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Iain Rowan
Posted on Sunday, June 27, 2004 - 01:49 pm:   

Leonardo da Vinci.

A great man. A scholar, an artist, an engineer, an anatomist, a scientist.

But he also slept in until late and complained how difficult it was to ever get out of bed. He once scraped the intestines of an ox as thin as they would go, so thin that they could be concealed within the palm of a hand. And then he attached them secretly to bellows, and blew them up, in a room full of people, to such a size that they filled the room and pinned everyone up against the wall. This was presumably when he wasn't scaring the crap out of assorted Florentine and Milanese toffs with his pet lizard that he'd fitted with wings and painted so that the credulous would think that it was a dragon.

And yes, he invented a flying machine that would actually fly and a bicycle and a spring-powered tank and a diving suit and all sort of other wonderful things that were amazing conceptions for the time. But they're just the same old things that you hear about time after time when someone wants to demonstrate the genius of this truly renaissance man.

You never get to hear about the water-powered alarm clock. Or the therapeutic armchair. Or the automatic spit, the variable intensity table lamp or the counterweights for an automatically closing door. The proposal to make a subsitute for unpolished amber from a concoction of black pudding skins and egg whites is rarely discussed. Not only did da Vinci invent all of these, it's obvious that he also invented the renaissance equivalent of the Innovations catalogue.

"Leonardo, Leonardo, I want you to draw me up plans for this device you speak of that will tunnel under the walls of fortifications and bring them crashing to the ground."

"Later, Cesare, because look! See this! It is slippers but it is but *one foot*! And it is furry! And it comes free with this device that uses the mechanisms of springs to remove hair from your nostrils!"

I can't think of anyone in history that I admire more than Leonardo, for his genius, for his vision, for his humanity, for his bewildering polymath mind. But also because as well as all of that, he was a water-powered alarm clock inventing intestine inflator, a genius who valued the practice of stupidity because there's more to life than brilliance.

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