Roberto Calasso

By: Anthony Miller
May 30, 2014


“Stories never live alone: they are the branches of a family that we have to trace back, and forward,” writes ROBERTO CALASSO (born 1941). How do we tell Calasso’s story? The Florentine author mingles the scholarly and the poetic with acuity and abandon. His erudite, immersive, and capacious excavations of myth and history read like lectures crossed with reveries, critical analysis amalgamated with cosmic musing. Director of Milan’s publishing house Adelphi Edizioni and a polymath with no small fondness for the esoteric (his Ph.D. thesis concerned hieroglyphics in the work of Thomas Browne), Calasso has described his books as parts of a multi-volume series. The Ruin of Kasch (1983, English translation 1994) eludes easy summary but involves the age of the French Revolution and the “origin of literature.” Italo Calvino said Kasch “takes up two subjects: the first is Talleyrand, and the second is everything else.” The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (1988, English translation 1993) enraptures readers with its bravura reweaving and reconsidering of the palimpsests of story underlying Greek mythology. Ka (1996, English translation 1998) snakes its own circuitous path through the pantheon of Indian divinities. More recent books explore worlds ushered in by artistic deities: Kafka, Tiepolo, Baudelaire. A student of Nietzsche who also shares the philosopher’s affection for the aphoristic, Calasso is a genealogist of the transcendent act of storytelling. From the thoughts and desires of the gods to secret histories of art and literature, the story of Calasso’s true quest, in subject and style, is one of writing about — as well as into — the ineffable.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Cee-Lo Green, Countee Cullen, Randolph Bourne, Mel Blanc, Howard Hawks, Agnès Varda, Mikhail Bakunin.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


HiLo Heroes, Literature