(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Giacomo Leopardi’s prominence as a poet stems from the lyrical greatness of the Canti, but as Essays and Dialogues demonstrates, there was in him a talent for biting sarcasm and sardonic humor which The War of the Mice and the Crabs brings forth in no uncertain terms. He thought about this work from 1830, when he conceived it in Florence, to the end of his life, in Naples, where he completed it. An ironic fantasy, ringing with sociopolitical overtones, it was published abroad (by Baudry, in Paris), posthumously, in 1842, thanks to the faithful guardianship of Ranieri. The work, whose full original title means “things left out of the [pseudo-Homeric] War of the Frogs [also Crabs] and the Mice,” is in eight cantos of eight-line stanzas (Leopardi had translated the original Batrachomyomachia three times), and takes to task any optimism based on the notion of social progress, liberals who claim to have the solution for national problems, the antimaterialistic postures of early nineteenth century philosophers, and political absolutism. Mixing together many elements, including the grotesque (the hell of the mice), the lyrical (a nocturne), and the polemical (statements against nature), Leopardi alludes to many Italian and European political realities of the first third of his century, without leaving too much room to doubt the identities of some of his characters, such as Camminatorto (Prince Clemens von Metternich), Senzacapo (Francis I of Austria), Mangiaprosciutti (the Bourbon Ferdinand I), Rubatocchi (Joachim Murat, the “Dandy...

(The entire section is 641 words.)