necessarily entail fidelity, etc. Another language loses its character and dies in your own, and your own loses its specific character as it receives it, even though it does not violate its grammatical rules. Homer is therefore not Homer in German, just as he is not Homer in a literal Latin translation] (Z 1949 19 October 1821).

As we can learn from Leopardi himself, absolute accuracy in Homeric translation is not only almost unachievable, but pointless. Moreover, according to Leopardi’s theory of cognition, the human brain behaves in the manner of a camera obscura inside which objects are re-produced (we might say: neurally translated) in different ways, so that all linguistic translations would be translations of translation, distancing us from the real things, rather than getting us closer to them.  In his Zibaldone di Pensieri, Leopardi devoted many pages to the cognitive and expressive processes that govern the complex relationship between the so-called external objects, or real things, and their mental representation. Such a relationship is further problematized, and its consequences are explicitly developed in the frame of his reflections on translation in terms that recall Benjamin’s approach to the question:

To grasp the genuine relationship between an original and a translation requires an investigation analogous in its intention to the argument by which a critique of cognition would have to prove the impossibility of a theory of imitation. In the latter, it is a question of showing that in cognition there could be no objectivity, not even a claim to it, if this were to consist in imitations of the real; in the former, one can demonstrate that no translation would be possible if in its ultimate essence it strove for likeness to the original (Benjamin 1996: 256).

Anyway, in the same train of thought about the mind as a camera obscura, Leopardi states something very interesting about the problem of translation into another language: “Siccome ciascuno pensa nella sua lingua, o in quella che gli è più familiare, così ciascuno gusta e sente nella stessa lingua le qualità delle scritture fatte in qualunque lingua [Just as each person thinks in his own language, or in the language that is most familiar to him, so too each appreciates and hears in the same language the qualities of written texts created in any language]  (Z 963 20-22 October 1821).” We can spot here an enigmatic opposition between written texts and the acoustic or qualitative appreciation of language: even though the very translation of Italian sente into English is problematic, as it can be related to internal sentire (that is “to feel”) or to the hearing sense, that is udire. Italian gusta, here translated as “appreciates,” could be also adequately translated as “tastes”, not to mention the fact that sapore and assaporare (deverbative) mean properly and respectively “taste” and “to taste”. Such a reflection on the ‘relative’ appreciation of language must be framed against the backdrop of the extensive thinking Leopardi dedicated during his entire life to the opposition between orality and literacy. As it emerges from the Zibaldone and the Operette Morali, Leopardi thinks that, on the one hand, literacy is one of the main causes of the contemporary anthropological decline while, on the other, it could well constitute a fatal obstacle to the revivification of what he considered the three ‘moral’ literary genres par excellence of the ancient world, that is oratory, drama and epic.

In Leopardi’s anthropological (and poetical) appreciation of modernity, literacy can be an element of decline paradoxically as “[w]ritten texts pass through the hands of the entire nation and endure even after the one who made them can no longer speak (le scritture vanno per le mani di tutta la nazione, e durano anche dopo che quegli che le fece, non può più parlare (Z 1203, 22 June 1821).” In other words, and in view of his beliefs regarding the oral origins of poetry, the preservation of memory, and fame, literacy in a sense deprived poetry of life, as it removed the need of live performance by the poet and of live experience by the audiences, and, more importantly, abolished the necessary transmigration of poetry from mouth to mouth, breaking off the possibility of the co-evolution of composition and reception, or, from another angle, that of cultural creation and consumption, ‘unnaturally’ isolating the alleged ‘author’ from his audiences, which in turn became an indistinct mass of silent and rather passive readers – maybe far way in another place and time –, and this only when a written and ‘published’ work would actually be read. The way Leopardi tapped into Vico’s thought about the figure of ‘Homer’ when discussing the relationship between the former and Wolf in the so-called Homeric question is illuminating about this point:

[Wolf] non nomina punto mai il nostro Vico, il quale de’ cinque libri de’ suoi Principj di Scienza nuova, 3.a ediz. Napoli 1744. ne ha uno, cioè il 3.o intitolato Della discoverta del vero Omero, tutto dedicato alle quistioni Wolfiane. Nel qual libro, con minore abbondanza e sviluppamento di prove che il Wolf, ma pure con buone e forti ragioni, alcune delle quali non toccate da esso Wolf, asserisce e dimostra che Omero non lasciò scritto niuno de’ suoi poemi (p.399.), poichè infin’a’ tempi di esso Omero, ed alquanto dopo di lui non si era ritrovata ancora la Scrittura Volgare (p.394.); “che perciò i popoli greci cotanto contesero della di lui patria, e ‘l vollero quasi tutti lor cittadino, perchè essi popoli greci furono quest’Omero (p.404.);” “che perciò varjno cotanto l’oppenioni d’intorno alla di lui età, perchè un tal’Omero veramente egli visse per le bocche e nella memoria di essi popoli greci dalla Guerra Trojana fin’a’ tempi di Numa, che fanno lo spazio di quattrocentosessant’anni (p.404.)”

