The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Page 41

This peak is seen in many places towards the West, illuminated by the sun after its setting the third part of the night. This it is, which with you [Footnote 14: Appresso di voi. Leonardo had at first written noi as though his meaning had,been: This peak appeared to us to be a comet when you and I observed it in North Syria (at Aleppo? at Aintas?). The description of the curious reflection in the evening, resembling the "Alpine-glow" is certainly not an invented fiction, for in the next lines an explanation of the phenomenon is offered, or at least attempted.] we formerly in calm weather had supposed to be a comet, and appears to us in the darkness of night, to change its form, being sometimes divided in two or three parts, and sometimes long and sometimes short. And this is caused by the clouds on the horizon of the sky which interpose between part of this mountain and the sun, and by cutting off some of the solar rays the light on the mountain is intercepted by various intervals of clouds, and therefore varies in the form of its brightness.

THE DIVISIONS OF THE BOOK [Footnote 19: The next 33 lines are evidently the contents of a connected Report or Book, but not of one which he had at hand; more probably, indeed, of one he purposed writing.].

The praise and confession of the faith [Footnote 20: Persuasione di fede, of the Christian or the Mohammedan faith? We must suppose the latter, at the beginning of a document addressed to so high a Mohammedan official. Predica probably stands as an abbreviation for predicazione (lat. praedicatio) in the sense of praise or glorification; very probably it may mean some such initial doxology as we find in Mohammedan works. (Comp. 1. 40.)].

The sudden inundation, to its end.

[23] The destruction of the city.

[24]The death of the people and their despair.

The preacher's search, his release and benevolence [Footnote 28: The phraseology of this is too general for any conjecture as to its meaning to be worth hazarding.]

Description of the cause of this fall of the mountain [Footnote 30: Ruina del monte. Of course by an earthquake. In a catalogue of earthquakes, entitled kechf aussalssaleb an auasf ezzel-zeleh, and written by Djelal eddin].

The mischief it did.

[32] Fall of snow.

The finding of the prophet [33].

His prophesy.

[35] The inundation of the lower portion of Eastern Armenia, the draining of which was effected by the cutting through the Taurus Mountains.

How the new prophet showed [Footnote 40:Nova profeta, 1. 33, profeta. Mohammed. Leonardo here refers to the Koran:

In the name of the most merciful God.--When the earth shall be shaken by an earthquake; and the earth shall cast forth her burdens; and a man shall say, what aileth her? On that day the earth shall declare her tidings, for that thy Lord will inspire her. On that day men shall go forward in distinct classes, that they may behold their works. And whoever shall have wrought good of the weight of an ant, shall behold the same. And whoever shall have wrought evil of the weight of an ant, shall behold the same. (The Koran, translated by G. Sale, Chapter XCIX, p. 452).] that this destruction would happen as he had foretold.

Description of the Taurus Mountains [43] and the river Euphrates.

Why the mountain shines at the top, from half to a third of the night, and looks like a comet to the inhabitants of the West after the sunset, and before day to those of the East.

Why this comet appears of variable forms, so that it is now round and now long, and now again divided into two or three parts, and now in one piece, and when it is to be seen again.

OF THE SHAPE OF THE TAURUS MOUNTAINS [Footnote 53-94: The facsimile of this passage is given on Pl. CXVII.].

I am not to be accused, Oh Devatdar, of idleness, as your chidings seem to hint; but your excessive love for me, which gave rise to the benefits you have conferred on me [Footnote 55] is that which has also compelled me to the utmost painstaking in seeking out and diligently investigating the cause of so great and stupendous an effect. And this could not be done without time; now, in order to satisfy you fully as to the cause of so great an effect, it is requisite that I should explain to you the form of the place, and then I will proceed to the effect, by which I believe you will be amply satisfied.

[Footnote 36: Tagliata di Monte Tauro. The Euphrates flows through the Taurus range near the influx of the Kura Shai; it rushes through a rift in the wildest cliffs from 2000 to 3000 feet high and runs on for 90 miles in 300 falls or rapids till it reaches Telek, near which at a spot called Gleikash, or the Hart's leap, it measures only 35 paces across. Compare the map on Pl. CXIX and the explanation for it on p. 391.]

