The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 40

[Footnote page 1307: It seems to me probable that this note, which occurs in the note book used in 1502, when Leonardo, in the service of Cesare Borgia, visited Urbino, was suggested by the famous pillage of the riches of the palace of Guidobaldo, whose treasures Cesare Borgia at once had carried to Cesena (see GREGOROVIUS, Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter. XIII, 5, 4). ]


(Of Snakes, carried by Storks.)

Serpents of great length will be seen at a great height in the air, fighting with birds.

(Of great guns, which come out of a pit and a mould.)

Creatures will come from underground which with their terrific noise will stun all who are near; and with their breath will kill men and destroy cities and castles.


(Of Grain and other Seeds.)

Men will fling out of their houses those victuals which were intended to sustain their life.

(Of Trees, which nourish grafted shoots.)

Fathers and mothers will be seen to take much more delight in their step-children then in their own children.

(Of the Censer.)

Some will go about in white garments with arrogant gestures threatening others with metal and fire which will do no harm at all to them.


(Of drying Fodder.)

Innumerable lives will be destroyed and innumerable vacant spaces will be made on the earth.

(Of the Life of Men, who every year change their bodily substance.)

Men, when dead, will pass through their own bowels.



Men will take pleasure in seeing their own work destroyed and injured.


(Of Kids.)

The time of Herod will come again, for the little innocent children will be taken from their nurses, and will die of terrible wounds inflicted by cruel men.



Schemes for fables, etc. (1314-1323).



The crab standing under the rock to catch the fish which crept under it, it came to pass that the rock fell with a ruinous downfall of stones, and by their fall the crab was crushed.


The spider, being among the grapes, caught the flies which were feeding on those grapes. Then came the vintage, and the spider was cut down with the grapes.

The vine that has grown old on an old tree falls with the ruin of that tree, and through that bad companionship must perish with it.

The torrent carried so much earth and stones into its bed, that it was then constrained to change its course.

The net that was wont to take the fish was seized and carried away by the rush of fish.

The ball of snow when, as it rolls, it descends from the snowy mountains, increases in size as it falls.

The willow, which by its long shoots hopes as it grows, to outstrip every other plant, from having associated itself with the vine which is pruned every year was always crippled.


Fable of the tongue bitten by the teeth.

The cedar puffed up with pride of its beauty, separated itself from the trees around it and in so doing it turned away towards the wind, which not being broken in its fury, flung it uprooted on the earth.

The traveller's joy, not content in its hedge, began to fling its branches out over the high road, and cling to the opposite hedge, and for this it was broken away by the passers by.


The goldfinch gives victuals to its caged young. Death rather than loss of liberty. [Footnote: Above this text is another note, also referring to liberty; see No. 694.]


(Of Bags.)

Goats will convey the wine to the city.


All those things which in winter are hidden under the snow, will be uncovered and laid bare in summer. (for Falsehood, which cannot remain hidden).



The lily set itself down by the shores of the Ticino, and the current carried away bank and the lily with it.



Why Hungarian ducats have a double cross on them.



A vase of unbaked clay, when broken, may be remoulded, but not a baked one.


Seeing the paper all stained with the deep blackness of ink, it he deeply regrets it; and this proves to the paper that the words, composed upon it were the cause of its being preserved.


The pen must necessarily have the penknife for a companion, and it is a useful companionship, for one is not good for much without the other.

Schemes for prophecies (1324-1329).


The knife, which is an artificial weapon, deprives man of his nails, his natural weapons.

The mirror conducts itself haughtily holding mirrored in itself the Queen. When she departs the mirror remains there ...


Flax is dedicated to death, and to the corruption of mortals. To death, by being used for snares and nets for birds, animals and fish; to corruption, by the flaxen sheets in which the dead are wrapped when they are buried, and who become corrupt in these winding sheets.-- And again, this flax does not separate its fibre till it has begun to steep and putrefy, and this is the flower with which garlands and decorations for funerals should be made.


(Of Peasants who work in shirts)

Shadows will come from the East which will blacken with great colour darkness the sky that covers Italy.

(Of the Barbers.)

All men will take refuge in Africa.


