Casa Leopardi, foto Massimo Macconi, 2005 - CC BY-SA 3.0


Giacomo Leopardi, the greatest Italian poet, after living in Recanati, his birthplace, Rome, Milan, Bologna, Florence, Pisa, spent the last years of his life in Naples with his friend Antonio Ranieri and sister of Antonio, Paolina.

He was born in June 29th, 1798 in Recanati, his father was the Count Monaldo of ancient nobility, his mother Adelaide Antici, cousin of Monaldo, also belonged to a local noble family.

Giacomo, the first of seven children, had four brothers in life: Carlo, Paolina, Luigi and Pierfrancesco. His father was a follower of classical education, he had a library with more than twenty thousand volumes; Giacomo did his studies in this library with the support of two tutors, the Jesuit Giuseppe Torres and the abbot Sebastiano Sanchini.

His training was inevitably imbued with classicism. In 1812 the abbot Sanchini thought ended his teaching because he said that the student, 14 years old, had surpassed the master.

Until 1816 Leopardi devoted himself completely to the study, learning different languages: Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, and then the French, English and German. He began his literary production in those years with some essays and various translations from Latin and Greek.

Between 1815 and 1816 he began converting classical erudition to romance, however taking as a model the classics, although Leopards always denied belonging to this literary movement.

James was frail and sickly since a child, growing up his symptoms worsened. He suffered from a strong scoliosis and he had a hump, he believed that it was a result of long hours of desk study, probably he suffered from Pott’s disease, which caused a severe curvature of the spine; this deviation, compressing the lungs, caused breathing difficulties with consequences on the cardiac function.

Now twenty years old, James did not wish to stay at Recanati, where he was not appreciated but teased for his physical deficiencies.

In 1817 he began the “Zibaldone”, a journal of literature that he will end in 1832. He fell in love for the first time, without declaring, cousin Gertrude Cassi Lazzari; he dedicated the poetry “Il primo amore” included in the “Canti” to this love.

In 1819, when he wrote “Alla luna” and “L’infinito”, he organized an escape from Recanati with the help of a family friend, getting a passport to the Lombardo-Veneto. It was discovered by his father and the project was abandoned; in this years he wrote the poems “Il sabato del villaggio” and “Nelle nozze della sorella Paolina”, that marriage was not celebrated since it was discovered at the last moment that the fiancé had enough assets to maintain the bride.

Finally, at 24 years old the permission was given him by his father to go to Rome at his uncle Carlo Antici home, where he stayed for six months. Rome disappointed his expectations, showed provincial and modest in comparison with the image that he was made through the reading of the classics.

In 1825 he moved to Milan, where the publisher Stella gave him the direction of the translation of the works of Cicero. Annoyed by the literary life of Milan, centered around Monti, with the excuse that the weather did not help his illness he moved to Bologna.

Always restless, in June of 1827 he went to Florence, there he met a literary environment that welcomed him. He attended the circle Viesseux where he met Gino Capponi, Nicolò Tommaseo, Pietro Colletta. He met also Manzoni who was in town at that time; he returned at Recanati after a happy time spent in Pisa.

In 1830 he was recalled to Florence by the insistence of circle Viesseux friends, who found a way to assure a source of income to support himself. The year after he was named associate of the “Academia della Crusca”. In this period he became a friend of the young Antonio Ranieri (born in Naples on September 8th, 1806) that was a special surveillance of the Bourbon police for his libertarian ideas.

When Paolina, sister of Giacomo, knew by his friend Anna Brighenti that his brother had made friendly with a young Neapolitan, inexplicably and erroneously she was convinced that this young man was the same Ranieri Roccetti with whom she had been engaged for a month. He had left her to marry a widow, young and beautiful.

Leopardi was elected to the parliament of the provisional government of Bologna was born after the riots of 1831, appointed by the citizens of Recanati; He did not have time to take office as meanwhile the Austrians  resumed power.

At that time he met Fanny Targioni Tozzetti and he fell madly in love, love that soon resulted in disappointment, while Antonio Ranieri maintained a relationship with the same Fanny, called “Aspasia” in poetry, for a long time; Leopardi wrote the “cycle of Aspasia on this occasion.”

Giacomo and Antonio moved to Rome, going to live in the same apartment; as long as Leopardi returned to Florence, while Ranieri went to Naples for serious economic issues that left his family without means of subsistence.

