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LEONARDO, THE MAN AND THE WRITER EMILIO GOGGlO LEONARDO da Vinci, the five-hundredth anniversary of whose birth has recently been celebrated, was one of the most learned and versatile men that ever lived. Indeed, there is hardly a branch of knowledge which he did not seriously pursue and hardly a human attainment in which he did not excel. He was a supreme painter, an accomplished sculptor, architect, and musician, an eminent mathematician , physicist, geologist, anatomist, engineer, botanist, astronomer, and geographer, a profound critic and philosopher, and a distinguished author. He led the way in the method of investigating problems connected with the laws of gravitation, the earth's rotation, the circulation of the blood, the undulatory theory of light and heat, the motion of waves, the classification of plants, navigation and canalization, the construction of fortifications, pontoons, bridges, locks, scaling ladders, cannons, and mortars. He conceived the aeroplane and submarine, and he invented, among other things, the camera obscura, the wheelbarrow , paddle wheels, a stone saw, and a rope-making machine. The character and personal appearance of this highly gifted man were no less remarkable than his intellectual qualities. The records show that he possessed exceptional physical strength, beauty, grace, and charm. He was kind, honest, generous, loyal to his friends, intolerant of envy and calumny, magnanimous towards his enemies, and grateful to his benefactors. In the art of conversation he was a master and he greatly enjoyed discussions of a critical nature which stimulate and enrich the minds of the participants. At the same time, however, he appreciated the need and the advantages of solitude for concentration and meditation. "Se tu sarai solo, sarai tutto tua," he observed. "If you are alone, you belong entirely to yourself. If you are accompanied even by one companion , you belong only half to yourself or even less in proportion to the thoughtfulness of his conduct." As may be gathered from his little accounts for house-keeping which are scattered in his Notebooks, Leonardo was a man of very moderate means and simple habits. He was well satisfied with the little he had and never complained about poverty. "Please hold me not in scorn," he once wrote to a friend. "I am not poor. Poor is the man who desires many things. Call not that riches which may be lost. Virtue is our true wealth and the true reward of its possessor." Gold or money, in Leonardo's opinion, is the cause of all the perils and tribulations that 26 Vol. XXIII, no. I, Oct., 1953 LEONARDO 27 afllict the human race. It brings about an endless number of crimes; it prompts and incites wretched men to assassinate, to steal, and to enslave; it makes men torment each other with many kinds of subterfuges , deceits, and treacheries; and it takes away life itself from many. Like St. Francis of Assisi Leonardo loved every creature in the universe and sympathized with the fate of animals which are the innocent victims of man's cruelty and oppression. It was doubtless his deep sense of justice and liberty which prompted him to buy caged birds from vendors on the streets in order to set them free. Though Leonardo lived at the courts of Lodovico Sforza, of Lorenzo de' Medici, and of Cesare Borgia, he was always zealous for his independence. If he accepted their hospitality it was only because they offered him the opportunity to continue his studies and research. Never would he consent to give up his freedom; he knew that without it there can be no human happiness. The noble example of the goldfinch cited in his Notebooks which carries poison to its little ones imprisoned in a cage fills him with admiration and he cries out: "Death, rather than loss of liberty!" These words remind us of Dante, another great lover of freedom, who expressed a similar feeling in his famous lines: Liberta ch'e 51 cara Come sa chi per lei vita r.ifiuta (Liberty which is so dear as he knows who for it renounces life.) Fearful of a total enslavement of his country which might be caused by the mutual hatred and envy of the various Italian rulers, Leonardo...


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