[Wolf never names our own Vico, the third of whose five books of Principj di scienza nuova, 3rd ed., Naples 1744 he had entitled “On the discovery of the true Homer,” which was wholly dedicated to Wolf’s questions. In this book— which has less and more poorly developed evidence than Wolf, but nevertheless has good and powerful arguments, some of which are not touched upon by Wolf—Vico asserts and demonstrates “that Homer left none of his poems in writing” (p. 399), “for up to the time of Homer and indeed somewhat afterward, a common script had not yet been invented” (p. 394); “that the reason why the Greek peoples so vied with each other for the honor of being his homeland, and why almost all claimed him as citizen, is that the Greek peoples were themselves Homer” (p. 404); “that the reasons why opinions as to his age vary so much is that our Homer truly lived on the lips and in the memories of the peoples of Greece throughout the whole period from the Trojan War down to the time of Numa, a span of 460 years” (p. 404)] (Z 4395, 26 September 1828).

Leopardi’s devaluing of literacy and written texts can be also well appreciated when understood in relation to what he considers it should be (and back then was) the actual ‘publication’ of a poetic work, that is a technical means to safely entrust it to memory while providing durable fame to its author and an occasion for cultural exchange and growth for his audience:

In quella letteratura antiscritturale, il solo modo di pubblicare i propri componimenti, era il cantarli esso, o insegnarli ad altri che li cantassero. Fuitque diu haec (ars rhapsodorum) unica via publice prodendi ingenii (Wolf par.23. p. XCVIII)

[In that literature before writing, the only way for people to make their own compositions public was to sing them, or teach them to others who would sing “Indeed, this” (the art of the rhapsodes) “was for a long time the only way to reveal one’s genius in public (Wolf § 23. p. XCVIII”] (Z 4345, 21-22 August 1828).

And, according to Leopardi’s vision, the final, most negative and also unintended consequence of this state of things affects fame and ‘immortality’:

E qui è curioso e filosofico, egualmente che tristo, il riflettere che Omero senza desiderare nè aspirare all’immortalità, l’ha ottenuta; e noi che la desideriamo, noi per effetto appunto della scrittura che ci ha ispirato tal desiderio, non l’otterremo. I versi e gli eroi di Omero, fidati alla sola memoria, han varcati quasi 30 secoli, e dureranno quanto, per dir così, la presente stirpe umana, quanto la presente cronologia; i nostri componimenti ed i nostri eroi, fidati alla scrittura, che avrebbe oramai de’ milioni di componimenti e di eroi da conservare, non giungeranno appena alla generazione futura. Altro paradosso verissimo: la scrittura che sola o principalmente ha prodotto l’idea e ‘l desiderio della immortalità, la scrittura considerata come istrumento di essa immortalità, la medesima moltiplicando a dismisura gli oggetti consegnati alla tradizione, sola o principalmente, ha reso a quest’ora impossibile il conseguirla. Anche i sommi uomini, scrittori e fatti si perdono ora necessariamente nella folla: consegnati alla sola memoria, non si confondevano in gran moltitudine, e quell’istrumento in apparenza sì debole, dico la memoria semplice, sapeva ben conservarli a perpetuità. Il che non può più la scrittura. Essa nuoce alla fama, di cui è creduta il fonte e l’organo principalissimo e necessario.

[And here it is curious and philosophical, as well as sad, to consider that Homer achieved immortality without desiring or aspiring to it; and we who desire it, we, by the very effect of writing, which has inspired such a desire, will not achieve it. The verses and the heroes of Homer, entrusted to memory alone, have crossed almost 30 centuries, and will last, so to speak, as long as the human race, as long as our present conception of time; our compositions and our heroes, entrusted to writing, which must now have millions of compositions and heroes to preserve, will barely survive the future generation. Another very true paradox: writing which (alone or principally) has produced the idea and the desire for immortality, writing considered as an instrument of immortality itself, that same writing, by multiplying beyond measure the objects consigned to tradition, has (alone or principally) now made immortality impossible to achieve. Even great men, writers, and events are now necessarily lost in the crowd: when consigned to memory alone, they did not become mixed up among a great multitude, and that instrument which was apparently so weak, by which I mean simple memory, was well able to preserve them in perpetuity. Which writing can no longer do. Writing does harm to fame, of which it is believed to be the source and principal and necessary organ] (Z 4348-49, 21-22 August 1828).

These profound beliefs do not prevent Leopardi from being rather astonished by the intrinsic power of preservation and conservation of writing, as he clearly admits when discussing the possibility of exact and accurate oral transmission for extended texts, in particular how longer canti

si sieno, non solo quanto al soggetto, ma quanto alle parole, conservati nella memoria semplice degli ascoltanti in maniera, che trasmessi poi fedelmente di bocca in bocca per più secoli, distinti ben bene ne’ loro versi (ritmici o metrici poco vale), ora dopo 30 secoli si leggano begli e stampati in milioni d’esemplari, che li conserveranno ai futuri secoli in perpetuo.

 […have been preserved in the memory of the listeners, not only in their subject matter but in their actual words, in such a way as to be faithfully transmitted from mouth to mouth for many centuries, well divided into their verses (irrespective of whether by rhythm or meter) and that now, after 30 centuries, they can still be read, and are printed in millions of copies which will preserve them for future centuries in perpetuity] (Z 4323, 24-31 July 1828).

Coming back through this last text to the difficult question of accuracy and fidelity and to formulate a possible and provisional answer, we must now return to the fascinating similitude that closes Leopardi’s thought about fedeltà that I cited at the beginning of these remarks on his ‘theory’ on translation: the final result of removing Homeric words from Homeric verse would be “like a leafless tree branch” (come un ramo senza foglie). In Leopardi’s thinking, a leafless tree branch is a lifeless tree branch, or, better, an un-poetic branch, a branch with no voice. A decisive contribution to understanding Leopardi’s theoretical position comes from his poetry – in this specific question as well as in general, a point on which I will elaborate in a moment.

