By Fabio A Camilletti
In 1816 a violent literary quarrel engulfed Bourbon recovery Italy. On one facet the Romantics sought after a gap up of Italian tradition in the direction of Europe, and at the different the Classicists favoured an inward-looking Italy. Giacomo Leopardi wrote a Discourse of an Italian on Romantic Poetry aiming to give a contribution to the controversy from a brand new viewpoint.
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Additional info for Classicism and Romanticism in Italian Literature: Leopardi's Discourse on Romantic Poetry
From this angle, the dissolution of the fable is equally pursued through a relativistic approach, operating – in this case – within the sphere of time and history. 68 Through this phase, the a-temporal and immutable dimension of the fable turns into the historical one of erudition, philology and the science of antiquity, by which ancient sources become the object of an inquiry grounded in temporalization and chronological structure,69 or of the archaeological recuperation of Neoclassicism. For the Neoclassical artist, the precept will no longer be – as we will see – the Classicist one of imitatio (imitation), but rather that of æmulatio (emulation): the ‘here and now’ of the fable turns into the acknowledgement that antiquity is forever lost, and that it can be only retrieved through a careful and deeply historicized study of its relics.
Only this aspect can explain why Leopardi, in the Discourse, may legitimately write that ‘ancora beviamo quest’aria e calchiamo questa terra e godiamo questa luce che godè un esercito d’immortali’ (we still drink this air and tread this earth and enjoy the same light that an army of immortals enjoyed);48 and why, two years later, Giovanni Gherardini can maintain that Italians are anthropologically different to other Europeans, in that the living memory of classical antiquity literally surrounds and influences them at every single moment: [I greci] non sono stranieri in questa terra; noi tutto giorno udiamo la lor voce ne’ loro scritti immortali; noi tutto giorno miriamo i capolavori del loro scalpello; noi abitiamo parecchie contrade che furon già la casa de’ loro eroi; noi respiriamo quell’aura istessa che bebbero e Teocrito e Pitagora e Archita e Filolao e Zeusi e tanti altri … Che poi diremo delle cose che riguardano i nostri progenitori, gli antichi romani?
Minimizing Leopardi’s explicitly asserted continuity with this tradition (that he shares with the other Italian Classicists engaged in the quarrel) would mean misunderstanding one of the most crucial aspects of the post-1816 debate: for most of Italian Classicists, and in particular for Leopardi, renovation has already taken place in the long eighteenth century, not only without creating a fracture with the legacy of classical antiquity, but rather by promoting a stronger and more faithful adherence to its model.