[Footnote 54: The foregoing sketch of a letter, lines 5. 18, appears to have remained a fragment when Leonardo received pressing orders which caused him to write immediately and fully on the subject mentioned in line 43.]

[Footnote 59: This passage was evidently intended as an improvement on that immediately preceding it. The purport of both is essentially the same, but the first is pitched in a key of ill-disguised annoyance which is absent from the second. I do not see how these two versions can be reconciled with the romance-theory held by Prof. Govi.] Do not be aggrieved, O Devatdar, by my delay in responding to your pressing request, for those things which you require of me are of such a nature that they cannot be well expressed without some lapse of time; particularly because, in order to explain the cause of so great an effect, it is necessary to describe with accuracy the nature of the place; and by this means I can afterwards easily satisfy your above-mentioned request. [Footnote 62: This passage was evidently intended as an improvement on that immediately preceding it. The purport of both is essentially the same, but the first is pitched in a key of ill-disguised annoyance which is absent from the second. I do not see how these two versions can be reconciled with the romance-theory held by Prof. Govi.]

I will pass over any description of the form of Asia Minor, or as to what seas or lands form the limits of its outline and extent, because I know that by your own diligence and carefulness in your studies you have not remained in ignorance of these matters [65]; and I will go on to describe the true form of the Taurus Mountain which is the cause of this stupendous and harmful marvel, and which will serve to advance us in our purpose [66]. This Taurus is that mountain which, with many others is said to be the ridge of Mount Caucasus; but wishing to be very clear about it, I desired to speak to some of the inhabitants of the shores of the Caspian sea, who give evidence that this must be the true Caucasus, and that though their mountains bear the same name, yet these are higher; and to confirm this in the Scythian tongue Caucasus means a very high [Footnote 68: Caucasus; Herodot Kaoxaais; Armen. Kaukaz.] peak, and in fact we have no information of there being, in the East or in the West, any mountain so high. And the proof of this is that the inhabitants of the countries to the West see the rays of the sun illuminating a great part of its summit for as much as a quarter of the longest night. And in the same way, in those countries which lie to the East.


[Footnote 73: The statements are of course founded on those of the 'inhabitants' spoken of in 1. 67.] The shadow of this ridge of the Taurus is of such a height that when, in the middle of June, the Sun is at its meridian, its shadow extends as far as the borders of Sarmatia, twelve days off; and in the middle of December it extends as far as the Hyperborean mountains, which are at a month's journey to the North [75]. And the side which faces the wind is always free from clouds and mists, because the wind which is parted in beating on the rock, closes again on the further side of that rock, and in its motion carries with it the clouds from all quarters and leaves them where it strikes. And it is always full of thunderbolts from the great quantity of clouds which accumulate there, whence the rock is all riven and full of huge debris [Footnote 77: Sudden storms are equally common on the heights of Ararat. It is hardly necessary to observe that Ararat cannot be meant here. Its summit is formed like the crater of Vesuvius. The peaks sketched on Pl. CXVI-CXVIII are probably views of the same mountain, taken from different sides. Near the solitary peak, Pl. CXVIII these three names are written goba, arnigasar, caruda, names most likely of different peaks. Pl. CXVI and CXVII are in the original on a single sheet folded down the middle, 30 centimetres high and 43 1/2 wide. On the reverse of one half of the sheet are notes on peso and bilancia (weight and balance), on the other are the 'prophecies' printed under Nos. 1293 and 1294. It is evident from the arrangement that these were written subsequently, on the space which had been left blank. These pages are facsimiled on Pl. CXVIII. In Pl. CXVI-CXVIII the size is smaller than in the original; the map of Armenia, Pl. CXVIII, is on Pl. CXIX slightly enlarged. On this map we find the following names, beginning from the right hand at the top: pariardes mo (for Paryadres Mons, Arm. Parchar, now Barchal or Kolai Dagh; Trebizond is on its slope).

