Brian Patrick Eha:

When he began writing the manuscript that became the Zibaldone, the nineteen-year-old poet had little idea what he had embarked upon. His first entry is a piece of scene-setting reminiscent of Thoreau’s journals: “Palazzo Bello. Dog in the night from the farmhouse, as the wayfarer goes by.” From this point on, however, he rarely records scenes of daily life, preferring instead to chart the progress of his thought. He writes a penna corrente, quickly, as the pen flows and as inspiration dictates. The searching, questioning nature of the diary, never resting in easy solutions, derives from Leopardi’s dissatisfaction with the received wisdom of his day, and his determination to think everything through again for himself, starting at the beginning, which is to say, with the ancient Greeks. He was trying to teach himself how to live. And not only how, but why. For Leopardi, life in itself, mere biological existence, is of no importance. What matters is living well and happily, or at least not living badly and unhappily. Philosophers, academics and other experts “should teach people first how to make life happy, and then how to prolong it.”