The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 27

This discourse is not in its place here, but will be wanted for the one on the composition of animated bodies--and the rest of the definition of the soul I leave to the imaginations of friars, those fathers of the people who know all secrets by inspiration.

[Footnote 57: lettere incoronate. By this term Leonardo probably understands not the Bible only, but the works of the early Fathers, and all the books recognised as sacred by the Roman Church.] I leave alone the sacred books; for they are supreme truth.

On the relations of the soul to the organs of sense.



The soul seems to reside in the judgment, and the judgment would seem to be seated in that part where all the senses meet; and this is called the Common Sense and is not all-pervading throughout the body, as many have thought. Rather is it entirely in one part. Because, if it were all-pervading and the same in every part, there would have been no need to make the instruments of the senses meet in one centre and in one single spot; on the contrary it would have sufficed that the eye should fulfil the function of its sensation on its surface only, and not transmit the image of the things seen, to the sense, by means of the optic nerves, so that the soul--for the reason given above-- may perceive it in the surface of the eye. In the same way as to the sense of hearing, it would have sufficed if the voice had merely sounded in the porous cavity of the indurated portion of the temporal bone which lies within the ear, without making any farther transit from this bone to the common sense, where the voice confers with and discourses to the common judgment. The sense of smell, again, is compelled by necessity to refer itself to that same judgment. Feeling passes through the perforated cords and is conveyed to this common sense. These cords diverge with infinite ramifications into the skin which encloses the members of the body and the viscera. The perforated cords convey volition and sensation to the subordinate limbs. These cords and the nerves direct the motions of the muscles and sinews, between which they are placed; these obey, and this obedience takes effect by reducing their thickness; for in swelling, their length is reduced, and the nerves shrink which are interwoven among the particles of the limbs; being extended to the tips of the fingers, they transmit to the sense the object which they touch.

The nerves with their muscles obey the tendons as soldiers obey the officers, and the tendons obey the Common [central] Sense as the officers obey the general. [27] Thus the joint of the bones obeys the nerve, and the nerve the muscle, and the muscle the tendon and the tendon the Common Sense. And the Common Sense is the seat of the soul [28], and memory is its ammunition, and the impressibility is its referendary since the sense waits on the soul and not the soul on the sense. And where the sense that ministers to the soul is not at the service of the soul, all the functions of that sense are also wanting in that man's life, as is seen in those born mute and blind.

[Footnote: The peculiar use of the words nervo, muscolo, corda, senso comune, which are here literally rendered by nerve, muscle cord or tendon and Common Sense may be understood from lines 27 and 28.]

On involuntary muscular action.



This is most plainly seen; for you will see palsied and shivering persons move, and their trembling limbs, as their head and hands, quake without leave from their soul and their soul with all its power cannot prevent their members from trembling. The same thing happens in falling sickness, or in parts that have been cut off, as in the tails of lizards. The idea or imagination is the helm and guiding-rein of the senses, because the thing conceived of moves the sense. Pre-imagining, is imagining the things that are to be. Post-imagining, is imagining the things that are past.

Miscellaneous physiological observations (840-842).


There are four Powers: memory and intellect, desire and covetousness. The two first are mental and the others sensual. The three senses: sight, hearing and smell cannot well be prevented; touch and taste not at all. Smell is connected with taste in dogs and other gluttonous animals.


I reveal to men the origin of the first, or perhaps second cause of their existence.


Lust is the cause of generation.

Appetite is the support of life. Fear or timidity is the prolongation of life and preservation of its instruments.

The laws of nutrition and the support of life (843-848).



