The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, Volume 2
Leonardo Da Vinci
Part 6 out of 10
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
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
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.
TO ESCAPE THE PERIL OF DESTRUCTION.
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
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.]
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 .
[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_ .
A drum for harmony .
 A clapper for harmony; that is, three clappers together.
 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 .
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.
 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
[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.]
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
_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
_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
_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
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
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
Necessity is the mistress and guide of nature.
Necessity is the theme and the inventress, the eternal curb and law
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
**** TEXT BEYOND THIS POINT STILL NEEDS SOME CLEANUP ****
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.
OF THE ERRORS OF THOSE WHO DEPEND ON PRACTICE WITHOUT SCIENCE.
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
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.
O Time! consumer of all things, and O envious age! by which all
things are all devoured.
Every evil leaves behind a grief in our memory, except the supreme
evil, that is death, which destroys this memory together with life.
How to spend life
0 sleepers! what a thing is slumber! Sleep resembles death. Ah, why
then dost thou not work in such wise as that after death thou mayst
retain a resemblance to perfect life, when, during life, thou art in
sleep so like to the hapless dead? [Footnote: Compare No. 676, Vol.
I. p. 353.]
One pushes down the other.
By these square-blocks are meant the life and the studies of men.
The knowledge of past times and of the places on the earth is both
an ornament and nutriment to the human mind.
To lie is so vile, that even if it were in speaking well of godly
things it would take off something from God's grace; and Truth is so
excellent, that if it praises but small things they become noble.
Beyond a doubt truth bears the same relation to falsehood as light
to darkness; and this truth is in itself so excellent that, even
when it dwells on humble and lowly matters, it is still infinitely
above uncertainty and lies, disguised in high and lofty discourses;
because in our minds, even if lying should be their fifth element,
this does not prevent that the truth of things is the chief
nutriment of superior intellects, though not of wandering wits.
But you who live in dreams are better pleased by the sophistical
reasons and frauds of wits in great and uncertain things, than by
those reasons which are certain and natural and not so far above us.
Avoid studies of which the result dies with the worker.
Men are in error when they lament the flight of time, accusing it of
being too swift, and not perceiving that it is sufficient as it
passes; but good memory, with which nature has endowed us, causes
things long past to seem present.
Learning acquired in youth arrests the evil of old age; and if you
understand that old age has wisdom for its food, you will so conduct
yourself in youth that your old age will not lack for nourishment.
The acquisition of any knowledge is always of use to the intellect,
because it may thus drive out useless things and retain the good.
For nothing can be loved or hated unless it is first known.
As a day well spent procures a happy sleep, so a life well employed
procures a happy death.
The water you touch in a river is the last of that which has passed,
and the first of that which is coming. Thus it is with time present.
Life if well spent, is long.
Just as food eaten without caring for it is turned into loathsome
nourishment, so study without a taste for it spoils memory, by
retaining nothing which it has taken in.
Just as eating against one's will is injurious to health, so study
without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it
On Mount Etna the words freeze in your mouth and you may make ice of
[Footnote 2: There is no clue to explain this strange sentence.]
Just as iron rusts unless it is used, and water putrifies or, in
cold, turns to ice, so our intellect spoils unless it is kept in
You do ill if you praise, and still worse if you reprove in a matter
you do not understand.
When Fortune comes, seize her in front with a sure hand, because
behind she is bald.
It seems to me that men of coarse and clumsy habits and of small
knowledge do not deserve such fine instruments nor so great a
variety of natural mechanism as men of speculation and of great
knowledge; but merely a sack in which their food may be stowed and
whence it may issue, since they cannot be judged to be any thing
else than vehicles for food; for it seems to me they have nothing
about them of the human species but the voice and the figure, and
for all the rest are much below beasts.
Some there are who are nothing else than a passage for food and
augmentors of excrement and fillers of privies, because through them
no other things in the world, nor any good effects are produced,
since nothing but full privies results from them.
On foolishness and ignorance (1180--1182).
The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.
Folly is the shield of shame, as unreadiness is that of poverty
Blind ignorance misleads us thus and delights with the results of
Because it does not know the true light. Because it does not know
what is the true light.
Vain splendour takes from us the power of being .... behold! for its
vain splendour we go into the fire, thus blind ignorance does
mislead us. That is, blind ignorance so misleads us that ...
O! wretched mortals, open your eyes.
On riches (1183--1187).
That is not riches, which may be lost; virtue is our true good and
the true reward of its possessor. That cannot be lost; that never
deserts us, but when life leaves us. As to property and external
riches, hold them with trembling; they often leave their possessor
in contempt, and mocked at for having lost them.
Every man wishes to make money to give it to the doctors, destroyers
of life; they then ought to be rich. [Footnote 2: Compare No. 856.]
Man has much power of discourse which for the most part is vain and
false; animals have but little, but it is useful and true, and a
small truth is better than a great lie.
He who possesses most must be most afraid of loss.
He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year.
That man is of supreme folly who always wants for fear of wanting;
and his life flies away while he is still hoping to enjoy the good
things which he has with extreme labour acquired.
Rules of Life (1188-1202).
If you governed your body by the rules of virtue you would not walk
on all fours in this world.
You grow in reputation like bread in the hands of a child.
[Footnote: The first sentence is obscure. Compare Nos. 825, 826.]
Savage he is who saves himself.
We ought not to desire the impossible. [Footnote: The writing of
this note, which is exceedingly minute, is reproduced in facsimile
on Pl. XLI No. 5 above the first diagram.
