Roberto Calasso

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Roberto Calasso
Calasso in 1991
Calasso in 1991
Born(1941-05-30)30 May 1941
Florence, Italy
Died28 July 2021(2021-07-28) (aged 80)
Milan, Italy
Resting placeCampo Verano

Roberto Calasso (30 May 1941 – 28 July 2021) was an Italian writer and publisher.[1] Apart from his mother tongue, Calasso was fluent in French, English, Spanish, German, Latin and ancient Greek. He also studied Sanskrit.[2] He has been called "a literary institution of one".[2] The fundamental thematic concept of his oeuvre is the relationship between myth and the emergence of modern consciousness.[3]


Calasso was born in Florence in 1941, into a family of the Tuscan upper class, well connected with some of the great Italian intellectuals of their time. His maternal grandfather Ernesto Codignola was a professor of philosophy at Florence University. Codignola created a new publishing house called La Nuova Italia, in Florence, as his friend Benedetto Croce had done in Bari with Laterza. Calasso's uncle, Tristano Codignola, was a partisan during World War II who after the war joined the political life of the new republic, and was for a while Minister of Education. His mother Melisenda – who gave up an academic career to raise her three children – was a scholar of German literature, working on Hölderlin’s translations of the Greek poet Pindar. Calasso's father Francesco was a law professor, first at Florence University and then in Rome, where he eventually became dean of his faculty. He was arrested by the fascist militia after the assassination of Giovanni Gentile and sentenced to be killed in reprisal, but was saved both by the intervention of friends of Gentile, with whom the family had connections on the maternal side, and by the German consul Gerhard Wolf.[2]

At 12 Calasso met and was greatly influenced by a professor at Padua University, Enzo Turolla, and they became lifelong friends. In 1954 the family moved to Rome, where Calasso developed a passion for cinema.[2] His English literature doctoral dissertation was Sir Thomas Browne's theory of hieroglyphs, which he completed under Mario Praz, while indulging himself with hashish.[2]

Calasso worked for the publishing firm of Adelphi Edizioni since its founding by Roberto Bazlen in 1962 and became its Chairman in 1999. In 2015, he bought out the company to prevent it from being acquired by a larger publishing firm. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages.[4]

He was the author of an unnamed ongoing work reflecting on the culture of modernity, which began with The Ruin of Kasch in 1983, a book admired by Italo Calvino. Dedicated to the French statesman Talleyrand, it was followed in 1988 by The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, in which the tale of Cadmus and his wife Harmonia becomes a pretext for re-telling the great tales of Greek mythology and reflecting on the reception of Greek culture for a contemporary readership. Another world civilization is surveyed in Ka (1996, where the subject of the re-telling is Hindu mythology). K restricts the focus to a single author, Franz Kafka; this trend continues with Il rosa Tiepolo, inspired by an adjective used by Proust to describe a shade of pink used by Tiepolo in his paintings. With La folie Baudelaire, Calasso once more broadens his scope to fresco a whole civilisation, that of Paris in the latter half of the 19th century, reconsidering the lives and works of the post-romantic generation of writers and artists from Baudelaire to Valéry. In one of his more recent works, Ardore (2010), the author returns to India for an exhaustive analysis of the theory and practice of Vedic sacrifice and its significance for post-modern epistemology.

His more narrowly focused essays relating to European modernity are collected in I quarantanove gradini (The Forty-nine Steps), addressed to Pierre Klossowski and his wife; Literature and the gods (2002) (based on his Weidenfeld Lectures at Oxford, on the decline and return of pagan imagery in the art of the west), and La follia che viene dalle ninfe (The Madness that Comes from the Nymphs), a collection of related essays ranging from Plato's Phaedrus to Nabokov's Lolita.

Along with his status as a major analyst specifically of the works of Kafka, Calasso was, more broadly, active in many essays in retrieving and re-invigorating the notion of a Central European literary culture. He also served as the president of the International Alexander Lernet-Holenia Society, which promotes the publication, translation and study of this multi-genre Austrian writer and his focus on the identity crisis of his characters at odds with postimperial Austria and Central Europe.[5]

Calasso died in Milan on the evening of July 28, 2021,[6] at the age of 80, a day before his two new books Bobi and Memè Scianca were released.[7]


"Both critics and admirers have called Calasso a 'neo-gnostic,' a master of secret knowledge," wrote Lila Azam Zanganeh of Calasso in a Paris Review article, where she also referred to him as 'a literary institution of one.'[8] Terri Windling selected the English translation of The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony as one of the best fantasy books of 1994, describing it as "a complex and intellectually dazzling novel using ancient Greek mythology to explore the origins of Western thought."[9]