The body of any thing whatever that takes nourishment constantly dies and is constantly renewed; because nourishment can only enter into places where the former nourishment has expired, and if it has expired it no longer has life. And if you do not supply nourishment equal to the nourishment which is gone, life will fail in vigour, and if you take away this nourishment, the life is entirely destroyed. But if you restore as much is destroyed day by day, then as much of the life is renewed as is consumed, just as the flame of the candle is fed by the nourishment afforded by the liquid of this candle, which flame continually with a rapid supply restores to it from below as much as is consumed in dying above: and from a brilliant light is converted in dying into murky smoke; and this death is continuous, as the smoke is continuous; and the continuance of the smoke is equal to the continuance of the nourishment, and in the same instant all the flame is dead and all regenerated, simultaneously with the movement of its own nourishment.


King of the animals--as thou hast described him--I should rather say king of the beasts, thou being the greatest--because thou hast spared slaying them, in order that they may give thee their children for the benefit of the gullet, of which thou hast attempted to make a sepulchre for all animals; and I would say still more, if it were allowed me to speak the entire truth [5]. But we do not go outside human matters in telling of one supreme wickedness, which does not happen among the animals of the earth, inasmuch as among them are found none who eat their own kind, unless through want of sense (few indeed among them, and those being mothers, as with men, albeit they be not many in number); and this happens only among the rapacious animals, as with the leonine species, and leopards, panthers lynxes, cats and the like, who sometimes eat their children; but thou, besides thy children devourest father, mother, brothers and friends; nor is this enough for thee, but thou goest to the chase on the islands of others, taking other men and these half-naked, the ... and the ... thou fattenest, and chasest them down thy own throat[18]; now does not nature produce enough simples, for thee to satisfy thyself? and if thou art not content with simples, canst thou not by the mixture of them make infinite compounds, as Platina wrote[Footnote 21: Come scrisse il Platina (Bartolomeo Sacchi, a famous humanist). The Italian edition of his treatise De arte coquinaria, was published under the title De la honestra voluptate, e valetudine, Venezia 1487.], and other authors on feeding?

[Footnote: We are led to believe that Leonardo himself was a vegetarian from the following interesting passage in the first of Andrea Corsali's letters to Giuliano de'Medici: Alcuni gentili chiamati Guzzarati non si cibano di cosa, alcuna che tenga sangue, ne fra essi loro consentono che si noccia ad alcuna cosa animata, come il nostro Leonardo da Vinci.

5-18. Amerigo Vespucci, with whom Leonardo was personally acquainted, writes in his second letter to Pietro Soderini, about the inhabitants of the Canary Islands after having stayed there in 1503: "Hanno una scelerata liberta di viuere; ... si cibano di carne humana, di maniera che il padre magia il figliuolo, et all'incontro il figliuolo il padre secondo che a caso e per sorte auiene. Io viddi un certo huomo sceleratissimo che si vantaua, et si teneua a non piccola gloria di hauer mangiato piu di trecento huomini. Viddi anche vna certa citta, nella quale io dimorai forse ventisette giorni, doue le carni humane, hauendole salate, eran appicate alli traui, si come noi alli traui di cucina appicchiamo le carni di cinghali secche al sole o al fumo, et massimamente salsiccie, et altre simil cose: anzi si marauigliauano gradem ete che noi non magiaissimo della carne de nemici, le quali dicono muouere appetito, et essere di marauiglioso sapore, et le lodano come cibi soaui et delicati (Lettere due di Amerigo Vespucci Fiorentino drizzate al magnifico Pietro Soderini, Gonfaloniere della eccelsa Republica di Firenze; various editions).]


Our life is made by the death of others.

In dead matter insensible life remains, which, reunited to the stomachs of living beings, resumes life, both sensual and intellectual.


Here nature appears with many animals to have been rather a cruel stepmother than a mother, and with others not a stepmother, but a most tender mother.


Man and animals are really the passage and the conduit of food, the sepulchre of animals and resting place of the dead, one causing the death of the other, making themselves the covering for the corruption of other dead [bodies].

On the circulation of the blood (848-850).


Death in old men, when not from fever, is caused by the veins which go from the spleen to the valve of the liver, and which thicken so much in the walls that they become closed up and leave no passage for the blood that nourishes it.

