Saturday, March 13, 2010

Leopardi: Life As A Voyage (But Not A Pleasant One)

A preliminary point:  one person's "pessimism" is another person's "realism."  (Or, put differently:  one person's "pessimism" is another person's "truth.")  With that, I will dispense with the scare quotes around  pessimism.  On to Leopardi. 

When it comes to pessimism (or, realism and truth, if you will), you cannot beat Leopardi. Compared to him, Arthur Schopenhauer (often thought of as the king of pessimism) is a rank amateur.  (It comes as no surprise that Schopenhauer greatly admired Leopardi.)  

We have all heard the old saw that "life is a journey, not a destination."  Well, here is what Leopardi has to say about that journey:

"What is life?  The voyage of a crippled, sick man who, with a very heavy burden on his back, walks over steep mountains and extremely harsh, fatiguing, difficult places through snow, ice, rain, wind, under the burning sun, without rest day and night for many days in order to reach a precipice or ditch into which he must inevitably fall."

(Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone, entry written in Bologna on January 17, 1826.) 

                                               Leopardi's Death Mask

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