The cloth which is held in the hand in the current of a running stream, in the waters of which the cloth leaves all its foulness and dirt, is meant to signify this &c.

By the thorn with inoculated good fruit is signified those natures which of themselves were not disposed towards virtue, but by the aid of their preceptors they have the repudation of it.



A wretched person will be flattered, and these flatterers are always the deceivers, robbers and murderers of the wretched person.

The image of the sun where it falls appears as a thing which covers the person who attempts to cover it.

(Money and Gold.)

Out of cavernous pits a thing shall come forth which will make all the nations of the world toil and sweat with the greatest torments, anxiety and labour, that they may gain its aid.

(Of the Dread of Poverty.)

The malicious and terrible [monster] will cause so much terror of itself in men that they will rush together, with a rapid motion, like madmen, thinking they are escaping her boundless force.

(Of Advice.)

The man who may be most necessary to him who needs him, will be repaid with ingratitude, that is greatly contemned.


(Of Bees.)

They live together in communities, they are destroyed that we may take the honey from them. Many and very great nations will be destroyed in their own dwellings.



This animal has a horror of the poor, because they eat poor food, and it loves the rich, because they have good living and especially meat. And the excrement of animals always retains some virtue of its origin as is shown by the faeces ...

Now dogs have so keen a smell, that they can discern by their nose the virtue remaining in these faeces, and if they find them in the streets, smell them and if they smell in them the virtue of meat or of other things, they take them, and if not, they leave them: And to return to the question, I say that if by means of this smell they know that dog to be well fed, they respect him, because they judge that he has a powerful and rich master; and if they discover no such smell with the virtue of meet, they judge that dog to be of small account and to have a poor and humble master, and therefore they bite that dog as they would his master.


The circular plans of carrying earth are very useful, inasmuch as men never stop in their work; and it is done in many ways. By one of these ways men carry the earth on their shoulders, by another in chests and others on wheelbarrows. The man who carries it on his shoulders first fills the tub on the ground, and he loses time in hoisting it on to his shoulders. He with the chests loses no time. [Footnote: The subject of this text has apparently no connection with the other texts of this section.]

Irony (1332).


If Petrarch was so fond of bay, it was because it is of a good taste in sausages and with tunny; I cannot put any value on their foolery. [Footnote: Conte Porro has published these lines in the Archivio Stor. Lombarda VIII, IV; he reads the concluding line thus: I no posso di loro gia (sic) co' far tesauro.--This is known to be by a contemporary poet, as Senatore Morelli informs me.]

Tricks (1333-1335).


We are two brothers, each of us has a brother. Here the way of saying it makes it appear that the two brothers have become four.



Take in each hand an equal number; put 4 from the right hand into the left; cast away the remainder; cast away an equal number from the left hand; add 5, and now you will find 13 in this [left] hand; that is-I made you put 4 from the right hand into the left, and cast away the remainder; now your right hand has 4 more; then I make you throw away as many from the right as you threw away from the left; so, throwing from each hand a quantity of which the remainder may be equal, you now have 4 and 4, which make 8, and that the trick may not be detec- ted I made you put 5 more, which made 13.


Take any number less than 12 that you please; then take of mine enough to make up the number 12, and that which remains to me is the number which you at first had; because when I said, take any number less than 12 as you please, I took 12 into my hand, and of that 12 you took such a number as made up your number of 12; and what you added to your number, you took from mine; that is, if you had 8 to go as far as to 12, you took of my 12, 4; hence this 4 transferred from me to you reduced my 12 to a remainder of 8, and your 8 became 12; so that my 8 is equal to your 8, before it was made 12.

[Footnote 1334: G. Govi says in the 'Saggio' p. 22: Si dilett Leonarda, di giuochi di prestigi e molti (?) ne descrisse, che si leggono poi riportati dal Paciolo nel suo libro: de Viribus Quantitatis, e che, se non tutti, sono certo in gran parte invenzioni del Vinci.]


If you want to teach someone a subject you do not know yourself, let him measure the length of an object unknown to you, and he will learn the measure you did not know before;--Master Giovanni da Lodi.


Letters. Personal Records. Dated Notes.