Awards and honors[edit]

Roberto Calasso was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2015.[10]


Original title Year English translation Year Translator Notes
L'impuro folle 1974 Novel
La rovina di Kasch 1983 The Ruin of Kasch 1994 William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli Book-length essay about Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord
2018 Richard Dixon New translation
Le nozze di Cadmo e Armonia 1988 The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony 1993 Tim Parks Book-length essay, Prix européen de l'essai Charles Veillon
I quarantanove gradini 1991 The Forty-nine Steps 2001 John Shepley Essays
Ka 1996 Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India 1998 Tim Parks Book-length essay. Parks' translation was retold in 2005 by Geeta Dharmarajan as Ka: The Story of Garuda
Sentieri tortuosi. Bruce Chatwin Fotografo 1998 Winding Paths: Photographs by Bruce Chatwin 1999 Photography by Bruce Chatwin, edited and introduced by Calasso
L'editoria come genere letterario 2001 Lecture given 17 October in Moscow, for an exhibition on the Adelphi publishing company; published on the on-line literary review Adelphiana, 16 November 2001
La letteratura e gli dèi 2001 Literature and the Gods 2001 Tim Parks Essays, based on the 1999–2000 Weidenfeld Lectures at Oxford
K. 2002 K. 2005 Geoffrey Brock Book-length essay about Franz Kafka
Cento lettere a uno sconosciuto 2003 Selection of cover notes ("blurbs") written by Calasso for Adelphi Editions publications
La follia che viene dalle Ninfe 2005 Essays
Il rosa Tiepolo 2006 Tiepolo Pink 2009 Alastair McEwen Book-length essay about Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
La folie Baudelaire 2008 La folie Baudelaire[13] 2012 Alastair McEwen Book-length essay
L'ardore 2010 Ardor 2014 Richard Dixon Essays about the Vedas वेद and their philosophy
L'impronta dell'editore 2013 The Art of the Publisher 2015 Richard Dixon Essays and reflections about publishing and working as a publisher
Il Cacciatore Celeste 2016 The Celestial Hunter 2020 Richard Dixon Meditations on prehistoric human consciousness
L'innominabile attuale 2017 The Unnamable Present 2019 Richard Dixon A follow-up to The Ruin of Kasch examining the current state of the world[14]
Il libro di tutti i libri 2019 The Book of All Books 2021 Tim Parks A reimagining of stories from the Bible.
Come ordinare una biblioteca 2020 Four essays on books and libraries.
Allucinazioni americane 2021 Essays on cinema and the work of Alfred Hitchcock.
Bobi 2021 Released a day after his death.
Memè Scianca 2021 Released a day after his death.


  1. ^ Roberto Calasso at PEN American Center retrieved 23 April 2010 Archived 11 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e Lila Azam Zanganeh interviewing Robert Calasso, "The Art of Fiction No. 217", The Paris Review, Fall 2012.
  3. ^ Andrea Lee, "Roberto Calasso’s Encyclopedic Mind at Play", The New Yorker, 13 December 2012.
  4. ^ Mackenzie, James (30 July 2021). "Roberto Calasso, titan of Italian literature, dies". Reuters. Retrieved 30 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Internationale Alexander Lernet-Holenia Gesellschaft", 2015.
  6. ^ "E' morto Roberto Calasso". Ansa. 29 July 2021.
  7. ^ "Addio a Roberto Calasso, lo scrittore editore di Adelphi". RaiNews24. 29 July 2021.
  8. ^ Zanganeh, Interviewed by Lila Azam (2012). "The Art of Fiction No. 217". Fall 2012 (202). ISSN 0031-2037. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  9. ^ "Summation 1994: Fantasy", The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Eighth Annual Collection, p. xvi.
  10. ^ "2015 Newly elected memebrs". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved 30 July 2021.
  11. ^ "Albo d'oro". Premio Letterario Internazionale Viareggio-Rèpaci (in Italian). Archived from the original on 15 December 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  12. ^ Formentor, Por Fundación. "En recuerdo de Roberto Calasso – Fundación Formentor" (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  13. ^ Lucian Robinson, "La Folie Baudelaire by Roberto Calasso – review", The Observer, 13 January 2013.
  14. ^ "The Unnamable Present by Roberto Calasso; translated by Richard Dixon – review", Kirkus Reviews, 19 December 2019.

External links[edit]