The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 35

The notes on machines of war, the construction of fortifications, and similar matters which fall within the department of the Engineer, have not been included in this work, for the reasons given on page 26 of this Vol. An exception has been made in favour of the passages Nos. 1127 and 1128, because they have a more general interest, as bearing on the important question: whence the Master derived his knowledge of these matters. Though it would be rash to assert that Leonardo was the first to introduce the science of mining into Italy, it may be confidently said that he is one of the earliest writers who can be proved to have known and understood it; while, on the other hand, it is almost beyond doubt that in the East at that time, the whole science of besieging towns and mining in particular, was far more advanced than in Europe. This gives a peculiar value to the expressions used in No. 1127.

I have been unable to find in the manuscripts any passage whatever which throws any light on Leonardo's great reputation as a musician. Nothing therein illustrates VASARPS well-known statement: Avvenne che morto Giovan Galeazze duca di Milano, e creato Lodovico Sforza nel grado medesimo anno 1494, fu condotto a Milano con gran riputazione Lionardo al duca, il quale molto si dilettava del suono della lira, perche sonasse; e Lionardo porto quello strumento ch'egli aveva di sua mano fabbricato d'argento gran parte, in forma d'un teschio di cavallo, cosa bizzarra e nuova, acciocche l'armonia fosse con maggior tuba e piu sonora di voce; laonde supero tutti i musici che quivi erano concorsi a sonare.

The only notes on musical matters are those given as Nos. 1129 and 1130, which explain certain arrangements in instruments.

The ship's logs of Vitruvius, of Alberti and of Leonardo



The ancients used various devices to ascertain the distance gone by a ship each hour, among which Vitruvius [Footnote 6: See VITRUVIUS, De Architectura lib. X. C. 14 (p. 264 in the edition of Rose and Muller- Strubing). The German edition published at Bale in 1543 has, on fol. 596, an illustration of the contrivance, as described by Vitruvius.] gives one in his work on Architecture which is just as fallacious as all the others; and this is a mill wheel which touches the waves of the sea at one end and in each complete revolution describes a straight line which represents the circumference of the wheel extended to a straightness. But this invention is of no worth excepting on the smooth and motionless surface of lakes. But if the water moves together with the ship at an equal rate, then the wheel remains motionless; and if the motion of the water is more or less rapid than that of the ship, then neither has the wheel the same motion as the ship so that this invention is of but little use. There is another method tried by experiment with a known distance between one island and another; and this is done by a board or under the pressure of wind which strikes on it with more or less swiftness. This is in Battista Alberti [Footnote 25: LEON BATTISTA ALBERTI, De Architectura lib. V., c. 12 treats 'de le navi e parti loro', but there is no reference to the machine, mentioned by Leonardo. Alberti says here: Noi abbiamo trattato lungamente in altro luogo de' modi de le navi, ma in questo luogo ne abbiamo detto quel tanto che si bisogna. To this the following note is added in the most recent Italian edition: Questo libro e tuttora inedito e porta il titolo, secondo Gesnero di 'Liber navis'.].

Battista Alberti's method which is made by experiment on a known distance between one island and another. But such an invention does not succeed excepting on a ship like the one on which the experiment was made, and it must be of the same burden and have the same sails, and the sails in the same places, and the size of the waves must be the same. But my method will serve for any ship, whether with oars or sails; and whether it be small or large, broad or long, or high or low, it always serves [Footnote 52: Leonardo does not reveal the method invented by him.].