Aquilone --North, Antitaurus Antitaurus psis mo (probably meant for Thospitis = Lake Van, Arm. Dgov Vanai, Tospoi, and the Mountain range to the South); Gordis mo (Mountains of Gordyaea), the birth place of the Tigris; Oriente --East; Tigris, and then, to the left, Eufrates. Then, above to the left Argeo mo (now Erdshigas, an extinct volcano, 12000 feet high); Celeno mo (no doubt Sultan Dagh in Pisidia). Celeno is the Greek town of KeAouvat-- see Arian I, 29, I--now the ruins of Dineir); oriente --East; africo libezco (for libeccio--South West). In the middle of the Euphrates river on this small map we see a shaded portion surrounded by mountains, perhaps to indicate the inundation mentioned in l. 35. The affluent to the Euphrates shown as coming with many windings from the high land of 'Argeo' on the West, is the Tochma Su, which joins the main river at Malatie. I have not been able to discover any map of Armenia of the XVth or XVIth century in which the course of the Euphrates is laid down with any thing like the correctness displayed in this sketch. The best I have seen is the Catalonian Portulan of Olivez de Majorca, executed in 1584, and it is far behind Leonardo's.]. This mountain, at its base, is inhabited by a very rich population and is full of most beautiful springs and rivers, and is fertile and abounding in all good produce, particularly in those parts which face to the South. But after mounting about three miles we begin to find forests of great fir trees, and beech and other similar trees; after this, for a space of three more miles, there are meadows and vast pastures; and all the rest, as far as the beginning of the Taurus, is eternal snows which never disappear at any time, and extend to a height of about fourteen miles in all. From this beginning of the Taurus up to the height of a mile the clouds never pass away; thus we have fifteen miles, that is, a height of about five miles in a straight line; and the summit of the peaks of the Taurus are as much, or about that. There, half way up, we begin to find a scorching air and never feel a breath of wind; but nothing can live long there; there nothing is brought forth save a few birds of prey which breed in the high fissures of Taurus and descend below the clouds to seek their prey. Above the wooded hills all is bare rock, that is, from the clouds upwards; and the rock is the purest white. And it is impossible to walk to the high summit on account of the rough and perilous ascent.


[Footnote: 1337. On comparing this commencement of a letter l. 1-2 with that in l. 3 and 4 of No. 1336 it is quite evident that both refer to the same event. (Compare also No. 1337 l. 10-l2 and 17 with No. 1336 l. 23, 24 and 32.) But the text No. 1336, including the fragment l. 3-4, was obviously written later than the draft here reproduced. The Diodario is not directly addressed--the person addressed indeed is not known--and it seems to me highly probable that it was written to some other patron and friend whose name and position are not mentioned.]

Having often made you, by my letters, acquainted with the things which have happened, I think I ought not to be silent as to the events of the last few days, which--[2]...

Having several times--

Having many times rejoiced with you by letters over your prosperous fortunes, I know now that, as a friend you will be sad with me over the miserable state in which I find myself; and this is, that during the last few days I have been in so much trouble, fear, peril and loss, besides the miseries of the people here, that we have been envious of the dead; and certainly I do not believe that since the elements by their separation reduced the vast chaos to order, they have ever combined their force and fury to do so much mischief to man. As far as regards us here, what we have seen and gone through is such that I could not imagine that things could ever rise to such an amount of mischief, as we experienced in the space of ten hours. In the first place we were assailed and attacked by the violence and fury of the winds [10]; to this was added the falling of great mountains of snow which filled up all this valley, thus destroying a great part of our city [Footnote 11: Della nostra citta (Leonardo first wrote di questa citta). From this we may infer that he had at some time lived in the place in question wherever it might be.]. And not content with this the tempest sent a sudden flood of water to submerge all the low part of this city [12]; added to which there came a sudden rain, or rather a ruinous torrent and flood of water, sand, mud, and stones, entangled with roots, and stems and fragments of various trees; and every kind of thing flying through the air fell upon us; finally a great fire broke out, not brought by the wind, but carried as it would seem, by ten thousand devils, which completely burnt up all this neighbourhood and it has not yet ceased. And those few who remain unhurt are in such dejection and such terror that they hardly have courage to speak to each other, as if they were stunned. Having abandoned all our business, we stay here together in the ruins of some churches, men and women mingled together, small and great [Footnote 17: Certe ruine di chiese. Either of Armenian churches or of Mosques, which it was not unusual to speak of as churches.

