The dialogue between antimodernist and Romantic elements in the work of the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi fueled his thinking on the crucial issue of italianità, or “Italian identity.” Leopardi wanted to protect what was unique and enduring in Italian culture, especially its ancient Roman literary heritage, yet he understood that his divided, chaotic, stagnant country needed renewal and change, a recurring subject in his early patriotic odes. His ideas on Italy in the Discorso sopra lo stato presente dei costumi degl’italiani (Discourse on the Present State of the Customs of the Italians, ca. 1824) and in the “Palinodia al marchese Gino Capponi” (“Recantation for Marchese Gino Capponi,” 1835) are intertwined with his powerful defense of the social function of poetry. Leopardi exploits the aesthetic tensions resulting from the historical rift between ancient and modern literary concerns by brilliantly applying them to the contentious role of an isolated, politically fragmented Italy in an interdependent, internationalist world.

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