When we consider how superficial and imperfect are the accounts of Leonardo's life written some time after his death by Vasari and others, any notes or letters which can throw more light on his personal circumstances cannot fail to be in the highest degree interesting. The texts here given as Nos. 1351--1353, set his residence in Rome in quite a new aspect; nay, the picture which irresistibly dwells in our minds after reading these details of his life in the Vatican, forms a striking contrast to the contemporary life of Raphael at Rome.

I have placed foremost of these documents the very remarkable letters to the Defterdar of Syria. In these Leonardo speaks of himself as having staid among the mountains of Armenia, and as the biographies of the master tell nothing of any such distant journeys, it would seem most obvious to treat this passage as fiction, and so spare ourselves the onus of proof and discussion. But on close examination no one can doubt that these documents, with the accompanying sketches, are the work of Leonardo's own hand. Not merely is the character of the handwriting his, but the spelling and the language are his also. In one respect only does the writing betray any marked deviation from the rest of the notes, especially those treating on scientific questions; namely, in these observations he seems to have taken particular pains to give the most distinct and best form of expression to all he had to say; we find erasures and emendations in almost every line. He proceeded, as we shall see, in the same way in the sketches for letters to Giuliano de' Medici, and what can be more natural, I may ask, than to find the draft of a letter thus altered and improved when it is to contain an account of a definite subject, and when personal interests are in the scale? The finished copies as sent off are not known to exist; if we had these instead of the rough drafts, we might unhesitatingly have declared that some unknown Italian engineer must have been, at that time, engaged in Armenia in the service of the Egyptian Sultan, and that Leonardo had copied his documents. Under this hypothesis however we should have to state that this unknown writer must have been so far one in mind with Leonardo as to use the same style of language and even the same lines of thought. This explanation might--as I say--have been possible, if only we had the finished letters. But why should these rough drafts of letters be regarded as anything else than what they actually and obviously are? If Leonardo had been a man of our own time, we might perhaps have attempted to account for the facts by saying that Leonardo, without having been in the East himself, might have undertaken to write a Romance of which the scene was laid in Armenia, and at the desire of his publisher had made sketches of landscape to illustrate the text.

I feel bound to mention this singular hypothesis as it has actually been put forward (see No. 1336 note 5); and it would certainly seem as though there were no other possible way of evading the conclusion to which these letters point, and their bearing on the life of the master,--absurd as the alternative is. But, if, on a question of such importance, we are justified in suggesting theories that have no foundation in probability, I could suggest another which, as compared with that of a Fiction by Leonardo, would be neither more nor less plausible; it is, moreover the only other hypothesis, perhaps, which can be devised to account for these passages, if it were possible to prove that the interpretation that the documents themselves suggest, must be rejected a priori; viz may not Leonardo have written them with the intention of mystifying those who, after his death, should try to decipher these manuscripts with a view to publishing them? But if, in fact, no objection that will stand the test of criticism can be brought against the simple and direct interpretation of the words as they stand, we are bound to regard Leonardo's travels in the East as an established fact. There is, I believe nothing in what we know of his biography to negative such a fact, especially as the details of his life for some few years are wholly unknown; nor need we be at a loss for evidence which may serve to explain--at any rate to some extent--the strangeness of his undertaking such a journey. We have no information as to Leonardo's history between 1482 and 1486; it cannot be proved that he was either in Milan or in Florence. On the other hand the tenor of this letter does not require us to assume a longer absence than a year or two. For, even if his appointment (offitio) as Engineer in Syria had been a permanent one, it might have become untenable--by the death perhaps of the Defterdar, his patron, or by his removal from office--, and Leonardo on his return home may have kept silence on the subject of an episode which probably had ended in failure and disappointment.

From the text of No. 1379 we can hardly doubt that Leonardo intended to make an excursion secretly from Rome to Naples, although so far as has hitherto been known, his biographers never allude to it. In another place (No. 1077) he says that he had worked as an Engineer in Friuli. Are we to doubt this statement too, merely because no biographer has hitherto given us any information on the matter? In the geographical notes Leonardo frequently speaks of the East, and though such passages afford no direct proof of his having been there, they show beyond a doubt that, next to the Nile, the Euphrates, the Tigris and the Taurus mountains had a special interest in his eyes. As a still further proof of the futility of the argument that there is nothing in his drawings to show that he had travelled in the East, we find on Pl. CXX a study of oriental heads of Armenian type,--though of course this may have been made in Italy.