Methods of staying and moving in water


How an army ought to cross rivers by swimming with air-bags ... How fishes swim [Footnote 2: Compare No. 821.]; of the way in which they jump out of the water, as may be seen with dolphins; and it seems a wonderful thing to make a leap from a thing which does not resist but slips away. Of the swimming of animals of a long form, such as eels and the like. Of the mode of swimming against currents and in the rapid falls of rivers. Of the mode of swimming of fishes of a round form. How it is that animals which have not long hind quartres cannot swim. How it is that all other animals which have feet with toes, know by nature how to swim, excepting man. In what way man ought to learn to swim. Of the way in which man may rest on the water. How man may protect himself against whirlpools or eddies in the water, which drag him down. How a man dragged to the bottom must seek the reflux which will throw him up from the depths. How he ought to move his arms. How to swim on his back. How he can and how he cannot stay under water unless he can hold his breath [13]. How by means of a certain machine many people may stay some time under water. How and why I do not describe my method of remaining under water, or how long I can stay without eating; and I do not publish nor divulge these by reason of the evil nature of men who would use them as means of destruction at the bottom of the sea, by sending ships to the bottom, and sinking them together with the men in them. And although I will impart others, there is no danger in them; because the mouth of the tube, by which you breathe, is above the water supported on bags or corks [19].

[Footnote: L. 13-19 will also be found in Vol. I No. 1.]

On naval warfare (1115. 1116).


Supposing in a battle between ships and galleys that the ships are victorious by reason of the high of heir tops, you must haul the yard up almost to the top of the mast, and at the extremity of the yard, that is the end which is turned towards the enemy, have a small cage fastened, wrapped up below and all round in a great mattress full of cotton so that it may not be injured by the bombs; then, with the capstan, haul down the opposite end of this yard and the top on the opposite side will go up so high, that it will be far above the round-top of the ship, and you will easily drive out the men that are in it. But it is necessary that the men who are in the galley should go to the opposite side of it so as to afford a counterpoise to the weight of the men placed inside the cage on the yard.


If you want to build an armada for the sea employ these ships to ram in the enemy's ships. That is, make ships 100 feet long and 8 feet wide, but arranged so that the left hand rowers may have their oars to the right side of the ship, and the right hand ones to the left side, as is shown at M, so that the leverage of the oars may be longer. And the said ship may be one foot and a half thick, that is made with cross beams within and without, with planks in contrary directions. And this ship must have attached to it, a foot below the water, an iron-shod spike of about the weight and size of an anvil; and this, by force of oars may, after it has given the first blow, be drawn back, and driven forward again with fury give a second blow, and then a third, and so many as to destroy the other ship.

The use of swimming belts.



Have a coat made of leather, which must be double across the breast, that is having a hem on each side of about a finger breadth. Thus it will be double from the waist to the knee; and the leather must be quite air-tight. When you want to leap into the sea, blow out the skirt of your coat through the double hems of the breast; and jump into the sea, and allow yourself to be carried by the waves; when you see no shore near, give your attention to the sea you are in, and always keep in your mouth the air-tube which leads down into the coat; and if now and again you require to take a breath of fresh air, and the foam prevents you, you may draw a breath of the air within the coat.

[Footnote: AMORETTI, Memorie Storiche, Tav. II. B. Fig. 5, gives the same figure, somewhat altered. 6. La canna dell' aria. Compare Vol. I. No. I. Note]

On the gravity of water.


If the weight of the sea bears on its bottom, a man, lying on that bottom and having l000 braccia of water on his back, would have enough to crush him.

Diving apparatus and Skating (1119-1121).


Of walking under water. Method of walking on water.

[Footnote: The two sketches belonging to this passage are given by AMORETTI, Memorie Storiche. Tav. II, Fig. 3 and 4.]


Just as on a frozen river a man may run without moving his feet, so a car might be made that would slide by itself.

[Footnote: The drawings of carts by the side of this text have no direct connection with the problem as stated in words.--Compare No. 1448, l. 17.]


A definition as to why a man who slides on ice does not fall. [Footnote: An indistinct sketch accompanies the passage, in the original.]

On Flying machines (1122-1126).


Man when flying must stand free from the waist upwards so as to be able to balance himself as he does in a boat so that the centre of gravity in himself and in the machine may counterbalance each other, and be shifted as necessity demands for the changes of its centre of resistance.


Remember that your flying machine must imitate no other than the bat, because the web is what by its union gives the armour, or strength to the wings.

If you imitate the wings of feathered birds, you will find a much stronger structure, because they are pervious; that is, their feathers are separate and the air passes through them. But the bat is aided by the web that connects the whole and is not pervious.



