Based on Bill Gates’s favorable review, I’ve just begun reading Walter Issacson’s biography of Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s fair to say that the opening chapters themselves have been eye-opening and have revealed things about Leonardo’s genius, curiosity, sexuality (among other things) that I was completely unaware of. I wanted to take this post to highlight one particular thing: Da Vinci’s fascination with the country-side.
Leonardo’s recorded fables sometimes give a glimpse of his emotions and sentiments. One described the sad odyssey of a stone perched on a hill surrounded by colorful flowers and grove of trees. Looking at the crowd of stones along the road below, it decided it wanted to join them. “What am I doing here among these plants?” the stone asked. “I want to live in the company of my fellow stones.” So it rolled down to the others. “After a while”, Leonardo recounted, “it found itself in continual distress from the wheels of the carts, the iron hoofs of the horses, and the feet of the passers-by. One rolled it over and another trod upon it. Sometimes, the stone raised itself up a little as it lay covered with mud or the dung of some animal, but it was in vain that it looked up at the spot whence it had come as a place of solitude and tranquil peace.” Leonardo drew a moral: “This is what happens to those who leave a life of solitary contemplation and choose to come to dwell in cities among people full of infinite evil”.
After reading this, I would’ve assumed Leonardo to prefer the quiet country over the bustling city life. Yet, he spent most of his years in Florence, Milan and Rome. He rarely retreated alone to the country-side for extended periods of time. It just goes to show that even polymaths are prone to contradictions and wishful fantasies.
If you plan to read the book, I recommend getting the hard-cover version.