[6]The incessant current of the blood through the veins makes these veins thicken and become callous, so that at last they close up and prevent the passage of the blood.


The waters return with constant motion from the lowest depths of the sea to the utmost height of the mountains, not obeying the nature of heavier bodies; and in this they resemble the blood of animated beings which always moves from the sea of the heart and flows towards the top of the head; and here it may burst a vein, as may be seen when a vein bursts in the nose; all the blood rises from below to the level of the burst vein. When the water rushes out from the burst vein in the earth, it obeys the law of other bodies that are heavier than the air since it always seeks low places.

[Footnote: From this passage it is quite plain that Leonardo had not merely a general suspicion of the circulation of the blood but a very clear conception of it. Leonardo's studies on the muscles of the heart are to be found in the MS. W. An. III. but no information about them has hitherto been made public. The limits of my plan in this work exclude all purely anatomical writings, therefore only a very brief excerpt from this note book can be given here. WILLIAM HARVEY (born 1578 and Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge from 1615) is always considered to have been the discoverer of the circulation of the blood. He studied medicine at Padua in 1598, and in 1628 brought out his memorable and important work: De motu cordis et sanguinis.]


That the blood which returns when the heart opens again is not the same as that which closes the valves of the heart.

Some notes on medicine (851-855).


Make them give you the definition and remedies for the case ... and you will see that men are selected to be doctors for diseases they do not know.


A remedy for scratches taught me by the Herald to the King of France. 4 ounces of virgin wax, 4 ounces of colophony, 2 ounces of incense. Keep each thing separate; and melt the wax, and then put in the incense and then the colophony, make a mixture of it and put it on the sore place.


Medicine is the restoration of discordant elements; sickness is the discord of the elements infused into the living body.


Those who are annoyed by sickness at sea should drink extract of wormwood.


To keep in health, this rule is wise: Eat only when you want and relish food. Chew thoroughly that it may do you good. Have it well cooked, unspiced and undisguised. He who takes medicine is ill advised.

[Footnote: This appears to be a sketch for a poem.]


I teach you to preserve your health; and in this you will succed better in proportion as you shun physicians, because their medicines are the work of alchemists.

[Footnote: This passage is written on the back of the drawing Pl. CVIII. Compare also No. 1184.]



Ever since the publication by Venturi in 1797 and Libri in 1840 of some few passages of Leonardo's astronomical notes, scientific astronomers have frequently expressed the opinion, that they must have been based on very important discoveries, and that the great painter also deserved a conspicuous place in the history of this science. In the passages here printed, a connected view is given of his astronomical studies as they lie scattered through the manuscripts, which have come down to us. Unlike his other purely scientific labours, Leonardo devotes here a good deal of attention to the opinions of the ancients, though he does not follow the practice universal in his day of relying on them as authorities; he only quotes them, as we shall see, in order to refute their arguments. His researches throughout have the stamp of independent thought. There is nothing in these writings to lead us to suppose that they were merely an epitome of the general learning common to the astronomers of the period. As early as in the XIVth century there were chairs of astronomy in the universities of Padua and Bologna, but so late as during the entire XVIth century Astronomy and Astrology were still closely allied.

It is impossible now to decide whether Leonardo, when living in Florence, became acquainted in his youth with the doctrines of Paolo Toscanelli the great astronomer and mathematician (died 1482), of whose influence and teaching but little is now known, beyond the fact that he advised and encouraged Columbus to carry out his project of sailing round the world. His name is nowhere mentioned by Leonardo, and from the dates of the manuscripts from which the texts on astronomy are taken, it seems highly probable that Leonardo devoted his attention to astronomical studies less in his youth than in his later years. It was evidently his purpose to treat of Astronomy in a connected form and in a separate work (see the beginning of Nos. 866 and 892; compare also No. 1167). It is quite in accordance with his general scientific thoroughness that he should propose to write a special treatise on Optics as an introduction to Astronomy (see Nos. 867 and 877). Some of the chapters belonging to this Section bear the title "Prospettiva" (see Nos. 869 and 870), this being the term universally applied at the time to Optics as well as Perspective (see Vol. I, p. 10, note to No. 13, l. 10).