Maschi e femmini insieme unite, implies an infringement of the usually strict rule of the separation of the sexes.], just like herds of goats. The neighbours out of pity succoured us with victuals, and they had previously been our enemies. And if

[Footnote 18: I vicini, nostri nimici. The town must then have stood quite close to the frontier of the country. Compare 1336. L. 7. vicini ai nostri confini. Dr. M. JORDAN has already published lines 4-13 (see Das Malerbuch, Leipzig, 1873, p. 90:--his reading differs from mine) under the title of "Description of a landscape near Lake Como". We do in fact find, among other loose sheets in the Codex Atlanticus, certain texts referring to valleys of the Alps (see Nos. 1030, 1031 and note p. 237) and in the arrangement of the loose sheets, of which the Codex Atlanticus has been formed, these happen to be placed close to this text. The compiler stuck both on the same folio sheet; and if this is not the reason for Dr. JORDAN'S choosing such a title (Description &c.) I cannot imagine what it can have been. It is, at any rate, a merely hypothetical statement. The designation of the population of the country round a city as "the enemy" (nemici) is hardly appropriate to Italy in the time of Leonardo.]

it had not been for certain people who succoured us with victuals, all would have died of hunger. Now you see the state we are in. And all these evils are as nothing compared with those which are promised to us shortly.

I know that as a friend you will grieve for my misfortunes, as I, in former letters have shown my joy at your prosperity ...

Notes about events observed abroad (1338-1339).



I have seen motions of the air so furious that they have carried, mixed up in their course, the largest trees of the forest and whole roofs of great palaces, and I have seen the same fury bore a hole with a whirling movement digging out a gravel pit, and carrying gravel, sand and water more than half a mile through the air.

[Footnote: The first sixteen lines of this passage which treat of the subject as indicated on the title line have no place in this connexion and have been omitted.]

[Footnote 2: Ho veduto movimenti &c. Nothing of the kind happened in Italy during Leonardo's lifetime, and it is therefore extremely probable that this refers to the natural phenomena which are so fully described in the foregoing passage. (Compare too, No. 1021.) There can be no doubt that the descriptions of the Deluge in the Libro di Pittura (Vol. I, No. 607-611), and that of the fall of a mountain No. 610, l. 17-30 were written from the vivid impressions derived from personal experience. Compare also Pl. XXXIV-XL.]


[Footnote: It may be inferred from the character of the writing, which is in the style of the note in facsimile Vol. I, p. 297, that this passage was written between 1470 and 1480. As the figure 6 at the end of the text indicates, it was continued on another page, but I have searched in vain for it. The reverse of this leaf is coloured red for drawing in silver point, but has not been used for that purpose but for writing on, and at about the same date. The passages are given as Nos. 1217, 1218, 1219, 1162 and No. 994 (see note page 218). The text given above is obviously not a fragment of a letter, but a record of some personal experience. No. 1379 also seems to refer to Leonardo's journeys in Southern Italy.]

Like a whirling wind which rushes down a sandy and hollow valley, and which, in its hasty course, drives to its centre every thing that opposes its furious course ...

No otherwise does the Northern blast whirl round in its tempestuous progress ...

Nor does the tempestuous sea bellow so loud, when the Northern blast dashes it, with its foaming waves between Scylla and Charybdis; nor Stromboli, nor Mount Etna, when their sulphurous flames, having been forcibly confined, rend, and burst open the mountain, fulminating stones and earth through the air together with the flames they vomit.