Destruction to such a machine may occur in two ways; of which the first is the breaking of the machine. The second would be when the machine should turn on its edge or nearly on its edge, because it ought always to descend in a highly oblique direction, and almost exactly balanced on its centre. As regards the first--the breaking of the machine--, that may be prevented by making it as strong as possible; and in whichever direction it may tend to turn over, one centre must be very far from the other; that is, in a machine 30 braccia long the centres must be 4 braccia one from the other.

[Footnote: Compare No. 1428.]


Bags by which a man falling from a height of 6 braccia may avoid hurting himself, by a fall whether into water or on the ground; and these bags, strung together like a rosary, are to be fixed on one's back.


An object offers as much resistance to the air as the air does to the object. You may see that the beating of its wings against the air supports a heavy eagle in the highest and rarest atmosphere, close to the sphere of elemental fire. Again you may see the air in motion over the sea, fill the swelling sails and drive heavily laden ships. From these instances, and the reasons given, a man with wings large enough and duly connected might learn to overcome the resistance of the air, and by conquering it, succeed in subjugating it and rising above it. [Footnote: A parachute is here sketched, with an explanatory remark. It is reproduced on Tav. XVI in the Saggio, and in: Leonardo da Vinci als Ingenieur etc., Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Technik und der induktiven Wissenschaften, von Dr. Hermann Grothe, Berlin 1874, p. 50.]

Of mining.


If you want to know where a mine runs, place a drum over all the places where you suspect that it is being made, and upon this drum put a couple of dice, and when you are over the spot where they are mining, the dice will jump a little on the drum at every blow which is given underground in the mining.

There are persons who, having the convenience of a river or a lake in their lands, have made, close to the place where they suspect that a mine is being made, a great reservoir of water, and have countermined the enemy, and having found them, have turned the water upon them and destroyed a great number in the mine.

Of Greek fire.



Take charcoal of willow, and saltpetre, and sulphuric acid, and sulphur, and pitch, with frankincense and camphor, and Ethiopian wool, and boil them all together. This fire is so ready to burn that it clings to the timbers even under water. And add to this composition liquid varnish, and bituminous oil, and turpentine and strong vinegar, and mix all together and dry it in the sun, or in an oven when the bread is taken out; and then stick it round hempen or other tow, moulding it into a round form, and studding it all over with very sharp nails. You must leave in this ball an opening to serve as a fusee, and cover it with rosin and sulphur.

Again, this fire, stuck at the top of a long plank which has one braccio length of the end pointed with iron that it may not be burnt by the said fire, is good for avoiding and keeping off the ships, so as not to be overwhelmed by their onset.

Again throw vessels of glass full of pitch on to the enemy's ships when the men in them are intent on the battle; and then by throwing similar burning balls upon them you have it in your power to burn all their ships.

[Footnote: Venturi has given another short text about the Greek fire in a French translation (Essai Section XIV). He adds that the original text is to be found in MS. B. 30 (?). Libri speaks of it in a note as follows (Histoire des sciences mathematiques en Italie Vol. II p. 129): La composition du feu gregeois est une des chases qui ont ete les plus cherchees et qui sont encore les plus douteuses. On dit qu'il fut invente au septieme siecle de l'ere chretienne par l'architecte Callinique (Constantini Porphyrogenetae opera, Lugd. Batav. 1617,-- in-8vo; p. 172, de admin, imper. exp. 48), et il se trouve souvent mentionne par les Historiens Byzantins. Tantot on le langait avec des machines, comme on lancerait une banche, tantot on le soufflait avec de longs tubes, comme on soufflerait un gaz ou un liquide enflamme (Annae Comnenae Alexias, p. 335, lib. XI.--Aeliani et Leonis, imperatoris tactica, Lugd.-Bat. 1613, in-4. part. 2 a, p. 322, Leonis tact. cap. l9.--Joinville, histoire du Saint Louis collect. Petitot tom. II, p. 235). Les ecrivains contemporains disent que l'eau ne pouvait pas eteindre ce feu, mais qu'avec du vinaigre et du sable on y parvenait. Suivant quelques historiens le feu gregeois etait compose de soufre et de resine. Marcus Graecus (Liber ignium, Paris, 1804, in-40) donne plusieurs manieres de le faire qui ne sont pas tres intelligibles, mais parmi lesquelles on trouve la composition de la poudre a canon. Leonard de Vinci (MSS. de Leonard de Vinci, vol. B. f. 30,) dit qu'on le faisait avec du charbon de saule, du salpetre, de l'eau de vie, de la resine, du soufre, de la poix et du camphre. Mais il est probable que nous ne savons pas qu'elle etait sa composition, surtout a cause du secret qu'en faisaient les Grecs. En effet, l'empereur Constantin Porphyrogenete recommende a son fils de ne jamais en donner aux Barbares, et de leur repondre, s'ils en demandaient, qu'il avait ete apporti du ciel par un ange et que le secret en avait ete confie aux Chretiens (Constantini Porphyrogennetae opera, p. 26-27, de admin. imper., cap. 12).]

