Roberto Calasso, Renaissance Man of Letters, Dies at 80
“Calasso has carved out a new space for himself as an intellectual, telling a myth as true, certainly as true as science,” said Tim Parks, who worked with Mr. Calasso on the English translation of “The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony ”, in an interview. . “His implication is always that we are as submissive as our ancestors were to the forces which find their names in Zeus or Venus or Yahweh or Shiva.”
In an interview with The Paris Review in 2012, Mr. Calasso spoke of humanity’s search for transcendence, whether through art, nature or religion, as its central intellectual quest. “All of my books have to do with possession,” he said. “Ebbrezza – rapture – is a word related to possession. In Greek, the word is mania, madness. For Plato, this was the main path to knowledge.
Roberto Calasso was born in Florence, Italy, in 1941, into a family of prodigious intellectuals. His maternal grandfather, Ernesto Codignola, was professor of philosophy at the University of Florence and founded a publishing house, La Nuova Italia. His father, Francesco Calasso, taught legal history at the University of Florence, and his mother, Melisenda Calasso, was a literary and translator.
With the rise of fascism in Italy, his father was persecuted for his anti-fascist views. When Roberto was 3 years old, the family went into hiding after his father was jailed and accused of plotting to kill Giovanni Gentile, an intellectual who considered himself the founding philosopher of Italian fascism.
In 1954, his family moved to Rome, where Mr. Calasso fell in love with cinema, literature and Greek and Roman mythology. In 1962, when he was 21, he started working for the new publishing house Adelphi Edizioni, with the promise that it would be a place where publishers could “publish the books we really love,” said M. Calasso at The Paris Review.
A decade later, he became editorial director and quickly gained a reputation for his distinctive tastes and passion for publishing from underrated writers like Robert Walser and German poet Gottfried Benn.
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