If the style of these letters were less sober, and the expressions less strictly to the point throughout, it miglit be possible to regard them as a romantic fiction instead of a narrative of fact. Nay, we have only to compare them with such obviously fanciful passages as No. 1354, Nos. 670-673, and the Fables and Prophecies. It is unnecessary to discuss the subject any further here; such explanations as the letter needs are given in the foot notes.

The drafts of letters to Lodovico il Moro are very remarkable. Leonardo and this prince were certainly far less closely connected, than has hitherto been supposed. It is impossible that Leonardo can have remained so long in the service of this prince, because the salary was good, as is commonly stated. On the contrary, it would seem, that what kept him there, in spite of his sore need of the money owed him by the prince, was the hope of some day being able to carry out the project of casting the 'gran cavallo'.

Drafts of Letters and Reports referring to Armenia (1336. 1337).



[3] The recent disaster in our Northern parts which I am certain will terrify not you alone but the whole world, which

[Footnote: Lines 1-52 are reproduced in facsimile on Pl. CXVI.

1. Diodario. This word is not to be found in any Italian dictionary, and for a long time I vainly sought an explanation of it. The youthful reminiscences of my wife afforded the desired clue. The chief town of each Turkish Villayet, or province --such as Broussa, for instance, in Asia Minor, is the residence of a Defterdar, who presides over the financial affairs of the province. Defterdar hane was, in former times, the name given to the Ministry of Finance at Constantinople; the Minister of Finance to the Porte is now known as the Mallie-Nazri and the Defterdars are his subordinates. A Defterdar, at the present day is merely the head of the finance department in each Provincial district. With regard to my suggestion that Leonardo's Diodario might be identical with the Defterdar of former times, the late M. C. DEFREMERIE, Arabic Professor, and Membre de l'Institut de France wrote to me as follows: Votre conjecture est parfaitement fondee; diodario est Vequivalent de devadar ou plus exactement devatdar, titre d'une importante dignite en Egypt'e, sous les Mamlouks.

The word however is not of Turkish, but of Perso-Arabie derivation. [Defter written in arab?] literally Defter (Arabic) meaning folio; for dar (Persian) Bookkeeper or holder is the English equivalent; and the idea is that of a deputy in command. During the Mamelook supremacy over Syria, which corresponded in date with Leonardo's time, the office of Defterdar was the third in importance in the State.

Soltano di Babilonia. The name of Babylon was commonly applied to Cairo in the middle ages. For instance BREIDENBACH, Itinerarium Hierosolyma p. 218 says: "At last we reached Babylon. But this is not that Babylon which stood on the further shore of the river Chober, but that which is called the Egyptian Babylon. It is close by Cairo and the twain are but one and not two towns; one half is called Cairo and the other Babylon, whence they are called together Cairo-Babylon; originally the town is said to have been named Memphis and then Babylon, but now it is called Cairo." Compare No. 1085, 6.

Egypt was governed from 1382 till 1517 by the Borgite or Tcherkessian dynasty of the Mamelook Sultans. One of the most famous of these, Sultan Kait Bey, ruled from 1468-1496 during whose reign the Gama (or Mosque) of Kait Bey and tomb of Kait Bey near the Okella Kait Bey were erected in Cairo, which preserve his name to this day. Under the rule of this great and wise prince many foreigners, particularly Italians, found occupation in Egypt, as may be seen in the 'Viaggio di Josaphat Barbaro', among other travellers. "Next to Leonardo (so I learn from Prof. Jac. Burckhardt of Bale) Kait Bey's most helpful engineer was a German who in about 1487, superintended the construction of the Mole at Alexandria. Felix Fabri knew him and mentions him in his Historia Suevorum, written in 1488."

3. Il nuovo accidente accaduto, or as Leonardo first wrote and then erased, e accaduto un nuovo accidente. From the sequel this must refer to an earthquake, and indeed these were frequent at that period, particularly in Asia Minor, where they caused immense mischief. See No. 1101 note.]

shall be related to you in due order, showing first the effect and then the cause. [Footnote 4: The text here breaks off. The following lines are a fresh beginning of a letter, evidently addressed to the same person, but, as it would seem, written at a later date than the previous text. The numerous corrections and amendments amply prove that it is not a copy from any account of a journey by some unknown person; but, on the contrary, that Leonardo was particularly anxious to choose such words and phrases as might best express his own ideas.]