Antonio wrote to Giacomo asking him to Naples, then he went in Tuscany to accompany the poet at Naples.

In 1833, having he had assigned a small income from his father, he moved to Naples with his friend Ranieri, in city he rented a small flat in Vico Pero 2, on the road that leads from the National Museum of the Royal Palace of Capodimonte, near Ranieri family home where he moved along with Antonio that  was basically kept by the poet, because the same had no financial resources because of family failure.

In Naples Leopardi met Paolina, the young sister of Ranieri, who for a time she was his guest, being in the same economic plight of his brother.

Leopardi led a very dissolute life, he lived at night and slept during the day, never waking up before noon. He fed on sweets, of which he was very fond, he drank many cafes and usually ate in a tavern, even during the period when it had spread a cholera epidemic in Naples.

Giacomo, along with Antonio and Paolina Ranieri, spent his summers in Villa Ferrigni in Torre del Greco, owned by the husband of a sister of Ranieri, where he found moments of serenity and happiness. Paolina, who loved him like a brother, nursed and spoiled him affectionately. In Torre del Greco he wrote the poem “Le ginestre” inspired by the nature of that place.

In Naples, also he began the poem “Il tramonto della luna” perhaps foreshadowing his imminent end.

Meanwhile “Le operette morali”, after the censorship of the Bourbon authorities, were put to the index of forbidden books by the Church authorities for the materialistic ideas in them exposed. In Naples, he wrote the opera “I pensieri” and began writing “Paralipomeni della Batracomiomachia”, which he completed before his death dictating the last songs to Antonio Ranieri.
In 1837 his health worsened, on 14th June Leopardi and Ranieri had planned to return to Villa Ferrigni but, in the afternoon, when the carriage that was to take them to the Torre del Greco was already ready, Leopardi sat on the bed, finding it hard breathe.

That morning, to celebrate the birthday of Antonio, Paolina had bought three pounds of sugared almond of Sulmona, that Giacomo is not resisting the sweets ate almost all, then at 5pm he had lunch with the hot broth followed by a sorbet.

Probably this alternation of hot and cold food caused him to congestion, which could not overcome for his precarious state of health, a pulmonary dropsy preventing him from breathing well, toiling heart already ill.

Waiting the doctor, Leopardi dictated the last six verses of “Il tramonto della luna”; some literary critics are inclined to believe that the last verses were not dictated by Leopardi but written by Antonio Ranieri after the poet’s death. 

At 9pm of 14th June 1837, the height of the epidemic of cholera, Giacomo Leopardi died in his home in Vico Pero 2, Naples, comforted by the affection of the whole Ranieri family, with Pauline who assisted him until the last moment ; the medical certificate drawn up by Dr. Stefano Mollica, the same revolutionary shot the messengers of the king from barricades of Via Toledo, initiating the 1848 uprising, spoke of death as a result of “dropsy lung”.

After the death, Antonio Ranieri tried in every way to prevent the body of Leopardi ended in a mass grave in the cemetery of Fontanelle, as all died in those days, but he failed to get the necessary permits from the police authorities, as the Police Minister of the Kingdom had no particular sympathy for him and for Leopardi, as they were under control of the authorities, the first for subversive activities and Leopardi for his writings.

Ranieri, despite everything, he wanted bury the alleged remains of the poet in the Church of San Vitale in Fuorigrotta (now replaced by a new building of a church). For a survey took place in 1900, only fragments of bones and the remains of a shoe and some clothes resulted in tomb, later the shoe was bought by Beniamino Gigli and donated to the city of Recanati. In 1939 the coffin was moved to Parco Vergeliano to Piedigrotta, where it still stands.

Antonio Ranieri withheld the manuscripts of the works of the poet, publishing many of them in his care; for this he was involved in legal dispute for many years with family of Leopardi, the dispute was resolved in 1887 with the delivery of the manuscripts which were then donated to the state by Giacomo Leopardi, nephew of the poet. Ranieri was elected deputy and senator, wrote several literary works with some success.

Adelaide Leopardi, nephew Pierfrancesco the brother of poet, became engaged Amerigo De Gennaro Ferrigni, nephew of Antonio Ranieri and owner of Villa Ferrigni; she moved to Naples for the wedding, suddenly she died, not making time to get married.

(Photo at the top: Casa Leopardi, foto Massimo Macconi, 2005 – CC BY-SA 3.0)