Such is the case of L’Infinito: this brief, 15-line work, composed sometime between spring and fall 1819, is the first of Leopardi’s ‘idylls’ and one of the most celebrated of his Canti. 1819 was a fundamental year in Leopardi’s intellectual evolution and, more generally, in his life, when, as the poet recalls in the Zibaldone, he was almost deprived of his sight and, consequently, of the pleasure of reading, and he began to feel his unhappiness in a bleaker way, becoming “a professional philosopher, instead of the poet I was before (a divenir filosofo di professione (di poeta ch’io era) (Z 144, 2 July 1820).” In the poem, Giacomo imagines himself hearing the sound of wind (its voice) in the trees and comparing it to the (also imagined) infinite silence:

[…] E come il vento

Odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello

Infinito silenzio a questa voce

Vo comparando […]

L’Infinito 8-11

Italian odo of line 9 is the third person singular of udire “to hear”. The poet hears the voice of the wind in the leafy trees and is reminded of the infinite silence, that silence which paradoxically is the mute source of his profound pleasure. The poet is, in a sense, surprised and stunned by the appearance (or, better, the conjuring) of the infinito in his imagination, and he experiences a sense of awe that brings him on the edge of fear. “The metaphoric gesture of bringing together the familiar rustle of the wind, “stormir,” and the infinite silence results in an exchange of values: the almost human voice of the wind, “questa voce,” becomes closer and dearer in the shadow of the nonhuman silence (Babuts 2006: 75),” while the infinite silence acquires a corporeal and objective appeal that would be absent without the ‘acoustic’ presence of the wind. If, from a ‘physiological’ point of view, the wind symbolizes the possibility to breathe again after a paralyzing moment of fear (Paolini 2021: 279), breathing articulates itself quite immediately in words, that is in poetry. In sum, the whole idyll consists in a (metaphorical) oscillation between infinite absence and corporeal presence, between silence and sound, and, from an emotional perspective, between fear and pleasure. These alternate possibilities are expressed by “metric and sound waves that expand themselves and are deadened by silence and fear right at the middle of L’Infinito, after the first half of line 8 [onde metriche e sonore che si espandono e si ricontraggono nel silenzio e nello spavento esattamente nel mezzo dell’Infinito, dopo il primo emistichio del verso ottavo] (Paolini 2021: 269).”

In other words, that silence must be evoked and translated in the poet’s present situation by a voice in order to become actual poetry. But, as Leopardi clearly expresses in a famous passage from the Zibaldone where he compares music to other arts:

La parola nella poesia ec. non ha tanta forza d’esprimere il vago e l’infinito del sentimento se non applicandosi a degli oggetti, e perciò producendo un’impressione sempre secondaria e meno immediata, perchè la parola come i segni e le immagini della pittura e scultura hanno una significazione determinata e finita.

[Words in poetry, etc., do not have as much power in expressing the vagueness and infiniteness of feeling unless they are applied to objects, and therefore produce an impression that is always secondary and less immediate, because words, like marks and images in painting and sculpture, have a specific and finite meaning] (Z 79-80, written between December 1818 and January 1820).

It’s up to the poet within his creative effort to find a satisfactory way to bestow such a power on words, so that they can express readily and immediately the vagueness and infiniteness of feeling and of the inner emotional world confronted with and aroused by nature. According to Leopardi’s vision, ancient Greek was the perfect tool for this endeavor, as “the splendor of Greek language identifies itself with the immediacy of sensorial perception [lo splendore della lingua greca [si] identifica con l’immediatezza della percezione sensoriale (Folin 2019: 118).”

Keeping in mind what Leopardi thought about the relationship between sound and silence in poetry, and also about the best available poetic ‘tool’ to express immediately the vagueness and infiniteness of feeling, as well as about the role of voice in that expression, I can now go back to the original question about the accuracy and fidelity of poetic translations, and, in particular, to the tentative and actual solution of the problem of translating faithfully Homeric poetry, which, by no accident, was composed in the most suitable language (that is Ancient Greek) and contextually ‘published’ in the most effective way (that is orally). Before proposing no more than a ‘working hypothesis’ as an answer to this rather heuristic question, I find it necessary to stress once more how, as in the case of L’Infinito, for Leopardi poetry can be envisioned as an interplay between silence and sound, and, from the point of view of performance and reception, as a collaboration between poet (acoustically inspired) and audience (attentive to his and their feeling), or, to frame the situation into Parryan terms, between singer and listeners. Having said that and as a working hypothesis, I assume that what Leopardi envisioned as fedeltà is faithfulness to Homeric poetry as song, that is, as an acoustic product semantically and rhythmically (or rather ‘formulaically’) articulated. In other words, Leopardi’s mind was captured and fascinated by the challenging task of re-producing kléos, that is, in Gregory Nagy’s words, “‘glory, fame, that which is heard’ or ‘the poem or song that conveys glory, fame, that which is heard’ (Nagy 2013: 25),” or, according to Charles Segal’s famous definition “the social hearing of fame (1994: 105-106)” formatted as a poetic product. In this respect, the tale(s) about Odysseus’ return from his voyages sung by ‘Homer’ do(es) not differ very much from the voyage from silence and fear to sound and pleasure imagined and poetically expressed by Giacomo Leopardi, even to the extent that such an acoustic experiment was actually accessible to a ‘modern’ (and non-Greek) poet and technically re-produceable.