Of Music (1129. 1130).


A drum with cogs working by wheels with springs [2].

[Footnote: This chapter consists of explanations of the sketches shown on Pl. CXXI. Lines 1 and 2 of the text are to be seen at the top at the left hand side of the first sketch of a drum. Lines 3-5 refer to the sketch immediately below this. Line 6 is written as the side of the seventh sketch, and lines 7 and 8 at the side of the eighth. Lines 9-16 are at the bottom in the middle. The remainder of the text is at the side of the drawing at the bottom.]

A square drum of which the parchment may be drawn tight or slackened by the lever a b [5].

A drum for harmony [6].

[7] A clapper for harmony; that is, three clappers together.

[9] Just as one and the same drum makes a deep or acute sound according as the parchments are more or less tightened, so these parchments variously tightened on one and the same drum will make various sounds [16].

Keys narrow and close together; (bicchi) far apart; these will be right for the trumpet shown above.

a must enter in the place of the ordinary keys which have the ... in the openings of a flute.


Tymbals to be played like the monochord, or the soft flute.

[6] Here there is to be a cylinder of cane after the manner of clappers with a musical round called a Canon, which is sung in four parts; each singer singing the whole round. Therefore I here make a wheel with 4 teeth so that each tooth takes by itself the part of a singer.

[Footnote: In the original there are some more sketches, to which the text, from line 6, refers. They are studies for a contrivance exactly like the cylinder in our musical boxes.]


Of decorations.

White and sky-blue cloths, woven in checks to make a decoration.

Cloths with the threads drawn at a b c d e f g h i k, to go round the decoration.


Philosophical Maxims. Morals. Polemics and Speculations.

Vasari indulges in severe strictures on Leonardo's religious views. He speaks, among other things, of his "capricci nel filosofar delle cose naturali" and says on this point: "Per il che fece nell'animo un concetto si eretico che e' non si accostava a qualsi voglia religione, stimando per avventura assai piu lo esser filosofo che cristiano" (see the first edition of 'Le Vite'). But this accusation on the part of a writer in the days of the Inquisition is not a very serious one--and the less so, since, throughout the manuscripts, we find nothing to support it.

Under the heading of "Philosophical Maxims" I have collected all the passages which can give us a clear comprehension of Leonardo's ideas of the world at large. It is scarcely necessary to observe that there is absolutely nothing in them to lead to the inference that he was an atheist. His views of nature and its laws are no doubt very unlike those of his contemporaries, and have a much closer affinity to those which find general acceptance at the present day. On the other hand, it is obvious from Leonardo's will (see No. 1566) that, in the year before his death, he had professed to adhere to the fundamental doctrines of the Roman Catholic faith, and this evidently from his own personal desire and impulse.