At the beginning of the XVIth century the Ptolemaic theory of the universe was still universally accepted as the true one, and Leonardo conceives of the earth as fixed, with the moon and sun revolving round it, as they are represented in the diagram to No. 897. He does not go into any theory of the motions of the planets; with regard to these and the fixed stars he only investigates the phenomena of their luminosity. The spherical form of the earth he takes for granted as an axiom from the first, and he anticipates Newton by pointing out the universality of Gravitation not merely in the earth, but even in the moon. Although his acute research into the nature of the moon's light and the spots on the moon did not bring to light many results of lasting importance beyond making it evident that they were a refutation of the errors of his contemporaries, they contain various explanations of facts which modern science need not modify in any essential point, and discoveries which history has hitherto assigned to a very much later date.

The ingenious theory by which he tries to explain the nature of what is known as earth shine, the reflection of the sun's rays by the earth towards the moon, saying that it is a peculiar refraction, originating in the innumerable curved surfaces of the waves of the sea may be regarded as absurd; but it must not be forgotten that he had no means of detecting the fundamental error on which he based it, namely: the assumption that the moon was at a relatively short distance from the earth. So long as the motion of the earth round the sun remained unknown, it was of course impossible to form any estimate of the moon's distance from the earth by a calculation of its parallax.

Before the discovery of the telescope accurate astronomical observations were only possible to a very limited extent. It would appear however from certain passages in the notes here printed for the first time, that Leonardo was in a position to study the spots in the moon more closely than he could have done with the unaided eye. So far as can be gathered from the mysterious language in which the description of his instrument is wrapped, he made use of magnifying glasses; these do not however seem to have been constructed like a telescope--telescopes were first made about 1600. As LIBRI pointed out (Histoire des Sciences mathematiques III, 101) Fracastoro of Verona (1473-1553) succeeded in magnifying the moon's face by an arrangement of lenses (compare No. 910, note), and this gives probability to Leonardo's invention at a not much earlier date.



The earth's place in the universe (857. 858).


The equator, the line of the horizon, the ecliptic, the meridian:

These lines are those which in all their parts are equidistant from the centre of the globe.


The earth is not in the centre of the Sun's orbit nor at the centre of the universe, but in the centre of its companion elements, and united with them. And any one standing on the moon, when it and the sun are both beneath us, would see this our earth and the element of water upon it just as we see the moon, and the earth would light it as it lights us.

The fundamental laws of the solar system (859-864).


Force arises from dearth or abundance; it is the child of physical motion, and the grand-child of spiritual motion, and the mother and origin of gravity. Gravity is limited to the elements of water and earth; but this force is unlimited, and by it infinite worlds might be moved if instruments could be made by which the force could be generated.

Force, with physical motion, and gravity, with resistance are the four external powers on which all actions of mortals depend.

Force has its origin in spiritual motion; and this motion, flowing through the limbs of sentient animals, enlarges their muscles. Being enlarged by this current the muscles are shrunk in length and contract the tendons which are connected with them, and this is the cause of the force of the limbs in man.

The quality and quantity of the force of a man are able to give birth to other forces, which will be proportionally greater as the motions produced by them last longer.

[Footnote: Only part of this passage belongs, strictly speaking, to this section. The principle laid down in the second paragraph is more directly connected with the notes given in the preceding section on Physiology.]


Why does not the weight o remain in its place? It does not remain because it has no resistance. Where will it move to? It will move towards the centre [of gravity]. And why by no other line? Because a weight which has no support falls by the shortest road to the lowest point which is the centre of the world. And why does the weight know how to find it by so short a line? Because it is not independant and does not move about in various directions.

[Footnote: This text and the sketch belonging to it, are reproduced on Pl. CXXI.]