Ask counsel of him who rules himself well.
Justice requires power, insight, and will; and it resembles the
He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.
He who takes the snake by the tail will presently be bitten by it.
The grave will fall in upon him who digs it.
The man who does not restrain wantonness, allies himself with
You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself.
He who thinks little, errs much.
It is easier to contend with evil at the first than at the last.
No counsel is more loyal than that given on ships which are in
peril: He may expect loss who acts on the advice of an inexperienced
Where there is most feeling, there is the greatest martyrdom;--a
The memory of benefits is a frail defence against ingratitude.
Reprove your friend in secret and praise him openly.
Be not false about the past.
A SIMILE FOR PATIENCE.
Patience serves us against insults precisely as clothes do against
the cold. For if you multiply your garments as the cold increases,
that cold cannot hurt you; in the same way increase your patience
under great offences, and they cannot hurt your feelings.
To speak well of a base man is much the same as speaking ill of a
Envy wounds with false accusations, that is with detraction, a thing
which scares virtue.
We are deceived by promises and time disappoints us ...
[Footnote 2: The rest of this passage may be rendered in various
ways, but none of them give a satisfactory meaning.]
Fear arises sooner than any thing else.
Just as courage imperils life, fear protects it.
Threats alone are the weapons of the threatened man.
Wherever good fortune enters, envy lays siege to the place and
attacks it; and when it departs, sorrow and repentance remain
He who walks straight rarely falls.
It is bad if you praise, and worse if you reprove a thing, I mean,
if you do not understand the matter well.
It is ill to praise, and worse to reprimand in matters that you do
Words which do not satisfy the ear of the hearer weary him or vex
him, and the symptoms of this you will often see in such hearers in
their frequent yawns; you therefore, who speak before men whose good
will you desire, when you see such an excess of fatigue, abridge
your speech, or change your discourse; and if you do otherwise, then
instead of the favour you desire, you will get dislike and
And if you would see in what a man takes pleasure, without hearing
him speak, change the subject of your discourse in talking to him,
and when you presently see him intent, without yawning or wrinkling
his brow or other actions of various kinds, you may be certain that
the matter of which you are speaking is such as is agreeable to him
The lover is moved by the beloved object as the senses are by
sensible objects; and they unite and become one and the same thing.
The work is the first thing born of this union; if the thing loved
is base the lover becomes base.
When the thing taken into union is perfectly adapted to that which
receives it, the result is delight and pleasure and satisfaction.
When that which loves is united to the thing beloved it can rest
there; when the burden is laid down it finds rest there.
Politics (1203. 1204).
There will be eternal fame also for the inhabitants of that town,
constructed and enlarged by him.
[Footnote: These notes were possibly written in preparation for a
letter. The meaning is obscure.]
All communities obey and are led by their magnates, and these
magnates ally themselves with the lords and subjugate them in two
ways: either by consanguinity, or by fortune; by consanguinity, when
their children are, as it were, hostages, and a security and pledge
of their suspected fidelity; by property, when you make each of
these build a house or two inside your city which may yield some
revenue and he shall have...; 10 towns, five thousand houses with
thirty thousand inhabitants, and you will disperse this great
congregation of people which stand like goats one behind the other,
filling every place with fetid smells and sowing seeds of pestilence
And the city will gain beauty worthy of its name and to you it will
be useful by its revenues, and the eternal fame of its
To preserve Nature's chiefest boon, that is freedom, I can find
means of offence and defence, when it is assailed by ambitious
tyrants, and first I will speak of the situation of the walls, and
also I shall show how communities can maintain their good and just
[Footnote: Compare No. 1266.]
Against Speculators (1205. 1206).
Oh! speculators on things, boast not of knowing the things that
nature ordinarily brings about; but rejoice if you know the end of
those things which you yourself devise.
Oh! speculators on perpetual motion how many vain projects of the
like character you have created! Go and be the companions of the
searchers for gold. [Footnote: Another short passage in MS. I,
referring also to speculators, is given by LIBRI (_Hist, des
Sciences math._ III, 228): _Sicche voi speculatori non vi fidate
delli autori che anno sol col immaginatione voluto farsi inter*preti
tra la natura e l'omo, ma sol di quelli che non coi cienni della
natura, ma cogli effetti delle sue esperienze anno esercitati i loro
Against alchemists (1207. 1208).
The false interpreters of nature declare that quicksilver is the
common seed of every metal, not remembering that nature varies the
seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce
in the world.
And many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles,
deceiving the stupid multitude.
Pharisees--that is to say, friars.
[Footnote: Compare No. 837, *11. 54-57, No. 1296 (p. 363 and 364),
and No. 1305 (p. 370).]
Against writers of epitomes.