Nor when the inflamed caverns of Mount Etna [Footnote 13: Mongibello is a name commonly given in Sicily to Mount Etna (from Djebel, Arab.=mountain). Fr. FERRARA, Descrizione dell' Etna con la storia delle eruzioni (Palermo, 1818, p. 88) tells us, on the authority of the Cronaca del Monastero Benedettino di Licordia of an eruption of the Volcano with a great flow of lava on Sept. 21, 1447. The next records of the mountain are from the years 1533 and 1536. A. Percy neither does mention any eruptions of Etna during the years to which this note must probably refer Memoire des tremblements de terre de la peninsule italique, Vol. XXII des Memoires couronnees et Memoires des savants etrangers. Academie Royal de Belgique).

A literal interpretation of the passage would not, however, indicate an allusion to any great eruption; particularly in the connection with Stromboli, where the periodical outbreaks in very short intervals are very striking to any observer, especially at night time, when passing the island on the way from Naples to Messina.], rejecting the ill-restained element vomit it forth, back to its own region, driving furiously before it every obstacle that comes in the way of its impetuous rage ...

Unable to resist my eager desire and wanting to see the great ... of the various and strange shapes made by formative nature, and having wandered some distance among gloomy rocks, I came to the entrance of a great cavern, in front of which I stood some time, astonished and unaware of such a thing. Bending my back into an arch I rested my left hand on my knee and held my right hand over my down-cast and contracted eye brows: often bending first one way and then the other, to see whether I could discover anything inside, and this being forbidden by the deep darkness within, and after having remained there some time, two contrary emotions arose in me, fear and desire--fear of the threatening dark cavern, desire to see whether there were any marvellous thing within it ...

Drafts of Letters to Lodovico il Moro (1340-1345).


[Footnote: The numerous corrections, the alterations in the figures (l. 18) and the absence of any signature prove that this is merely the rough draft of a letter to Lodovico il Moro. It is one of the very few manuscripts which are written from left to right--see the facsimile of the beginning as here reproduced. This is probably the final sketch of a document the clean of which copy was written in the usual manner. Leonardo no doubt very rarely wrote so, and this is probably the reason of the conspicuous dissimilarity in the handwriting, when he did. (Compare Pl. XXXVIII.) It is noteworthy too that here the orthography and abbreviations are also exceptional. But such superficial peculiarities are not enough to stamp the document as altogether spurious. It is neither a forgery nor the production of any artist but Leonardo himself. As to this point the contents leave us no doubt as to its authenticity, particularly l. 32 (see No. 719, where this passage is repeated). But whether the fragment, as we here see it, was written from Leonardo's dictation--a theory favoured by the orthography, the erasures and corrections--or whether it may be a copy made for or by Melzi or Mazenta is comparatively unimportant. There are in the Codex Atlanticus a few other documents not written by Leonardo himself, but the notes in his own hand found on the reverse pages of these leaves amply prove that they were certainly in Leonardo's possession. This mark of ownership is wanting to the text in question, but the compilers of the Codex Atlanticus, at any rate, accepted it as a genuine document.

With regard to the probable date of this projected letter see Vol. II, p. 3.]

Most illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different to those in common use: I shall endeavour, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency showing your Lordship my secrets, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments as well as all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.

1) I have a sort of extremely light and strong bridges, adapted to be most easily carried, and with them you may pursue, and at any time flee from the enemy; and others, secure and indestructible by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and place. Also methods of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2) I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges, and covered ways and ladders, and other machines pertaining to such expeditions.

3) Item. If, by reason of the height of the banks, or the strength of the place and its position, it is impossible, when besieging a place, to avail oneself of the plan of bombardment, I have methods for destroying every rock or other fortress, even if it were founded on a rock, &c.

4) Again I have kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; and with these can fling small stones almost resembling a storm; and with the smoke of these causing great terror to the enemy, to his great detriment and confusion.

9) [8] And when the fight should be at sea I have kinds of many machines most efficient for offence and defence; and vessels which will resist the attack of the largest guns and powder and fumes.

5) Item. I have means by secret and tortuous mines and ways, made without noise to reach a designated [spot], even if it were needed to pass under a trench or a river.

6) Item. I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable which, entering among the enemy with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could follow quite unhurt and without any hindrance.