Let the earth turn on which side it may the surface of the waters will never move from its spherical form, but will always remain equidistant from the centre of the globe.

Granting that the earth might be removed from the centre of the globe, what would happen to the water?

It would remain in a sphere round that centre equally thick, but the sphere would have a smaller diameter than when it enclosed the earth.

[Footnote: Compare No. 896, lines 48-64; and No. 936.]


Supposing the earth at our antipodes which supports the ocean were to rise and stand uncovered, far out of the sea, but remaining almost level, by what means afterwards, in the course of time, would mountains and vallies be formed?

And the rocks with their various strata?


Each man is always in the middle of the surface of the earth and under the zenith of his own hemisphere, and over the centre of the earth.


Mem.: That I must first show the distance of the sun from the earth; and, by means of a ray passing through a small hole into a dark chamber, detect its real size; and besides this, by means of the aqueous sphere calculate the size of the globe ...

Here it will be shown, that when the sun is in the meridian of our hemisphere [Footnote 10: Antipodi orientali cogli occidentali. The word Antipodes does not here bear its literal sense, but--as we may infer from the simultaneous reference to inhabitants of the North and South-- is used as meaning men living at a distance of 90 degrees from the zenith of the rational horizon of each observer.], the antipodes to the East and to the West, alike, and at the same time, see the sun mirrored in their waters; and the same is equally true of the arctic and antarctic poles, if indeed they are inhabited.

How to prove that the earth is a planet (865-867).


That the earth is a star.


In your discourse you must prove that the earth is a star much like the moon, and the glory of our universe; and then you must treat of the size of various stars, according to the authors.



First describe the eye; then show how the twinkling of a star is really in the eye and why one star should twinkle more than another, and how the rays from the stars originate in the eye; and add, that if the twinkling of the stars were really in the stars --as it seems to be--that this twinkling appears to be an extension as great as the diameter of the body of the star; therefore, the star being larger than the earth, this motion effected in an instant would be a rapid doubling of the size of the star. Then prove that the surface of the air where it lies contiguous to fire, and the surface of the fire where it ends are those into which the solar rays penetrate, and transmit the images of the heavenly bodies, large when they rise, and small, when they are on the meridian. Let a be the earth and n d m the surface of the air in contact with the sphere of fire; h f g is the orbit of the moon or, if you please, of the sun; then I say that when the sun appears on the horizon g, its rays are seen passing through the surface of the air at a slanting angle, that is o m; this is not the case at d k. And so it passes through a greater mass of air; all of e m is a denser atmosphere.


Beyond the sun and us there is darkness and so the air appears blue.

[Footnote: Compare Vol. I, No. 301.]



It is possible to find means by which the eye shall not see remote objects as much diminished as in natural perspective, which diminishes them by reason of the convexity of the eye which necessarily intersects, at its surface, the pyramid of every image conveyed to the eye at a right angle on its spherical surface. But by the method I here teach in the margin [9] these pyramids are intersected at right angles close to the surface of the pupil. The convex pupil of the eye can take in the whole of our hemisphere, while this will show only a single star; but where many small stars transmit their images to the surface of the pupil those stars are extremely small; here only one star is seen but it will be large. And so the moon will be seen larger and its spots of a more defined form [Footnote 20 and fol.: Telescopes were not in use till a century later. Compare No. 910 and page 136.]. You must place close to the eye a glass filled with the water of which mention is made in number 4 of Book 113 "On natural substances" [Footnote 23: libro 113. This is perhaps the number of a book in some library catalogue. But it may refer, on the other hand, to one of the 120 Books mentioned in No. 796. l. 84.]; for this water makes objects which are enclosed in balls of crystalline glass appear free from the glass.


Among the smaller objects presented to the pupil of the eye, that which is closest to it, will be least appreciable to the eye. And at the same time, the experiments here made with the power of sight, show that it is not reduced to speck if the &c. [32][Footnote 32: Compare with this the passage in Vol. I, No. 52, written about twenty years earlier.].