The incredible and demonstrably fictitious legend of Leonardo's death in the arms of Francis the First, is given, with others, by Vasari and further embellished by this odious comment: "Mostrava tuttavia quanto avea offeso Dio e gli uomini del mondo, non avendo operato nell'arte come si conveniva." This last accusation, it may be remarked, is above all evidence of the superficial character of the information which Vasari was in a position to give about Leonardo. It seems to imply that Leonardo was disdainful of diligent labour. With regard to the second, referring to Leonardo's morality and dealings with his fellow men, Vasari himself nullifies it by asserting the very contrary in several passages. A further refutation may be found in the following sentence from the letter in which Melsi, the young Milanese nobleman, announces the Master's death to Leonardo's brothers: Credo siate certificati della morte di Maestro Lionardo fratello vostro, e mio quanto optimo padre, per la cui morte sarebbe impossibile che io potesse esprimere il dolore che io ho preso; e in mentre che queste mia membra si sosterranno insieme, io possedero una perpetua infelicita, e meritamente perche sviscerato et ardentissimo amore mi portava giornalmente. E dolto ad ognuno la perdita di tal uomo, quale non e piu in podesta della natura, ecc.

It is true that, in April 1476, we find the names of Leonardo and Verrocchio entered in the "Libro degli Uffiziali di notte e de' Monasteri" as breaking the laws; but we immediately after find the note "Absoluti cum condizione ut retamburentur" (Tamburini was the name given to the warrant cases of the night police). The acquittal therefore did not exclude the possibility of a repetition of the charge. It was in fact repeated, two months later, and on this occasion the Master and his pupil were again fully acquitted. Verrocchio was at this time forty and Leonardo four-and-twenty. The documents referring to this affair are in the State Archives of Florence; they have been withheld from publication, but it seemed to me desirable to give the reader this brief account of the leading facts of the story, as the vague hints of it, which have recently been made public, may have given to the incident an aspect which it had not in reality, and which it does not deserve.

The passages here classed under the head "Morals" reveal Leonardo to us as a man whose life and conduct were unfailingly governed by lofty principles and aims. He could scarcely have recorded his stern reprobation and unmeasured contempt for men who do nothing useful and strive only for riches, if his own life and ambitions had been such as they have so often been misrepresented.

At a period like that, when superstition still exercised unlimited dominion over the minds not merely of the illiterate crowd, but of the cultivated and learned classes, it was very natural that Leonardo's views as to Alchemy, Ghosts, Magicians, and the like should be met with stern reprobation whenever and wherever he may have expressed them; this accounts for the argumentative tone of all his utterances on such subjects which I have collected in Subdivision III of this section. To these I have added some passages which throw light on Leonardo's personal views on the Universe. They are, without exception, characterised by a broad spirit of naturalism of which the principles are more strictly applied in his essays on Astronomy, and still more on Physical Geography.

To avoid repetition, only such notes on Philosophy, Morals and Polemics, have been included in this section as occur as independent texts in the original MSS. Several moral reflections have already been given in Vol. I, in section "Allegorical representations, Mottoes and Emblems". Others will be found in the following section. Nos. 9 to 12, Vol. I, are also passages of an argumentative character. It did not seem requisite to repeat here these and similar passages, since their direct connection with the context is far closer in places where they have appeared already, than it would be here.



Prayers to God (1132. 1133).


I obey Thee Lord, first for the love I ought, in all reason to bear Thee; secondly for that Thou canst shorten or prolong the lives of men.



Thou, O God, dost sell us all good things at the price of labour.

The powers of Nature (1134-1139).


O admirable impartiality of Thine, Thou first Mover; Thou hast not permitted that any force should fail of the order or quality of its necessary results.


Necessity is the mistress and guide of nature.

Necessity is the theme and the inventress, the eternal curb and law of nature.


In many cases one and the same thing is attracted by two strong forces, namely Necessity and Potency. Water falls in rain; the earth absorbs it from the necessity for moisture; and the sun evaporates it, not from necessity, but by its power.


Weight, force and casual impulse, together with resistance, are the four external powers in which all the visible actions of mortals have their being and their end.


Our body is dependant on heaven and heaven on the Spirit.


The motive power is the cause of all life.

Psychology (1140-1147).


And you, O Man, who will discern in this work of mine the wonderful works of Nature, if you think it would be a criminal thing to destroy it, reflect how much more criminal it is to take the life of a man; and if this, his external form, appears to thee marvellously constructed, remember that it is nothing as compared with the soul that dwells in that structure; for that indeed, be it what it may, is a thing divine. Leave it then to dwell in His work at His good will and pleasure, and let not your rage or malice destroy a life--for indeed, he who does not value it, does not himself deserve it [Footnote 19: In MS. II 15a is the note: chi no stima la vita, non la merita.].