7) Item. In case of need I will make big guns, mortars and light ordnance of fine and useful forms, out of the common type.

8) Where the operation of bombardment should fail, I would contrive catapults, mangonels, trabocchi and other machines of marvellous efficacy and not in common use. And in short, according to the variety of cases, I can contrive various and endless means of offence and defence.

10) In time of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.

Item: I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, and also in painting whatever may be done, and as well as any other, be he whom he may.

[32] Again, the bronze horse may be taken in hand, which is to be to the immortal glory and eternal honour of the prince your father of happy memory, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any one of the above-named things seem to any one to be impossible or not feasible, I am most ready to make the experiment in your park, or in whatever place may please your Excellency--to whom I commend myself with the utmost humility &c.


To my illustrious Lord, Lodovico, Duke of Bari, Leonardo da Vinci of Florence-- Leonardo.

[Footnote: Evidently a note of the superscription of a letter to the Duke, and written, like the foregoing from left to right. The manuscript containing it is of the year 1493. Lodovico was not proclaimed and styled Duke of Milan till September 1494. The Dukedom of Bari belonged to the Sforza family till 1499.]


You would like to see a model which will prove useful to you and to me, also it will be of use to those who will be the cause of our usefulness.

[Footnote: 1342. 1343. These two notes occur in the same not very voluminous MS. as the former one and it is possible that they are fragments of the same letter. By the Modello, the equestrian statue is probably meant, particularly as the model of this statue was publicly exhibited in this very year, 1493, on tne occasion of the marriage of the Emperor Maximilian with Bianca Maria Sforza.]


There are here, my Lord, many gentlemen who will undertake this expense among them, if they are allowed to enjoy the use of admission to the waters, the mills, and the passage of vessels and when it is sold to them the price will be repaid to them by the canal of Martesana.


I am greatly vexed to be in necessity, but I still more regret that this should be the cause of the hindrance of my wish which is always disposed to obey your Excellency.

Perhaps your Excellency did not give further orders to Messer Gualtieri, believing that I had money enough.

I am greatly annoyed that you should have found me in necessity, and that my having to earn my living should have hindered me ...

[12] It vexes me greatly that having to earn my living has forced me to interrupt the work and to attend to small matters, instead of following up the work which your Lordship entrusted to me. But I hope in a short time to have earned so much that I may carry it out quietly to the satisfaction of your Excellency, to whom I commend myself; and if your Lordship thought that I had money, your Lordship was deceived. I had to feed 6 men for 56 months, and have had 50 ducats.


And if any other comission is given me by any ... of the reward of my service. Because I am not [able] to be ... things assigned because meanwhile they have ... to them ... ... which they well may settle rather than I ... not my art which I wish to change and ... given some clothing if I dare a sum ...

My Lord, I knowing your Excellency's mind to be occupied ... to remind your Lordship of my small matters and the arts put to silence that my silence might be the cause of making your Lordship scorn ... my life in your service. I hold myself ever in readiness to obey ...

[Footnote 11: See No. 723, where this passage is repeated.]

Of the horse I will say nothing because I know the times [are bad] to your Lordship how I had still to receive two years' salary of the ... with the two skilled workmen who are constantly in my pay and at my cost that at last I found myself advanced the said sum about 15 lire ... works of fame by which I could show to those who shall see it that I have been everywhere, but I do not know where I could bestow my work [more] ...

[Footnote 17: See No. 1344 l. 12.] I, having been working to gain my living ...

I not having been informed what it is, I find myself ...

[Footnote 19: In April, 1498, Leonardo was engaged in painting the Saletta Nigra of the Castello at Milan. (See G. MONGERI, l'Arte in Milano, 1872, p. 417.)]

remember the commission to paint the rooms ...

I conveyed to your Lordship only requesting you ...

[Footnote: The paper on which this is written is torn down the middle; about half of each line remains.]

Draft of letter to be sent to Piacenza (1346. 1347).

[Footnote: 1346. 1347. Piacenza belonged to Milan. The Lord spoken of in this letter, is no doubt Lodovico il Moro.

Italian Books
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book