How then can a translator (or a poet-translator) do that, if he ever can? What about Leopardi and his own Saggio di Traduzione dell’Odissea? We have no other choice than to follow Giacomo’s reasoning in the introductory remarks to that essay and then to appreciate the sound of his poetic translation. Before I proceed to analyze some significant samples from the text, I want to clarify that when I quoted passages from the Zibaldone written years later to ‘explain’ the criteria and to evaluate the final result of an 1816 translation, I stayed substantially true to Leopardi’s own mentality and its chronological and ‘existential’ development: as Luigi Blasucci recalled (in his own voice: Blasucci 2019), theory often followed poetic praxis in Leopardi, as his was poesia pensante “thinking poetry”.

In the short Introduction (I will call it Preambolo as it is called in the Spettatore Italiano) preceding his translation to the first book of the Odyssey, Leopardi emphatically challenges the readers to check randomly (apra a caso) the fidelity of his own translation (se io mi sia fedelmente attenuto all’originale) of the Homeric verses ([..] paragoni il verso che incontrerà colla mia traduzione). But, in part contrarily to this emphatic assertion, the poet himself immediately afterwards pick out two passages (or, rather, two words) in order to practice such an exercise as an example (per cagione di esempio). Are we really confronted with two randomly chosen passages among many others or do the lines cited have a particular significance in Leopardi’s concept (and practice) of a faithful translation? As often happens to be true, what Leopardi explicitly says is only a part of what he wants us to understand.

The first Homeric line Leopardi discusses is Odyssey i 50:

[…] ὅθι τ’ ὀμφαλός ἐστι θαλάσσης

While other translators might have chosen “where is the center of the sea (che è nel mezzo del mare)” as a correct and accurate translation, Leopardi’s own choice is ove del mare è l’umbilico “where is the navel of the sea.” He rejects both a purely metaphoric understanding of ὀμφαλός and a more generic and non-literal translation of the word ὀμφαλός as “center” and motivates the choice through the specific resonance of the word ὀμφαλός with the mythical thinking of the ancient Greeks. Indeed, Leopardi reverses the assumption that if translators know (and they should) that Delphi was considered the center of the earth because of the (mythos regarding the) ὀμφαλός, they may translate the Homeric ὀμφαλός as “center” not only without losing anything in translation, but really adding something, that is clarity, by substituting a seemingly plainer word as “center” and, in a certain sense, by ‘neutralizing’ a metaphor that was (and is) rather opaque in current Italian. As a matter of fact, archaic and poetic umbilico is represented by ombelico “navel”, a word that has no metaphoric relevance in any idiomatic phrase except where the navel of Delphi or l’ombelico del mondo (“the navel of the world”) are concerned. In other words, Leopardi labels his translation as difficilior and “center” as facilior. As I shall try to demonstrate, I do not think this is the whole truth. Italian umbilico is from latin umbilicus, in turn from umbo, a word genetically cognate with ὀμφαλός. Now, as it certainly did not escape Leopardi who often reflected upon the original sound of ancient Greek aspirated sounds, the sound of spoken umb- in umbilicus is very likely to be pretty similar to the sound of ὀμφ-. Young Giacomo does not miss the opportunity to highlight this word in the construction of his verse by a harsh enjambement:

Tutta cinta dall’acque, ove del mare

È l’umbilico […]

Saggio di Traduzione i 70-71

This ‘acoustic’ and etymologically correct choice was admittedly suggested by the bilingual (Greek and Latin) edition of Bergler (1707) that Leopardi followed for his translation: Bergler translates ubi umbilicus est maris, even though the Latin expression has no rhythmical relevance and occupies the second half of the line. I will come back later to the linguistic (and ‘rhythmic’) relationship between the Greek text, the Latin version and Leopardi’s own translation once I discuss the poet’s rendering of Odyssey i 49-54, that is the passage containing this first sample of translation.

Now, the second esempio Leopardi picks out is from line 241:

νῦν δέ μιν ἀκλειῶς Ἅρπυιαι ἀνηρέψαντο […]

Telemakhos is speaking, and he is lamenting the presumed death at sea of his father without a proper burial and, as a consequence, without kléos in the days to come both for him and his son (ἠδέ κε καὶ ᾧ παιδὶ μέγα κλέος ἤρατ’ὀπίσσω i 240). The point Leopardi is making is that the word Ἅρπυιαι should not be a noun meaning Harpies (and the translation should not be “the Harpies have swept him away without kléos”) but a feminine participle from an ancient verb ἅρπω (he amply explores the question in Z 2786-92 and elsewhere) used as an adjective meaning rapaci “rapacious” and being an antonomasia alluding to the Parcae ([…] quella parola è un participio femminino plurale, forse dal tema inusitato ἅρπω, che vale rapaci ed è un’antonomasia delle Parche [… The word ἁρπυῖαι could easily be a feminine participle of an ancient verb ἅρπω meaning ‘rapacious’ and it is used by antonomasia to suggest the Parcae]):

τῶ κέν οἱ τύμβον μὲν ἐποίησαν Παναχαιοί,
ἠδέ κε καὶ ᾧ παιδὶ μέγα κλέος ἤρατ’ ὀπίσσω.
νῦν δέ μιν ἀκλειῶς Ἅρπυιαι ἀνηρέψαντο·

Od. i 239-241

Tutti avrebbon gli Achei fatta una tomba,

E immensa fama al suo figliuolo ancora

Restata ne saria. Ma l’han tolto

inonorato le rapaci Parche […]

Saggio di Traduzione 323-325

ἀκλειῶς is inonorato in Leopardi’s translation and it opens a line that amounts to a juxtaposition of the adverb and the rapaci Parche without a finite verb (which is anticipated in enjambement in the preceding line), thanks also to the verbal nature of ἄρπυιαι in his understanding of the word. While the modern translators (and ancient commentators) might have been led astray by the common use of ἄρπυιαι as an appellative, Leopardi regards such a translation as an anachronism, for at the time of Homer the word was used in a participial or adjectival sense: putting together Leopardi’s philological comments and his translation we must understand that the rapacious Parcae snatched away Odysseus’ (and Telemakhos’) kléos. In Leopardi’s opinion the true understanding of ἄρπυιαι, and hence its faithful translation, depends upon the true and historically correct understanding of the values and language of an ancient oral culture.