Abbreviators do harm to knowledge and to love, seeing that the love
of any thing is the offspring of this knowledge, the love being the
more fervent in proportion as the knowledge is more certain. And
this certainty is born of a complete knowledge of all the parts,
which, when combined, compose the totality of the thing which ought
to be loved. Of what use then is he who abridges the details of
those matters of which he professes to give thorough information,
while he leaves behind the chief part of the things of which the
whole is composed? It is true that impatience, the mother of
stupidity, praises brevity, as if such persons had not life long
enough to serve them to acquire a complete knowledge of one single
subject, such as the human body; and then they want to comprehend
the mind of God in which the universe is included, weighing it
minutely and mincing it into infinite parts, as if they had to
Oh! human stupidity, do you not perceive that, though you have been
with yourself all your life, you are not yet aware of the thing you
possess most of, that is of your folly? and then, with the crowd of
sophists, you deceive yourselves and others, despising the
mathematical sciences, in which truth dwells and the knowledge of
the things included in them. And then you occupy yourself with
miracles, and write that you possess information of those things of
which the human mind is incapable and which cannot be proved by any
instance from nature. And you fancy you have wrought miracles when
you spoil a work of some speculative mind, and do not perceive that
you are falling into the same error as that of a man who strips a
tree of the ornament of its branches covered with leaves mingled
with the scented blossoms or fruit....... [Footnote 48: _Givstino_,
Marcus Junianus Justinus, a Roman historian of the second century,
who compiled an epitome from the general history written by Trogus
Pompeius, who lived in the time of Augustus. The work of the latter
writer no longer exist.] as Justinus did, in abridging the histories
written by Trogus Pompeius, who had written in an ornate style all
the worthy deeds of his forefathers, full of the most admirable and
ornamental passages; and so composed a bald work worthy only of
those impatient spirits, who fancy they are losing as much time as
that which they employ usefully in studying the works of nature and
the deeds of men. But these may remain in company of beasts; among
their associates should be dogs and other animals full of rapine and
they may hunt with them after...., and then follow helpless beasts,
which in time of great snows come near to your houses asking alms as
from their master....
On spirits (1211--1213).
O mathematicians shed light on this error.
The spirit has no voice, because where there is a voice there is a
body, and where there is a body space is occupied, and this prevents
the eye from seeing what is placed behind that space; hence the
surrounding air is filled by the body, that is by its image.
There can be no voice where there is no motion or percussion of the
air; there can be no percussion of the air where there is no
instrument, there can be no instrument without a body; and this
being so, a spirit can have neither voice, nor form, nor strength.
And if it were to assume a body it could not penetrate nor enter
where the passages are closed. And if any one should say that by
air, compressed and compacted together, a spirit may take bodies of
various forms and by this means speak and move with strength--to him
I reply that when there are neither nerves nor bones there can be no
force exercised in any kind of movement made by such imaginary
Beware of the teaching of these speculators, because their reasoning
is not confirmed by experience.
Of all human opinions that is to be reputed the most foolish which
deals with the belief in Necromancy, the sister of Alchemy, which
gives birth to simple and natural things. But it is all the more
worthy of reprehension than alchemy, because it brings forth nothing
but what is like itself, that is, lies; this does not happen in
Alchemy which deals with simple products of nature and whose
function cannot be exercised by nature itself, because it has no
organic instruments with which it can work, as men do by means of
their hands, who have produced, for instance, glass &c. but this
Necromancy the flag and flying banner, blown by the winds, is the
guide of the stupid crowd which is constantly witness to the
dazzling and endless effects of this art; and there are books full,
declaring that enchantments and spirits can work and speak without
tongues and without organic instruments-- without which it is
impossible to speak-- and can carry heaviest weights and raise
storms and rain; and that men can be turned into cats and wolves and
other beasts, although indeed it is those who affirm these things
who first became beasts.
And surely if this Necromancy did exist, as is believed by small
wits, there is nothing on the earth that would be of so much
importance alike for the detriment and service of men, if it were
true that there were in such an art a power to disturb the calm
serenity of the air, converting it into darkness and making
coruscations or winds, with terrific thunder and lightnings rushing
through the darkness, and with violent storms overthrowing high
buildings and rooting up forests; and thus to oppose armies,
crushing and annihilating them; and, besides these frightful storms
may deprive the peasants of the reward of their labours.--Now what
kind of warfare is there to hurt the enemy so much as to deprive him
of the harvest? What naval warfare could be compared with this? I
say, the man who has power to command the winds and to make ruinous
gales by which any fleet may be submerged, --surely a man who could
command such violent forces would be lord of the nations, and no
human ingenuity could resist his crushing force. The hidden
treasures and gems reposing in the body of the earth would all be
made manifest to him. No lock nor fortress, though impregnable,
would be able to save any one against the will of the necromancer.
He would have himself carried through the air from East to West and
through all the opposite sides of the universe. But why should I
enlarge further upon this? What is there that could not be done by
such a craftsman? Almost nothing, except to escape death. Hereby I
have explained in part the mischief and the usefulness, contained in
this art, if it is real; and if it is real why has it not remained
among men who desire it so much, having nothing to do with any
deity? For I know that there are numberless people who would, to
satisfy a whim, destroy God and all the universe; and if this
necromancy, being, as it were, so necessary to men, has not been
left among them, it can never have existed, nor will it ever exist
according to the definition of the spirit, which is invisible in
substance; for within the elements there are no incorporate things,
because where there is no body, there is a vacuum; and no vacuum can
exist in the elements because it would be immediately filled up.
We have said, on the other side of this page, that the definition of
a spirit is a power conjoined to a body; because it cannot move of
its own accord, nor can it have any kind of motion in space; and if
you were to say that it moves itself, this cannot be within the
elements. For, if the spirit is an incorporeal quantity, this
quantity is called a vacuum, and a vacuum does not exist in nature;
and granting that one were formed, it would be immediately filled up
by the rushing in of the element in which the vacuum had been
generated. Therefore, from the definition of weight, which is
this--Gravity is an accidental power, created by one element being
drawn to or suspended in another--it follows that an element, not
weighing anything compared with itself, has weight in the element
above it and lighter than it; as we see that the parts of water have
no gravity or levity compared with other water, but if you draw it
up into the air, then it would acquire weight, and if you were to
draw the air beneath the water then the water which remains above
this air would acquire weight, which weight could not sustain itself
by itself, whence collapse is inevitable. And this happens in water;
wherever the vacuum may be in this water it will fall in; and this
would happen with a spirit amid the elements, where it would
continuously generate a vacuum in whatever element it might find
itself, whence it would be inevitable that it should be constantly
flying towards the sky until it had quitted these elements.
