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This review is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

PASSIONS AND PARADOXES Giacomo Leopardi, Moral Tales, translated by Patrick Creagh (Carcanet) £9.95

Introducing his new translation, Patrick Creagh cannot escape from the traditional view that the misfortune of the Operette morali is that Leopardi wrote them. Thematically repetitive, stylistically variable, they either have to be explained in terms of the Canti or else explained away. Creagh argues valiantly for the originality of the Moral Tales. True, they had their origins in Leopardi's project to write 'Satirical Dialogues in the manner of Lucian, but taking the characters and the ridicule from present or modern customs, and not so much from among the dead.' But the Moral Tales 'have many styles, each of them suited to the job in hand'. 'Behind it all,' Creagh writes, 'is Leopardi's unmistakable voice, but it is a voice and not a style.' In this way, incidentally, the translator justifies not 'updating' Leopardi's language, whatever that means, and not altering the 'rather weird punctuation'. But Creagh's curious aim of restoring the original text (in English!) does not have the desired effect. Removing the gloss of earlier translations only reveals the Moral Tales more clearly as reworkings of the Zibaldone, Leopardi's notebooks.

The real interest of the Moral Tales is neither thematic nor stylistic: it is formal. It is the reworking itself, the transformation of the Zibaldone's solitary injunctions into imaginary dialogues, which is significant. Formally, if in no other respect, the Moral Tales owe everything to Lucian's example. Lucian provided Leopardi with a precedent for writing conversations which did not obey the inexorable logic of Socratic ...


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