At this point, I cannot go further in my analysis without taking into consideration Leopardi’s translation of the first line of the Odyssey:

Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ

Leopardi’s translation of ἔννεπε is cantami:

L’uom dal saggio avvisar cantami, o Diva,

Che con diverso error […]

Saggio di Traduzione 1-2

Giacomo was likely influenced by Vincenzo Monti’s (Cantami, o Diva, del Pelide Achille […]) and Ugo Foscolo’s (Lira, o Dea, canta del Pelide Achille) translations (respectively 1810 and 1807) of the incipit of the Iliad. Yet, cantami is not a literal or very accurate translation of ἔννεπε as it could possibly be of ἄειδε. In fact, Leopardi prefers cantare “to sing” over dire “to speak” or narrare “to tell”, distancing himself from Ippolito Pindemonte’s version (written in 1809 and published in 1822) of the passage: Musa, quell’uom di moltiforme ingegno / Dimmi, che molto errò [Tell me, o Muse, of the man of many ways, driven far astray]. Furthermore, in this case the poet also disregards Bergler’s Latin: Virum dic mihi Musa versutum. As it were, the choice appears to be consonant with the interest Leopardi had in the oral origins of Homeric poetry and in the aural dimension of poetic diction as song since his early years. For the sake of clarity, I recall that while the concepts of orality and aurality are often and usefully interconnected in linguistic thinking and literary criticism, they must not be confused. The adjective oral describes something that is spoken, often in contrast with writing, whereas the adjective aural refers to sounds as perceived by the ear and emphasizes the acoustic role of communication and the link between acoustics and semantics. From his early youth on, Leopardi developed a largely ‘auditory’ conception of language, partly contrasted with a ‘visualist’ conception uniquely or mainly associated with writing: the quoted thought recorded in the Zibaldone on 28 May 1821 about the poet’s first remembrance of musk pears and their ‘resonation’ in spoken language is, once more, telling. To use Ong’s terms, he was always attracted by an “oral-aural economy of sound (Ong 1977: 126).” In 1818 Leopardi began to collect some “canzonette popolari che si cantavano al mio tempo a Recanati” [Popular songs that were sung in my time in Recanati (Z 29, December 1818)] and this fascination with folklore, which, once again, he had in common with Parry, played no small role also in the compositional history of some of his masterpieces, as in the case of A Silvia and the poetic fragment Il canto della fanciulla describing a feminine song resonating in the streets of Pisa on April 1828 (see Camilletti 2013: 47).

To better evaluate Leopardi’s poetical and acoustic sensibility, I will presently discuss his translation of Odyssey i 49-54, a passage already focused on by other scholars because of the stylistic and linguistic choices made by the young translator for the construction of the Italian text. On my part, I will analyze how Leopardi tries to preserve the cadence and the ‘sound’ of the epic diction. I will reproduce first the Homeric text, then Leopardi’s translation followed by the Latin version by Bergler (an edited cento from the best Latin translations available, as the scholar claims on the cover):


δυσμόρῳ, ὃς δὴ δηθὰ φίλων ἄπο πήματα πάσχει
νήσῳ ἐν ἀμφιρύτῃ, ὅθι τ’ ὀμφαλός ἐστι θαλάσσης,
νῆσος δενδρήεσσα, θεὰ δ’ ἐν δώματα ναίει,
Ἄτλαντος θυγάτηρ ὀλοόφρονος, ὅς τε θαλάσσης
πάσης βένθεα οἶδεν, ἔχει δέ τε κίονας αὐτὸς
μακράς, αἳ γαῖάν τε καὶ οὐρανὸν ἀμφὶς ἔχουσι.

Od. i 49-54


Misero! Che lontan da’ cari suoi

Da gran tempo sopporta immensi affanni

In un’isola d’arbori nutrice

Tutta cinta dall’acque, ove del mare

È l’umbilico, e dove in sua magione

Ha ricetto una dea figlia d’Atlante

Cui tutto è noto, che del mar gli abissi

Tutti conosce, e che la terra e il cielo

Sopra colonne altissime sorregge.