AS TO WHETHER A SPIRIT HAS A BODY AMID THE ELEMENTS.
We have proved that a spirit cannot exist of itself amid the
elements without a body, nor can it move of itself by voluntary
motion unless it be to rise upwards. But now we will say how such a
spirit taking an aerial body would be inevitably melt into air;
because if it remained united, it would be separated and fall to
form a vacuum, as is said above; therefore it is inevitable, if it
is to be able to remain suspended in the air, that it should absorb
a certain quantity of air; and if it were mingled with the air, two
difficulties arise; that is to say: It must rarefy that portion of
the air with which it mingles; and for this cause the rarefied air
must fly up of itself and will not remain among the air that is
heavier than itself; and besides this the subtle spiritual essence
disunites itself, and its nature is modified, by which that nature
loses some of its first virtue. Added to these there is a third
difficulty, and this is that such a body formed of air assumed by
the spirits is exposed to the penetrating winds, which are
incessantly sundering and dispersing the united portions of the air,
revolving and whirling amidst the rest of the atmosphere; therefore
the spirit which is infused in this
air would be dismembered or rent and broken up with the rending of
the air into which it was incorporated.
AS TO WHETHER THE SPIRIT, HAVING TAKEN THIS BODY OF AIR, CAN MOVE OF
ITSELF OR NOT.
It is impossible that the spirit infused into a certain quantity of
air, should move this air; and this is proved by the above passage
where it is said: the spirit rarefies that portion of the air in
which it incorporates itself; therefore this air will rise high
above the other air and there will be a motion of the air caused by
its lightness and not by a voluntary movement of the spirit, and if
this air is encountered by the wind, according to the 3rd of this,
the air will be moved by the wind and not by the spirit incorporated
AS TO WHETHER THE SPIRIT CAN SPEAK OR NOT.
In order to prove whether the spirit can speak or not, it is
necessary in the first place to define what a voice is and how it is
generated; and we will say that the voice is, as it were, the
movement of air in friction against a dense body, or a dense body in
friction against the air,--which is the same thing. And this
friction of the dense and the rare condenses the rare and causes
resistance; again, the rare, when in swift motion, and the rare in
slow motion condense each other when they come in contact and make a
noise and very great uproar; and the sound or murmur made by the
rare moving through the rare with only moderate swiftness, like a
great flame generating noises in the air; and the tremendous uproar
made by the rare mingling with the rare, and when that air which is
both swift and rare rushes into that which is itself rare and in
motion, it is like the flame of fire which issues from a big gun and
striking against the air; and again when a flame issues from the
cloud, there is a concussion in the air as the bolt is generated.
Therefore we may say that the spirit cannot produce a voice without
movement of the air, and air in it there is none, nor can it emit
what it has not; and if desires to move that air in which it is
incorporated, it is necessary that the spirit should multiply
itself, and that cannot multiply which has no quantity. And in the
4th place it is said that no rare body can move, if it has not a
stable spot, whence it may take its motion; much more is it so when
an element has to move within its own element, which does not move
of itself, excepting by uniform evaporation at the centre of the
thing evaporated; as occurs in a sponge squeezed in the hand held
under water; the water escapes in every direction with equal
movement through the openings between the fingers of the hand in
which it is squeezed.
As to whether the spirit has an articulate voice, and whether the
spirit can be heard, and what hearing is, and seeing; the wave of
the voice passes through the air as the images of objects pass to
Every quantity is intellectually conceivable as infinitely
[Amid the vastness of the things among which we live, the existence
of nothingness holds the first place; its function extends over all
things that have no existence, and its essence, as regards time,
lies precisely between the past and the future, and has nothing in
the present. This nothingness has the part equal to the whole, and
the whole to the part, the divisible to the indivisible; and the
product of the sum is the same whether we divide or multiply, and in
addition as in subtraction; as is proved by arithmeticians by their
tenth figure which represents zero; and its power has not extension
among the things of Nature.]
[What is called Nothingness is to be found only in time and in
speech. In time it stands between the past and future and has no
existence in the present; and thus in speech it is one of the things
of which we say: They are not, or they are impossible.]
With regard to time, nothingness lies between the past and the
future, and has nothing to do with the present, and as to its nature
it is to be classed among things impossible: hence, from what has
been said, it has no existence; because where there is nothing there
would necessarily be a vacuum.
[Footnote: Compare No. 916.]
Reflections on Nature (1217-1219).
EXAMPLE OF THE LIGHTNING IN CLOUDS.
[O mighty and once living instrument of formative nature. Incapable
of availing thyself of thy vast strength thou hast to abandon a life
of stillness and to obey the law which God and time gave to
Ah! how many a time the shoals of terrified dolphins and the huge
tunny-fish were seen to flee before thy cruel fury, to escape;
whilst thy fulminations raised in the sea a sudden tempest with
buffeting and submersion of ships in the great waves; and filling
the uncovered shores with the terrified and desperate fishes which
fled from thee, and left by the sea, remained in spots where they
became the abundant prey of the people in the neighbourhood.