Finding myself in this part of Armenia [Footnote 5: Parti d'Erminia. See No. 945, note. The extent of Armenia in Leonardo's time is only approximately known. In the XVth century the Persians governed the Eastern, and the Arabs the Southern portions. Arabic authors--as, for instance Abulfeda--include Cilicia and a part of Cappadocia in Armenia, and Greater Armenia was the tract of that country known later as Turcomania, while Armenia Minor was the territory between Cappadocia and the Euphrates. It was not till 1522, or even 1574 that the whole country came under the dominion of the Ottoman Turks, in the reign of Selim I.

The Mamelook Sultans of Egypt seem to have taken a particular interest in this, the most Northern province of their empire, which was even then in danger of being conquered by the Turks. In the autumn of 1477 Sultan Kait Bey made a journey of inspection, visiting Antioch and the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates with a numerous and brilliant escort. This tour is briefly alluded to by Moodshireddin p. 561; and by WEIL, Geschichte der Abbasiden V, p. 358. An anonymous member of the suite wrote a diary of the expedition in Arabic, which has been published by R. V. LONZONE ('Viaggio in Palestina e Soria di Kaid Ba XVIII sultano della II dinastia mamelucca, fatto nel 1477. Testo arabo. Torino 1878', without notes or commentary). Compare the critique on this edition, by J. GILDEMEISTER in Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palaestina Vereins (Vol. Ill p. 246--249). Lanzone's edition seems to be no more than an abridged copy of the original. I owe to Professor Sche'fer, Membre de l'Institut, the information that he is in possession of a manuscript in which the text is fuller, and more correctly given. The Mamelook dynasty was, as is well known, of Circassian origin, and a large proportion of the Egyptian Army was recruited in Circassia even so late as in the XVth century. That was a period of political storms in Syria and Asia Minor and it is easy to suppose that the Sultan's minister, to whom Leonardo addresses his report as his superior, had a special interest in the welfare of those frontier provinces. Only to mention a few historical events of Sultan Kait Bey's reign, we find that in 1488 he assisted the Circassians to resist the encroachments of Alaeddoulet, an Asiatic prince who had allied himself with the Osmanli to threaten the province; the consequence was a war in Cilicia by sea and land, which broke out in the following year between the contending powers. Only a few years earlier the same province had been the scene of the so-called Caramenian war in which the united Venetian, Neapolitan and Sclavonic fleets had been engaged. (See CORIALANO CIPPICO, Della guerra dei Veneziani nell' Asia dal 1469--1474. Venezia 1796, p. 54) and we learn incidentally that a certain Leonardo Boldo, Governor of Scutari under Sultan Mahmoud,--as his name would indicate, one of the numerous renegades of Italian birth--played an important part in the negotiations for peace.

Tu mi mandasti. The address tu to a personage so high in office is singular and suggests personal intimacy; Leonardo seems to have been a favourite with the Diodario. Compare lines 54 and 55.

I have endeavoured to show, and I believe that I am also in a position to prove with regard to these texts, that they are draughts of letters actually written by Leonardo; at the same time I must not omit to mention that shortly after I had discovered

these texts in the Codex Atlanticus and published a paper on the subject in the Zeitschrift fur bildende Kunst (Vol. XVI), Prof. Govi put forward this hypothesis to account for their origin:

"Quanto alle notizie sul monte Tauro, sull'Armenia e sull' Asia minore che si contengono negli altri frammenti, esse vennero prese da qualche geografro o viaggiatore contemporaneo. Dall'indice imperfetto che accompagna quei frammenti, si potrebbe dedurre che Leonardo volesse farne un libro, che poi non venne compiuto. A ogni modo, non e possibile di trovare in questi brani nessun indizio di un viaggio di Leonardo in oriente, ne della sua conversione alla religione di Maometto, come qualcuno pretenderebbe. Leonardo amava con passione gli studi geografici, e nel suoi scritti s'incontran spesso itinerart, indicazioni, o descrizioni di luoghi, schizzi di carte e abbozzi topografici di varie regioni, non e quindi strano che egli, abile narratore com'era, si fosse proposto di scrivere una specie di Romanzo in forma epistolare svolgendone Pintreccio nell'Asia Minore, intorno alla quale i libri d'allora, e forse qualche viaggiatore amico suo, gli avevano somministrato alcuni elementi piu o meno fantastici. (See Transunti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei Voi. V Ser. 3).

