Artist, Inventor, and
Universal Genius of the Renaissance
When Leonardo arrived in Venice, the city was at war with the Turks, who had just captured Lepanto. Everyone expected a Turkish assault on Italy.
Venice could only be attacked from the sea, so Leonardo considered proposing to the Doges a submarine and wetsuit of his invention, in exchange for half the ransom of the captured Turkish prisoners. After all, Leonardo could see all around him people much less capable than him who had achieved riches and power by being mercenaries. Why should not he do the same?
He vividly described his dreams of glory in his notebooks:
“The Great Turk having besieged Venice, the lord Leonardo Da Vinci, at the head of his soldiers,
cried out to him: ‘Surrender within four hours or you will be sunk!’ Yet after four hours, the said
lord, the Great Turk not having accepted to surrender, sunk his galleys without the latter’s
realizing how! And it was a marvel to behold the Turkish vessels sinking into the water with
their oarsmen and their cannons, and to hear the cries, curses and blasphemies! The armies of
the Serenissima captured many prisoners, and after the battle, the said Leonardo was carried
on their shoulders, causing the pride of the Italian nation, and the said lord was greatly
honored by the Serenissima, for having been the savior of Venice, and they gave him, as
agreed, half the ransoms of the prisoners”
However when he thought about the implications of his invention, he was frightened.
What money, what prestige, what desire to destroy an enemy country deserved to deliver such a murderous invention to Doges who were capable of anything in order to serve their own interest? In Venice, one was noble and reigned if one was rich, and men enriched themselves by selling their souls: the Venetian merchants were ready to sell anything to anyone. If it had not been for their cupidity, Constantinople would never have fallen into the hands of the Turks, and now, just turn of events, they were the victims of these latter. If Leonardo gave them such a fearful weapon, they would be capable of selling it. Even if they did not sell it, they would use it in the infamous wars that they waged against the other cities of Italy, and against the world.
He decided to destroy his invention, plans and machines, for fear, he writes, that men, because of their evil nature, should use it to assassinate at the bottoms of the seas by destroying vessels and drowning the men on them.
Adapted, with permission, from La Renaissance en Question, Tome I, Lina Murr Nehme, Aleph et Taw
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"I shall make covered chariots, that are safe and cannot be assaulted; cars which fear no
great numbers when breaking through the ranks of the enemy and its artillery. Behind them,
the infantrymen shall follow, without fearing injury or other impediments"
-Leonardo Da Vinci