[Footnote: The character of the handwriting points to an early
period of Leonardo's life. It has become very indistinct, and is at
present exceedingly difficult to decipher. Some passages remain
O time, swift robber of all created things, how many kings, how many
nations hast thou undone, and how many changes of states and of
various events have happened since the wondrous forms of this fish
perished here in this cavernous and winding recess. Now destroyed by
time thou liest patiently in this confined space with bones stripped
and bare; serving as a support and prop for the superimposed
[Footnote: Compare No. 1339, written on the same sheet.]
The watery element was left enclosed between the raised banks of the
rivers, and the sea was seen between the uplifted earth and the
surrounding air which has to envelope and enclose the complicated
machine of the earth, and whose mass, standing between the water and
the element of fire, remained much restricted and deprived of its
indispensable moisture; the rivers will be deprived of their waters,
the fruitful earth will put forth no more her light verdure; the
fields will no more be decked with waving corn; all the animals,
finding no fresh grass for pasture, will die and food will then be
lacking to the lions and wolves and other beasts of prey, and to men
who after many efforts will be compelled to abandon their life, and
the human race will die out. In this way the fertile and fruitful
earth will remain deserted, arid and sterile from the water being
shut up in its interior, and from the activity of nature it will
continue a little time to increase until the cold and subtle air
being gone, it will be forced to end with the element of fire; and
then its surface will be left burnt up to cinder and this will be
the end of all terrestrial nature.
[Footnote: Compare No. 1339, written on the same sheet.]
Why did nature not ordain that one animal should not live by the
death of another? Nature, being inconstant and taking pleasure in
creating and making constantly new lives and forms, because she
knows that her terrestrial materials become thereby augmented, is
more ready and more swift in her creating, than time in his
destruction; and so she has ordained that many animals shall be food
for others. Nay, this not satisfying her desire, to the same end she
frequently sends forth certain poisonous and pestilential vapours
upon the vast increase and congregation of animals; and most of all
upon men, who increase vastly because other animals do not feed upon
them; and, the causes being removed, the effects would not follow.
This earth therefore seeks to lose its life, desiring only continual
reproduction; and as, by the argument you bring forward and
demonstrate, like effects always follow like causes, animals are the
image of the world.
_Just as Michaelangelo's occasional poems reflect his private life
as well as the general disposition of his mind, we may find in the
writings collected in this section, the transcript of Leonardo's
fanciful nature, and we should probably not be far wrong in
assuming, that he himself had recited these fables in the company of
his friends or at the court festivals of princes and patrons._ Era
tanto piacevole nella conversazione-- _so relates Vasari_--che
tirava a se gli animi delle genti. _And Paulus Jovius says in his
short biography of the artist:_ Fuit ingenio valde comi, nitido,
liberali, vultu autem longe venustissimo, et cum elegantiae omnis
deliciarumque maxime theatralium mirificus inventor ac arbiter
esset, ad lyramque scito caneret, cunctis per omnem aetatem
principibus mire placuit. _There can be no doubt that the fables are
the original offspring of Leonardo's brain, and not borrowed from
any foreign source; indeed the schemes and plans for the composition
of fables collected in division V seem to afford an external proof
of this, if the fables themselves did not render it self-evident.
Several of them-- for instance No._ l279--_are so strikingly
characteristic of Leonardo's views of natural science that we cannot
do them justice till we are acquainted with his theories on such
subjects; and this is equally true of the 'Prophecies'_.
_I have prefixed to these quaint writings the 'Studies on the life
and habits of animals' which are singular from their peculiar
aphoristic style, and I have transcribed them in exactly the order
in which they are written in MS. H. This is one of the very rare
instances in which one subject is treated in a consecutive series of
notes, all in one MS., and Leonardo has also departed from his
ordinary habits, by occasionally not completing the text on the page
it is begun. These brief notes of a somewhat mysterious bearing have
been placed here, simply because they may possibly have been
intended to serve as hints for fables or allegories. They can
scarcely be regarded as preparatory for a natural history, rather
they would seem to be extracts. On the one hand the names of some of
the animals seem to prove that Leonardo could not here be recording
observations of his own; on the other hand the notes on their habits
and life appear to me to dwell precisely on what must have
interested him most--so far as it is possible to form any complete
estimate of his nature and tastes._
_In No._ 1293 _lines_ 1-10, _we have a sketch of a scheme for
grouping the Prophecies. I have not however availed myself of it as
a clue to their arrangement here because, in the first place, the
texts are not so numerous as to render the suggested classification
useful to the reader, and, also, because in reading the long series,
as they occur in the original, we may follow the author's mind; and
here and there it is not difficult to see how one theme suggested
another. I have however regarded Leonardo's scheme for the
classification of the Prophecies as available for that of the Fables
and Jests, and have adhered to it as far as possible._
_Among the humourous writings I might perhaps have included the_
'Rebusses', _of which there are several in the collection of
Leonardo's drawings at Windsor; it seems to me not likely that many
or all of them could be solved at the present day and the MSS. throw
no light on them. Nor should I be justified if I intended to include
in the literary works the well-known caricatures of human faces
attributed to Leonardo-- of which, however, it may be incidentally
observed, the greater number are in my opinion undoubtedly spurious.
Two only have necessarily been given owing to their presence in
text, which it was desired to reproduce: Vol. I page_ 326, _and Pl.
CXXII. It can scarcely be doubted that some satirical intention is
conveyed by the drawing on Pl. LXIV (text No. _688_).