Saggio di Traduzione 71-79


Infelice, qui iam diu procul ab amicis calamitates patitur

Insula in circumflua, ubi umbilicus est maris,

Insula sylvosa: dea vero intra domum habitat

Atlantis filia multiscii, qui maris

Omnis profunditates novit, sustinet autem columnas ipse

Longas, quae terramque et coelum disterminant […]

Od. [Bergl. Lat.] i 49-54

Athena is speaking and she stresses to her father Zeus that Odysseus suffers sorrows and languishes, far from his loved ones on Kalypso’s remote island. Four decades ago, Antonino Sole (1982) in a study on Leopardi’s translation of the first book of the Odyssey, noticed the rhythmic effect of the quasi-anaphoric repetition tutta, tutto, tutti in the Italian translation, suggesting a kind of fairy-tale style amplification by Leopardi in relation to the isolated πάσης of the Homeric text. In fact, Leopardi’s philological appetite and accuracy prompted him to consider carefully the work of ancient commentators: here, his choice is also motivated by the etymology of Atlas’ epithet, ὀλοόφρων, proposed by the Byzantine scholar and rhetorician Eustathius of Thessalonica who composed two commentaries on the Iliad and the Odyssey during the latter half of the twelfth century CE. Giacomo was influenced by the Latin translation for ὀλοόφρων, multiscius, too, and by the necessity or the intention to render the composed adjective ἀμφίρῠτῃ (circumflua in Bergler) with a periphrasis. Having said that, I think that Leopardi was mainly attracted and fascinated by the formulaic system of the passage, that is by the formulas and their inner rhythms producing the overall hexametric rhythm: formulas like νήσῳ ἐν ἀμφιρύτῃ, νῆσος δενδρήεσσα, Ἄτλαντος θυγάτηρ ὀλοόφρονος, ὅς τε θαλάσσης, πάσης βένθεα οἶδεν (and their relative position in the verse) fatally enticed Leopardi’s mind and delighted his auditory imagination. It is probable that the Latin version contributed as a stimulus to such a rhythmically enhanced translation, as Bergler opens the first three verses with the ‘triplet’ infelice, insula, insula and maintains the enjambement between θαλάσσης and πάσης. Giacomo Leopardi’s linguistic (and comparatistic) interests explain the fact that many philological reflections in the Zibaldone are devoted to ancient Greek (and Latin) participles, as we saw for the word ἄρπυιαι. A formula like νῆσος δενδρήεσσα with its acoustic fascination and linguistic (that is Homeric) flavor could not escape Leopardi’s attention: the young poet chooses to expand it into a full hendecasyllable (In un’isola d’arbori nutrice) while the adjective ἀμφιρύτῃ is postponed to the next hendecasyllable and occupies the first part of it (until the caesura — here the rhythmical pattern is settenario (a seven-syllable line)+ quinario (a five-syllable line)). Similarly, the formula I discussed above ὅθι τ’ ὀμφαλός ἐστι θαλάσσης which follows the penthemimeral caesura and constitutes the second part of the hexameter is broken by means of enjambement. In this way, the Greek word order is reversed and umbilico is highlighted at the beginning of line 75 for the reasons I suggested above and to compensate by a marked rhythm for the impossibility of reproducing the hexametric pattern. As a corollary, we may note that while Bergler literally doubles insula to match the anaphoric polyptoton νήσῳ νῆσος, Leopardi chooses to limit himself to only one isola dovetailing ἀμφιρύτῃ and δενδρήεσσα by the insertion of tutta at the beginning of line 74. So, exactly where Giacomo seems to contradict his own agenda by removing Homeric words he actually implements the criterion he would explicitly specify years in the future: “[Homer] is not Homer in a literal Latin translation.” That last remark refers to the opening of line 71 of the Saggio (I quote the text according to Leopardi 1999): Misero! translates Greek δυσμόρῳ. Besides being a better translation than Bergler’s Infelice, the phonetic similarity between misero and δυσμόρῳ is not accidental and it can be considered a further compensation for the loss of one νήσ- and a casual reproach to the inelegant and rather inefficacious Infelice insula insula printed by Bergler. This instance sums up tellingly how Leopardi’s actual translation praxis precedes and, in a sense, generates his own theoretical position. In other words, Leopardi’s aim seems to be, from the beginning, not to follow and confirm a methodological course, but to find a way to reproduce the Homeric rhythm and diction by way of actual poetic practice, and to do all that without being unfaithful to the original or inaccurate, especially since, in his opinion, he regards this choice as the only way to accomplish such a feat. Giacomo feels that the solution to the problem is not strictly technical, but performative.

To conclude these remarks on the Saggio, I will address the words of little or “no significance” (di niun rilievo) which, according to Leopardi, cannot be suppressed at any rate by the translator without losing all Homeric flavor (sapore omerico). Young Giacomo is not always consistent in translating (or not translating) particles like γε or δέ. Again, I follow Sole (Sole 1982: 603) in selecting the passage to discuss, as I will comment on Leopardi’s translation of Penelope’s famous request to Phemios, but I will proceed from a different perspective and in order to make a completely different point:

δακρύσασα δ’ ἔπειτα προσηύδα θεῖον ἀοιδόν·

Φήμιε, πολλὰ γὰρ ἄλλα βροτῶν θελκτήρια οἶδας
ἔργ’ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε, τά τε κλείουσιν ἀοιδοί·

τῶν ἕν γέ σφιν ἄειδε παρήμενος, οἱ δὲ σιωπῇ
οἶνον πινόντων· ταύτης δ’ ἀποπαύε’ ἀοιδῆς
λυγρῆς […]

Od. i 336-341

Al divino Cantor si volse, e disse

Lacrimando così: Femio, molt’altri

Canti di che diletto hanno i mortali,

E molte opre sai tu d’uomini e Dei,

Cui celebrano i vati. Or qui sedendo

Una ne canta, mentre quelli il vino

Cheti beendo van: ma questa lascia

Dolorosa canzon […]

