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Sebastiano Timpanaro (Parma, 1923 – Firenze, 2000) was an Italian philologist and literary critic as well as an intellectual of wide-ranging interests, including Classics, history, and Marxist and Freudian theory. After graduate studies at the University of Florence, under the direction of Giorgio Pasquali, Timpanaro mainly devoted himself to classical philology, literary criticism (particularly about Giacomo Leopardi’s and Edmondo De Amicis’ works), and the history and methods of philology. However, he never took up a permanent academic position. In 1995 he was granted the Antonio Feltrinelli Prize for Philology and Linguistics.

His most influential work The Genesis of Lachmann’s Method (La genesi del metodo del Lachmann 1963; Engl. trans. Most 2005) provides a historical and critical examination of the increasing rationalisation and professionalisation applied to the study of the transmission of written texts. Parts of this book respond to the mathematical presentation of near mechanical textual criticism by emphasising the diversity of copyistserrors and the production of variants specifically through contamination, scribal conjecture and polygenesis.

He also studied Marxist theory (see, for example, Il verde e il rosso. Scritti militanti, 1966-2000), and the relationship between psychoanalysis and textual criticism. These subjects also figure prominently in The Freudian Slip: Psychoanalysis and Textual Criticism (Il lapsus freudiano. Psicanalisi e critica testuale 1975; Engl. trans. Soper 1976), which contains a “sustained polemic against the later Freud and Freudian psychoanalysis in general […] and against the psychoanalytic explanation of so-called Freudian slips in particular, which in most cases, based on his conception of materialism and his experience of textual criticism (and proofreading), he attributes instead to exactly the same kind of mechanical processes as result so often in mistakes in transcribing manuscripts” (Most, 6).

In addition to studies on nineteenth-century Italian intellectual history, specifically in relation to classicism, Timpanaro wrote a collection of philosophical essays titled On Materialism (Sul materialismo 1997).

By Timpanaro

– Timpanaro, Sebastiano. 1963. La genesi del metodo del Lachmann. Firenze: Le Monnier. – 2nd ed. Padova: Liviana, 1981.
– ———. 1965. Classicismo e illuminismo nell’Ottocento italiano. Pisa: Nistri-Lischi.
– ———. 1975. Il lapsus freudiano: Psicanalisi e critica testuale. Firenze: La Nuova Italia.
– ———. 1986. Per la storia della filologia virgiliana antica. Roma: Salerno editrice.
– ———. 1994. Nuovi contributi di filologia e storia della lingua latina. Bologna: Pàtron.
– ———. 1995. Nuovi studi sul nostro Ottocento. Pisa: Nistri-Lischi.
– ———. 1997. Sul materialismo. Milano: Unicopli.
– ——— (post.). 2001. Il verde e il rosso: Scritti militanti, 1966–2000. Roma: Odradek.
– ——— (post.). 2001. Virgilianisti antichi e tradizione indiretta. Firenze: Olschki.


– Most, Glenn, ed. and trans. 2005. Sebastiano Timpanaro. The Genesis of the Lachmann’s Method. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
– Soper, Kate, trans. 1976. Sebastiano Timpanaro. The Freudian Slip: Psychoanalysis and Textual Criticism. London: NLB.

On Timpanaro

– Ghidetti, Enrico, and Alessandro Pagnini, eds. 2005. Sebastiano Timpanaro e la cultura del secondo Novecento. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.



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