My reason for not presenting Leonardo to the reader as a poet is the
fact that the maxims and morals in verse which have been ascribed to
him, are not to be found in the manuscripts, and Prof. Uzielli has
already proved that they cannot be by him. Hence it would seem that
only a few short verses can be attributed to him with any
STUDIES ON THE LIFE AND HABITS OF ANIMALS.
THE LOVE OF VIRTUE.
The gold-finch is a bird of which it is related that, when it is
carried into the presence of a sick person, if the sick man is going
to die, the bird turns away its head and never looks at him; but if
the sick man is to be saved the bird never loses sight of him but is
the cause of curing him of all his sickness.
Like unto this is the love of virtue. It never looks at any vile or
base thing, but rather clings always to pure and virtuous things and
takes up its abode in a noble heart; as the birds do in green woods
on flowery branches. And this Love shows itself more in adversity
than in prosperity; as light does, which shines most where the place
We read of the kite that, when it sees its young ones growing too
big in the nest, out of envy it pecks their sides, and keeps them
Cheerfulness is proper to the cock, which rejoices over every little
thing, and crows with varied and lively movements.
Sadness resembles the raven, which, when it sees its young ones born
white, departs in great grief, and abandons them with doleful
lamentations, and does not feed them until it sees in them some few
We read of the beaver that when it is pursued, knowing that it is
for the virtue [contained] in its medicinal testicles and not being
able to escape, it stops; and to be at peace with its pursuers, it
bites off its testicles with its sharp teeth, and leaves them to its
It is said of the bear that when it goes to the haunts of bees to
take their honey, the bees having begun to sting him he leaves the
honey and rushes to revenge himself. And as he seeks to be revenged
on all those that sting him, he is revenged on none; in such wise
that his rage is turned to madness, and he flings himself on the
ground, vainly exasperating, by his hands and feet, the foes against
which he is defending himself.
The virtue of gratitude is said to be more [developed] in the birds
called hoopoes which, knowing the benefits of life and food, they
have received from their father and their mother, when they see them
grow old, make a nest for them and brood over them and feed them,
and with their beaks pull out their old and shabby feathers; and
then, with a certain herb restore their sight so that they return to
a prosperous state.
The toad feeds on earth and always remains lean; because it never
eats enough:-- it is so afraid lest it should want for earth.
Pigeons are a symbol of ingratitude; for when they are old enough no
longer to need to be fed, they begin to fight with their father, and
this struggle does not end until the young one drives the father out
and takes the hen and makes her his own.
The basilisk is so utterly cruel that when it cannot kill animals by
its baleful gaze, it turns upon herbs and plants, and fixing its
gaze on them withers them up.
It is said of the eagle that it is never so hungry but that it will
leave a part of its prey for the birds that are round it, which,
being unable to provide their own food, are necessarily dependent on
the eagle, since it is thus that they obtain food.
When the wolf goes cunningly round some stable of cattle, and by
accident puts his foot in a trap, so that he makes a noise, he bites
his foot off to punish himself for his folly.
FLATTERERS OR SYRENS.
The syren sings so sweetly that she lulls the mariners to sleep;
then she climbs upon the ships and kills the sleeping mariners.
The ant, by her natural foresight provides in the summer for the
winter, killing the seeds she harvests that they may not germinate,
and on them, in due time she feeds.
The wild bull having a horror of a red colour, the hunters dress up
the trunk of a tree with red and the bull runs at this with great
frenzy, thus fixing his horns, and forthwith the hunters kill him
We may liken the virtue of Justice to the king of the bees which
orders and arranges every thing with judgment. For some bees are
ordered to go to the flowers, others are ordered to labour, others
to fight with the wasps, others to clear away all dirt, others to
accompagny* and escort the king; and when he is old and has no wings
they carry him. And if one of them fails in his duty, he is punished
Although partridges steal each other's eggs, nevertheless the young
born of these eggs always return to their true mother.
FIDELITY, OR LOYALTY.
The cranes are so faithful and loyal to their king, that at night,
when he is sleeping, some of them go round the field to keep watch
at a distance; others remain near, each holding a stone in his foot,
so that if sleep should overcome them, this stone would fall and
make so much noise that they would wake up again. And there are
others which sleep together round the king; and this they do every
night, changing in turn so that their king may never find them
The fox when it sees a flock of herons or magpies or birds of that
kind, suddenly flings himself on the ground with his mouth open to
look as he were dead; and these birds want to peck at his tongue,
and he bites off their heads.
The mole has very small eyes and it always lives under ground; and
it lives as long as it is in the dark but when it comes into the
light it dies immediately, because it becomes known;--and so it is
The lion is never afraid, but rather fights with a bold spirit and
savage onslaught against a multitude of hunters, always seeking to
injure the first that injures him.
FEAR OR COWARDICE.
The hare is always frightened; and the leaves that fall from the
trees in autumn always keep him in terror and generally put him to
The falcon never preys but on large birds; and it will let itself
die rather than feed on little ones, or eat stinking meat.
As regards this vice, we read that the peacock is more guilty of it
than any other animal. For it is always contemplating the beauty of
its tail, which it spreads in the form of a wheel, and by its cries
attracts to itself the gaze of the creatures that surround it.
And this is the last vice to be conquered.
Constancy may be symbolised by the phoenix which, knowing that by
nature it must be resuscitated, has the constancy to endure the
burning flames which consume it, and then it rises anew.
The swallow may serve for Inconstancy, for it is always in movement,
since it cannot endure the smallest discomfort.