Saggio di Traduzione 447-455

In the Italian version the two adversative δέ are not only translated (mentre, ma), but emphasized as they are inserted after punctuation marks and metrical pause (respectively, caesura after the quinario at 353 and after the settenario at 354); similarly, γε at 352 is translated as or “now” and is posited after the settenario and punctuation. By my line of reasoning, it is very important to stress that this passage deals with a singer who is actually singing an epic song about nóstoi, that is to say that Leopardi has the occasion to reproduce in his translation both an ongoing performance and its effects. In this framework and as expected, ἄειδε translates as canta “sing” in Italian and ἀοιδῆς as canzon “song”. Penelope is crying (lacrimando) as she listens to the nóstoi, and she addresses the aoidós (cantor) in order to re-direct his performance. The copulative δ’(έ) (ἔπειτα) of line 336 is not literally translated, but rather substituted by si volse, e “turned toward him and”. As I mentioned, Leopardi is describing an ongoing performance, and he tries also to stress the role and the spatial position of the audience and the effects produced on them as well. Si volse is a reflexive verb in Italian (si meaning “herself”) and is chosen by Leopardi to reproduce the sequential sense of ἔπειτα: in fact, while the Greek adverb indicates mainly a temporal sequence, in the Italian version the verb is able to communicate this sense only in connection with the copulative e (disse) and in relation with the preceding ristette which translates παρέστη “stood by” of line 335: such a sequence in the Italian text describes a spatial relation too, because Penelope’s emotional reaction makes her turn toward Phemios after standing by the doorpost and listening to the singer. Moreover, volgersi a means both “turning toward someone” and “get doing something (different from what has been done before)”. To sum up, Leopardi’s translation of δ’ ἔπειτα is made according to his desire to re-produce the actual situation of the performance and to highlight the dynamics dependent upon its progress and effects. Leopardi is also apparently able to grasp the metalinguistic function of δέ as discourse boundary marker “between foci of consciousness (Bakker 1997: 63),” by which the performer marks the relation of the current discourse with the knowledge shared between himself and the audience, signals a substantial discontinuity, and redirects the narrative from stasis to movement, or from one (cognitive) frame to another.

Yet, Giacomo seems to have made the opposite choices, too and, contrary to his own claims, lost in translation words di niun rilievo or made a literal translation (as apparently happened also in the occurrence of umbilico). As a case study, I will discuss his translation of Od. i 43-45:

τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη·
“ὦ πάτερ ἡμέτερε Κρονίδη, ὕπατε κρειόντων,
καὶ λίην κεῖνός γε ἐοικότι κεῖται ὀλέθρῳ […]

A lui Minerva dalle azzurre luci

Così poscia rispose: O nostro padre,

Saturnio Dio, sommo de’ Re, tal sorte

Quel meritossi assai. Così perisca […]

Saggio di Traduzione 61-64

As we can easily see, this time ἔπειτα is translated as poscia (archaic for poi “then”) but the enclitic particle γε is not translated. Let’s start from the latter: according to Nagy’s metrical explanation (Nagy 1974: 21-22) of the hexametric pattern and in his terminology, the initial part of verse 45 ends technically with a trochaic caesura and the formula ends at κεῖνός γε, so that κεῖνος functions as an X formula. In other words, γε is syntactically dependent on and inseparable from the κεῖνος. I would suggest that Leopardi’s acoustic imagination sensed that formulaic pattern and his linguistic sensibility confirmed the insight: to preserve the Homeric flavor (sapore omerico) γε does not require any semantic translation. On the contrary, the ‘loss’ of the particle allows Leopardi to summarize Aegisthus’ due in the quinario that constitutes the first part of the hendecasyllable (Quel meritossi assai) marked by the preceding enjambement (tal sorte), so that a dramatic rhythm is performed. As far as ἔπειτα is concerned, and its translation as poscia, we must notice that it is preceded by the adverb così “in this way,” apparently as translation of the particle δέ. Once more, since the formula τὸν δ’ ἠμείβετ’ ἔπειτα constitutes the first part of verse 43 ending with a trochaic caesura, Leopardi in his translation tries to capture and re-produce the Homeric rhythm, creating a settenario (così poscia rispose), which opens the hendecasyllable and is followed by punctuation — all this accomplished by the semantic ‘amplification’ of δέ as così.

Before concluding, since I stressed the importance of rhythm in Leopardi’s translation, I need to clarify what the poetic translator intended by way of rhythm and how he correlated rhythm and metrical verse. This clarification will help us to grasp the essence of Leopardi’s deep understanding of Homer and the Homeric epics as well as to fathom the effort he put into producing a faithful translation, without losing sapore omerico. A brilliant precursor of Milman Parry, Giacomo Leopardi did not view epic verse as a rhythmical system (that is, as a meter) into which the poet fits his words; rather, words and groups of words are joined together in such a way to produce the overall rhythm and the quality of epic diction, what he calls the sapore omerico. Reflecting on the composition of the Homeric poems in the summer of 1828 when he was also reading and commenting on Wolf’s Prolegomena, Leopardi wrote in Florence that, in his opinion, “ [Omero] incominciasse le sue narrazioni dove ben gli parve, le continuasse indefinitamente senza proporsi una meta, le terminasse quando fu sazio di cantare, senza immaginarsi di esser giunto a uno scopo, senza intender di dare una conclusione al suo canto, nè di aver esaurita la materia o de’ fatti, o del suo piano, che nessuno egli n’ebbe. Aggiungo che credo ancora che i suoi versi fossero ritmici, non metrici, fatti cioè ad un certo suono, non ad una regolata e costante misura; alla quale (mediante però l’ammissione di quelle loro infinite irregolarità ed anomalie, che furono chiamate e si chiamano eccezioni, licenze, ed ancora regole) fossero ridotti in séguito dai diascheuasti ec. [[Homer] began his narrations wherever he felt like it, he continued them indefinitely without aiming for a particular destination, he ended them when he was tired of singing, without imagining that he had reached an end, without intending to bring his song to a conclusion, nor having exhausted the material or the events, or his plan, since he had none. I would add that I still think that his verses were rhythmical, not metrical, in other words made to a certain sound, not to a regular and constant measure, and that they were reduced to this by the diaskeuasts, etc. (through the admission of those infinite irregularities and anomalies of theirs, which were and are called exceptions, license, and even rules)] (Z 4322 26-31 July 1828).”

