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The great disillusionist
18.05.2021 Nigel Warburton
Poetry
Giacomo Leopardi

Imagine you spend your childhood almost entirely in a library, your father’s library. There are thousands upon thousands of volumes, most of them old, many in foreign languages. Your native language is Italian, but by age 10 you are reading in Latin, Greek, German and French. English and Hebrew are next on the list.

Why are you doing this? Your father is ambitious for his firstborn son. He wants you to be a priest. At 12, you receive the tonsure, meaning your hair is cut like a monk’s to dedicate you to God. You are dressed in a cassock. More than a priest, or even a bishop, your father wants you to be a champion of Christianity, a theologian; you will use your learning to refute false doctrines, liberalism, atheism.

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