The camel is the most lustful animal there is, and will follow the
female for a thousand miles. But if you keep it constantly with its
mother or sister it will leave them alone, so temperate is its
The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control
itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity
and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated
damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.
We see the most striking example of humility in the lamb which will
submit to any animal; and when they are given for food to imprisoned
lions they are as gentle to them as to their own mother, so that
very often it has been seen that the lions forbear to kill them.
The falcon, by reason of its haughtiness and pride, is fain to lord
it and rule over all the other birds of prey, and longs to be sole
and supreme; and very often the falcon has been seen to assault the
eagle, the Queen of birds.
The wild ass, when it goes to the well to drink, and finds the water
troubled, is never so thirsty but that it will abstain from
drinking, and wait till the water is clear again.
The vulture is so addicted to gluttony that it will go a thousand
miles to eat a carrion [carcase]; therefore is it that it follows
The turtle-dove is never false to its mate; and if one dies the
other preserves perpetual chastity, and never again sits on a green
bough, nor ever again drinks of clear water.
The bat, owing to unbridled lust, observes no universal rule in
pairing, but males with males and females with females pair
promiscuously, as it may happen.
The ermine out of moderation never eats but once in the day; it will
rather let itself be taken by the hunters than take refuge in a
dirty lair, in order not to stain its purity.
The eagle when it is old flies so high that it scorches its
feathers, and Nature allowing that it should renew its youth, it
falls into shallow water *[Footnote 5: The meaning is obscure.]. And
if its young ones cannot bear to gaze on the sun *[Footnote 6: The
meaning is obscure.]--; it does not feed them with any bird, that
does not wish to die. Animals which much fear it do not approach its
nest, although it does not hurt them. It always leaves part of its
This is found in Asia Major, and shines so brightly that it absorbs
its own shadow, and when it dies it does not lose this light, and
its feathers never fall out, but a feather pulled out shines no
This bird has a great love for its young; and when it finds them in
its nest dead from a serpent's bite, it pierces itself to the heart,
and with its blood it bathes them till they return to life.
This has no digestive organs, and gets no food but from the fire, in
which it constantly renews its scaly skin.
The salamander, which renews its scaly skin in the fire,--for
This lives on air, and there it is the prey of all the birds; so in
order to be safer it flies above the clouds and finds an air so
rarefied that it cannot support the bird that follows it.
At that height nothing can go unless it has a gift from Heaven, and
that is where the chameleon flies.
THE ALEPO, A FISH.
The fish _alepo_ does not live out of water.
This bird converts iron into nourishment, and hatches its eggs by
its gaze;--Armies under commanders.
The swan is white without any spot, and it sings sweetly as it dies,
its life ending with that song.
This bird, by drinking saltwater purges itself of distempers. If the
male finds his mate unfaithful, he abandons her; and when it grows
old its young ones brood over it, and feed it till it dies.
This silences the cuckoo with its song. It dies in oil and revives
in vinegar. It sings in the greatest heats
The more light there is the blinder this creature becomes; as those
who gaze most at the sun become most dazzled.--For Vice, that cannot
remain where Virtue appears.
This bird changes from the female into the male and forgets its
former sex; and out of envy it steals the eggs from others and
hatches them, but the young ones follow the true mother.
This bird gives sight to its blind young ones by means of celandine.
THE OYSTER.--FOR TREACHERY.
This creature, when the moon is full opens itself wide, and when the
crab looks in he throws in a piece of rock or seaweed and the oyster
cannot close again, whereby it serves for food to that crab. This is
what happens to him who opens his mouth to tell his secret. He
becomes the prey of the treacherous hearer.
All snakes flie from this creature; but the weasel attacks it by
means of rue and kills it.
This carries instantaneous death in its fangs; and, that it may not
hear the charmer it stops its ears with its tail.
This creature entangles itself in the legs of the elephant which
falls upon it, and so both die, and in its death it is avenged.
She, in pairing opens her mouth and at last clenches her teeth and
kills her husband. Then the young ones, growing within her body rend
her open and kill their mother.
Saliva, spit out when fasting will kill a scorpion. This may be
likened to abstinence from greediness, which removes and heals the
ills which result from that gluttony, and opens the path of virtue.
THE CROCODILE. HYPOCRISY.
This animal catches a man and straightway kills him; after he is
dead, it weeps for him with a lamentable voice and many tears. Then,
having done lamenting, it cruelly devours him. It is thus with the
hypocrite, who, for the smallest matter, has his face bathed with
tears, but shows the heart of a tiger and rejoices in his heart at
the woes of others, while wearing a pitiful face.
The toad flies from the light of the sun, and if it is held there by
force it puffs itself out so much as to hide its head below and
shield itself from the rays. Thus does the foe of clear and radiant
virtue, who can only be constrainedly brought to face it with puffed
THE CATERPILLAR.--FOR VIRTUE IN GENERAL.
The caterpillar, which by means of assiduous care is able to weave
round itself a new dwelling place with marvellous artifice and fine
workmanship, comes out of it afterwards with painted and lovely
wings, with which it rises towards Heaven.
The spider brings forth out of herself the delicate and ingenious
web, which makes her a return by the prey it takes.
[Footnote: Two notes are underneath this text. The first: _'nessuna
chosa e da ttemere piu che lla sozza fama'_ is a repetition of the
first line of the text given in Vol. I No. 695.
The second: _faticha fugga cholla fama in braccio quasi ochultata c_
is written in red chalk and is evidently an incomplete sentence.]