Since Leopardi was also well aware that poetry had entirely different rhythms in different languages, the task he set himself was nothing less than reproducing the overall rhythm of epic in his hendecasyllables. He achieved this goal by the means of selection and substitution, both at a lexical and at a syntactic level: in other words, he always maintained a metonymical and metaphorical approach to the activity of translation, strongly rejecting a literal approach. Tellingly, reflecting on the (presumed) mimetic capacity of the translations into German, he wrote: “Elle non sono imitazioni, ma copie così compagne com’è la copia d’un quadro di tela fatta in tavola, o d’una pittura a fresco fatta a olio, o la copia d’una pittura fatta in mosaico, o tutt’al più in rame inciso, colle medesimissime dimensioni del quadro [These translations are consequently not imitations, but copies as faithful as is the copy of a canvas executed on a wooden panel, or one of a fresco painted in oils, or the copy of a painting done as a mosaic, or perhaps even as a copper engraving on the same scale as the original picture] (Z 1846 29-30 June 1823).”

After having his Saggio di Traduzione published in 1816, Leopardi produced two different translations of the beginning of book ii (one was published more than a century later in 1940, while the other remained unpublished until 1998): his effort substantially stalled and his goal remained unachieved, or, more probably, it had changed. In his early youth Leopardi firmly believed that the perfect command of ancient Greek, intended as a cognitive tool of sensorial immediacy, could grant a ‘magic’ gateway to antiquity, to its naiveté and, consequently, to its unique capacity for poetic creation and performance. Whereas philology was the instrument to gain and exercise such a command, translation was envisioned from a certain moment on as the liminal venue where the modern poet could turn himself into an ancient, or, still better, as an actual occasion for that intrinsic, although temporary, metamorphosis implied in the act of vertere, as Maurizio Bettini (Bettini 2012: 49-57) has showed. The culmination (and also the collapse) of this process was marked in 1816 by the composition in Greek (with Latin translation) of the Odae Adespotae, where Giacomo imitated Anacreon, and by the ‘translation’ into Italian of a Hymn to Neptunus (Inno a Nettuno) whose manuscripts Leopardi claimed were recently discovered in a Roman library. But, as Fabio Camilletti has written, such a linguistic and ‘perceptive’ re-construction, is relative and doomed to failure as “antiquity becomes such only when it is constructed as a charming otherness by a subject who is no longer an ancient (Camilletti 2013: 24).” The very same attempt to preserve and ‘taste’ the sapore omerico through an adequate translation, if considered as a part of this larger endeavor of recovering the unique quality of ancient poetry, is unavoidably condemned to delusion, for the fracture that separates the modern reader from the ancient listener is actually permanent and the cognitive gap unbridgeable. Giacomo Leopardi clearly perceived that the experience of ‘alterity’ is the unique possibility offered to the modern poet in relation to antiquity, and, paradoxically enough, this awareness progressively surfaced through and during his activity of poetical translation, in particular from Homer. But, as a positive result of that practice, he cleared the way to become a modern singer of tales, focusing on the possibility of reviving formulaic pathos, rhythm, and sound in his own ‘modern’ poetry. More than achieving a superb level of clarity and accuracy in translation (what anyway Giacomo Leopardi did), aiming to reproduce the overall rhythm, the quality and the accompanying emotional world of Homeric performance produced the most valuable consequences both in relation to his understanding of the Homeric poems as oral products and for the development of his own poetry, a written product such as only an oral-aural economy of sound could ever sustain and generate. And he felt entitled to do so, as he knew himself to be an avid listener to stories from his infancy:

Mi dicono che io da fanciullino di tre o quattro anni, stava sempre dietro a questa o quella persona perchè mi raccontasse delle favole. E mi ricordo ancor io che in poco maggior età, era innamorato dei racconti, e del maraviglioso che si percepisce coll’udito, o colla lettura (giacchè seppi leggere, ed amai di leggere, assai presto).

[I am told that as a child of three or four I was always pestering someone or other to tell me a tale. And I myself remember that when I was not much older, I loved stories, and the wonderful things you could imagine by listening or reading (for I could already read, and loved reading, very early)] (Z 1401, 28 July 1821).

Attentively listening to Homer and to his own imagination, as he did when the voice of the wind saved him from the terror of the infinite silence, put Giacomo in the position to make sure that nothing ever could be lost in translation, as he tried to share with us the sound of his own emotions through a modern medium and yet an ancient, and living, tradition.

* Translations from the Zibaldone use the English edition by Michael Caesar and Franco D’Intino.



Z = Leopardi, G. (ed. F. Ceragioli and M. Ballerini) 2009. Zibaldone di Pensieri. Bologna.

PP = Leopardi, G. (ed. F. Flora) 1940. Le Poesie e le Prose. Milano.



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