Read in the margin.

[34]Those objects are seen largest which come to the eye at the largest angles.

But the images of the objects conveyed to the pupil of the eye are distributed to the pupil exactly as they are distributed in the air: and the proof of this is in what follows; that when we look at the starry sky, without gazing more fixedly at one star than another, the sky appears all strewn with stars; and their proportions to the eye are the same as in the sky and likewise the spaces between them [61].

[Footnote: 9. 32. in margine: lines 34-61 are, in the original, written on the margin and above them is the diagram to which Leonardo seems to refer here.]



Among objects moved from the eye at equal distance, that undergoes least diminution which at first was most remote.

When various objects are removed at equal distances farther from their original position, that which was at first the farthest from the eye will diminish least. And the proportion of the diminution will be in proportion to the relative distance of the objects from the eye before they were removed.

That is to say in the object t and the object e the proportion of their distances from the eye a is quintuple. I remove each from its place and set it farther from the eye by one of the 5 parts into which the proposition is divided. Hence it happens that the nearest to the eye has doubled the distance and according to the last proposition but one of this, is diminished by the half of its whole size; and the body e, by the same motion, is diminished 1/5 of its whole size. Therefore, by that same last proposition but one, that which is said in this last proposition is true; and this I say of the motions of the celestial bodies which are more distant by 3500 miles when setting than when overhead, and yet do not increase or diminish in any sensible degree.


a b is the aperture through which the sun passes, and if you could measure the size of the solar rays at n m, you could accurately trace the real lines of the convergence of the solar rays, the mirror being at a b, and then show the reflected rays at equal angles to n m; but, as you want to have them at n m, take them at the. inner side of the aperture at cd, where they maybe measured at the spot where the solar rays fall. Then place your mirror at the distance a b, making the rays d b, c a fall and then be reflected at equal angles towards c d; and this is the best method, but you must use this mirror always in the same month, and the same day, and hour and instant, and this will be better than at no fixed time because when the sun is at a certain distance it produces a certain pyramid of rays.


a, the side of the body in light and shade b, faces the whole portion of the hemisphere bed e f, and does not face any part of the darkness of the earth. And the same occurs at the point o; therefore the space a o is throughout of one and the same brightness, and s faces only four degrees of the hemisphere d e f g h, and also the whole of the earth s h, which will render it darker; and how much must be demonstrated by calculation. [Footnote: This passage, which has perhaps a doubtful right to its place in this connection, stands in the Manuscript between those given in Vol. I as No. 117 and No. 427.]



Some mathematicians explain that the sun looks larger as it sets, because the eye always sees it through a denser atmosphere, alleging that objects seen through mist or through water appear larger. To these I reply: No; because objects seen through a mist are similar in colour to those at a distance; but not being similarly diminished they appear larger. Again, nothing increases in size in smooth water; and the proof of this may be seen by throwing a light on a board placed half under water. But the reason why the sun looks larger is that every luminous body appears larger in proportion as it is more remote. [Footnote: Lines 5 and 6 are thus rendered by M. RAVAISSON in his edition of MS. A. "De meme, aucune chose ne croit dans l'eau plane, et tu en feras l'experience en calquant un ais sous l'eau."--Compare the diagrams in Vol. I, p. 114.]

On the luminosity of the Earth in the universal space (874-878).


In my book I propose to show, how the ocean and the other seas must, by means of the sun, make our world shine with the appearance of a moon, and to the remoter worlds it looks like a star; and this I shall prove.

Show, first that every light at a distance from the eye throws out rays which appear to increase the size of the luminous body; and from this it follows that 2 ...[Footnote 10: Here the text breaks off; lines 11 and fol. are written in the margin.].

[11]The moon is cold and moist. Water is cold and moist. Thus our seas must appear to the moon as the moon does to us.


The waves in water magnify the image of an object reflected in it.

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Leonardo da Vinci

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