This animal, with his thundering roar, rouses his young the third
day after they are born, teaching them the use of all their dormant
senses and all the wild things which are in the wood flee away.
This may be compared to the children of Virtue who are roused by the
sound of praise and grow up in honourable studies, by which they are
more and more elevated; while all that is base flies at the sound,
shunning those who are virtuous.
Again, the lion covers over its foot tracks, so that the way it has
gone may not be known to its enemies. Thus it beseems a captain to
conceal the secrets of his mind so that the enemy may not know his
The bite of the tarantula fixes a man's mind on one idea; that is on
the thing he was thinking of when he was bitten.
THE SCREECH-OWL AND THE OWL.
These punish those who are scoffing at them by pecking out their
eyes; for nature has so ordered it, that they may thus be fed.
The huge elephant has by nature what is rarely found in man; that is
Honesty, Prudence, Justice, and the Observance of Religion; inasmuch
as when the moon is new, these beasts go down to the rivers, and
there, solemnly cleansing themselves, they bathe, and so, having
saluted the planet, return to the woods. And when they are ill,
being laid down, they fling up plants towards Heaven as though they
would offer sacrifice. --They bury their tusks when they fall out
from old age.--Of these two tusks they use one to dig up roots for
food; but they save the point of the other for fighting with; when
they are taken by hunters and when worn out by fatigue, they dig up
these buried tusks and ransom themselves.
They are merciful, and know the dangers, and if one finds a man
alone and lost, he kindly puts him back in the road he has missed,
if he finds the footprints of the man before the man himself. It
dreads betrayal, so it stops and blows, pointing it out to the other
elephants who form in a troop and go warily.
These beasts always go in troops, and the oldest goes in front and
the second in age remains the last, and thus they enclose the troop.
Out of shame they pair only at night and secretly, nor do they then
rejoin the herd but first bathe in the river. The females do not
fight as with other animals; and it is so merciful that it is most
unwilling by nature ever to hurt those weaker than itself. And if it
meets in the middle of its way a flock of sheep
it puts them aside with its trunk, so as not to trample them under
foot; and it never hurts any thing unless when provoked. When one
has fallen into a pit the others fill up the pit with branches,
earth and stones, thus raising the bottom that he may easily get
out. They greatly dread the noise of swine and fly in confusion,
doing no less harm then, with their feet, to their own kind than to
the enemy. They delight in rivers and are always wandering about
near them, though on account of their great weight they cannot swim.
They devour stones, and the trunks of trees are their favourite
food. They have a horror of rats. Flies delight in their smell and
settle on their back, and the beast scrapes its skin making its
folds even and kills them.
When they cross rivers they send their young ones up against the
stream of the water; thus, being set towards the fall, they break
the united current of the water so that the current does not carry
them away. The dragon flings itself under the elephant's body, and
with its tail it ties its legs; with its wings and with its arms it
also clings round its ribs and cuts its throat with its teeth, and
the elephant falls upon it and the dragon is burst. Thus, in its
death it is revenged on its foe.
These go in companies together, and they twine themselves after the
manner of roots, and with their heads raised they cross lakes, and
swim to where they find better pasture; and if they did not thus
they would be drowned, therefore they combine.
The serpent is a very large animal. When it sees a bird in the air
it draws in its breath so strongly that it draws the birds into its
mouth too. Marcus Regulus, the consul of the Roman army was
attacked, with his army, by such an animal and almost defeated. And
this animal, being killed by a catapult, measured 123 feet, that is
64 1/2 braccia and its head was high above all the trees in a wood.
This is a very large snake which entangles itself round the legs of
the cow so that it cannot move and then sucks it, in such wise that
it almost dries it up. In the time of Claudius the Emperor, there
was killed, on the Vatican Hill,
one which had inside it a boy, entire, that it had swallowed.
THE MACLI.--CAUGHT WHEN ASLEEP.
This beast is born in Scandinavia. It has the shape of a great
horse, excepting that the great length of its neck and of its ears
make a difference. It feeds on grass, going backwards, for it has so
long an upper lip that if it went forwards it would cover up the
grass. Its legs are all in one piece; for this reason when it wants
to sleep it leans against a tree, and the hunters, spying out the
place where it is wont to sleep, saw the tree almost through, and
then, when it leans against it to sleep, in its sleep it falls, and
thus the hunters take it. And every other mode of taking it is in
vain, because it is incredibly swift in running.
THE BISON WHICH DOES INJURY IN ITS FLIGHT.
This beast is a native of Paeonia and has a neck with a mane like a
horse. In all its other parts it is like a bull, excepting that its
horns are in a way bent inwards so that it cannot butt; hence it has
no safety but in flight, in which it flings out its excrement to a
distance of 400 braccia in its course, and this burns like fire
wherever it touches.
LIONS, PARDS, PANTHERS, TIGERS.
These keep their claws in the sheath, and never put them out unless
they are on the back of their prey or their enemy.
When the lioness defends her young from the hand of the hunter, in
order not to be frightened by the spears she keeps her eyes on the
ground, to the end that she may not by her flight leave her young
This animal, which is so terrible, fears nothing more than the noise
of empty carts, and likewise the crowing of cocks. And it is much
terrified at the sight of one, and looks at its comb with a
frightened aspect, and is strangely alarmed when its face is
THE PANTHER IN AFRICA.
This has the form of the lioness but it is taller on its legs and
slimmer and long bodied; and it is all white and marked with black
spots after the manner of rosettes; and all animals delight to look
upon these rosettes, and they would always be standing round it if
it were not for the terror of its face;
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