[Footnote: This text is on the back of the drawings reproduced on Pl. CVII. Compare No. 798, 35 note on p. 111: Compare also No. 837 and 838.]


The soul can never be corrupted with the corruption of the body,, but is in the body as it were the air which causes the sound of the organ, where when a pipe bursts, the wind would cease to have any good effect. [Footnote: Compare No. 845.]


The part always has a tendency to reunite with its whole in order to escape from its imperfection.

The spirit desires to remain with its body, because, without the organic instruments of that body, it can neither act, nor feel anything.


If any one wishes to see how the soul dwells in its body, let him observe how this body uses its daily habitation; that is to say, if this is devoid of order and confused, the body will be kept in disorder and confusion by its soul.


Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than with the imagination being awake?


The senses are of the earth; Reason, stands apart in contemplation.

[Footnote: Compare No. 842.]


Every action needs to be prompted by a motive.

To know and to will are two operations of the human mind.

Discerning, judging, deliberating are acts of the human mind.


All our knowledge has its origin in our preceptions.

Science, its principles and rules (1148--1161)


Science is the observation of things possible, whether present or past; prescience is the knowledge of things which may come to pass, though but slowly.


Experience, the interpreter between formative nature and the human race, teaches how that nature acts among mortals; and being constrained by necessity cannot act otherwise than as reason, which is its helm, requires her to act.


Wisdom is the daughter of experience.


Nature is full of infinite causes that have never occured in experience.


Truth was the only daughter of Time.


Experience never errs; it is only your judgments that err by promising themselves effects such as are not caused by your experiments.

Experience does not err; only your judgments err by expecting from her what is not in her power. Men wrongly complain of Experience; with great abuse they accuse her of leading them astray but they set Experience aside, turning from it with complaints as to our ignorance causing us to be carried away by vain and foolish desires to promise ourselves, in her name, things that are not in her power; saying that she is fallacious. Men are unjust in complaining of innocent Experience, constantly accusing her of error and of false evidence.


Instrumental or mechanical science is of all the noblest and the most useful, seeing that by means of this all animated bodies that have movement perform all their actions; and these movements are based on the centre of gravity which is placed in the middle dividing unequal weights, and it has dearth and wealth of muscles and also lever and counterlever.



Mechanics are the Paradise of mathematical science, because here we come to the fruits of mathematics. [Footnote: Compare No. 660, 11. 19--22 (Vol. I., p. 332). 1156.

Every instrument requires to be made by experience.


The man who blames the supreme certainty of mathematics feeds on confusion, and can never silence the contradictions of sophistical sciences which lead to an eternal quackery.


There is no certainty in sciences where one of the mathematical sciences cannot be applied, or which are not in relation with these mathematics.


Any one who in discussion relies upon authority uses, not his understanding, but rather his memory. Good culture is born of a good disposition; and since the cause is more to be praised than the effect, I will rather praise a good disposition without culture, than good culture without the disposition.


Science is the captain, and practice the soldiers.



Those who fall in love with practice without science are like a sailor who enters a ship without a helm or a compass, and who never can be certain whither he is going.



What is life? (1162. 1163).


Now you see that the hope and the desire of returning home and to one's former state is like the moth to the light, and that the man who with constant longing awaits with joy each new spring time, each new summer, each new month and new year--deeming that the things he longs for are ever too late in coming--does not perceive that he is longing for his own destruction. But this desire is the very quintessence, the spirit of the elements, which finding itself imprisoned with the soul is ever longing to return from the human body to its giver. And you must know that this same longing is that quintessence, inseparable from nature, and that man is the image of the world.


O Time! consumer of all things; O envious age! thou dost destroy all things and devour all things with the relentless teeth of years, little by little in a slow death. Helen, when she looked in her mirror, seeing the withered wrinkles made in her face by old age, wept and wondered why she had twice been carried away.

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 36

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Index

Leonardo da Vinci

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Italian Books
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book