It is hardly necessary to point out that Prof. Govi omits to name the sources from which Leonardo could be supposed to have drawn his information, and I may leave it to the reader to pronounce judgment on the anomaly which is involved in the hypothesis that we have here a fragment of a Romance, cast in the form of a correspondence. At the same time, I cannot but admit that the solution of the difficulties proposed by Prof. Govi is, under the circumstances, certainly the easiest way of dealing with the question. But we should then be equally justified in supposing some more of Leonardo's letters to be fragments of such romances; particularly those of which the addresses can no longer be named. Still, as regards these drafts of letters to the Diodario, if we accept the Romance theory, as pro- posed by Prof. Govi, we are also compelled to assume that Leonardo purposed from the first to illustrate his tale; for it needs only a glance at the sketches on PI. CXVI to CXIX to perceive that they are connected with the texts; and of course the rest of Leonardo's numerous notes on matters pertaining to the East, the greater part of which are here published for the first time, may also be somehow connected with this strange romance.

7. Citta de Calindra (Chalindra). The position of this city is so exactly determined, between the valley of the Euphrates and the Taurus range that it ought to be possible to identify it. But it can hardly be the same as the sea port of Cilicia with a somewhat similar name Celenderis, Kelandria, Celendria, Kilindria, now the Turkish Gulnar. In two Catalonian Portulans in the Bibliotheque Natio- nale in Paris-one dating from the XV'h century, by Wilhelm von Soler, the other by Olivez de Majorca, in l584-I find this place called Calandra. But Leonardo's Calindra must certainly have lain more to the North West, probably somewhere in Kurdistan. The fact that the geographical position is so care- fully determined by Leonardo seems to prove that it was a place of no great importance and little known. It is singular that the words first written in 1. 8 were divisa dal lago (Lake Van?), altered afterwards to dall'Eitfrates.

Nostri confini, and in 1. 6 proposito nostro. These refer to the frontier and to the affairs of the Mamelook Sultan, Lines 65 and 66 throw some light on the purpose of Leonardo's mission.

8. I corni del gra mote Tauro. Compare the sketches PI. CXVI-CXVIII. So long as it is im- possible to identify the situation of Calindra it is most difficult to decide with any certainty which peak of the Taurus is here meant; and I greatly regret that I had no foreknowledge of this puzzling topographical question when, in 1876, I was pursuing archaeological enquiries in the Provinces of Aleppo and Cilicia, and had to travel for some time in view of the imposing snow-peaks of Bulghar Dagh and Ala Tepessi.

9-10. The opinion here expressed as to the height of the mountain would be unmeaning, unless it had been written before Leonardo moved to Milan, where Monte Rosa is so conspicuous an object in the landscape. 4 ore inanzi seems to mean, four hours before the sun's rays penetrate to the bottom of the valleys.]

to carry into effect with due love and care the task for which you sent me [Footnote: ][6]; and to make a beginning in a place which seemed to me to be most to our purpose, I entered into the city of Calindrafy[7], near to our frontiers. This city is situated at the base of that part of the Taurus mountains which is divided from the Euphrates and looks towards the peaks of the great Mount Taurus [8] to the West [9]. These peaks are of such a height that they seem to touch the sky, and in all the world there is no part of the earth, higher than its summit[10], and the rays of the sun always fall upon it on its East side, four hours before day-time, and being of the whitest stone [Footnote 11:Pietra bianchissima. The Taurus Mountains consist in great part of limestone.] it shines resplendently and fulfils the function to these Armenians which a bright moon-light would in the midst of the darkness; and by its great height it outreaches the utmost level of the clouds by a space of four miles in a straight line.

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