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He was also distinguished as a military engineer. Indeed, if we may judge from his letter to Lodovico Sforza (see p. 144), it was in that department that he himself believed that he chiefly excelled.
Before we can arrive at trustworthy conclusions upon this side of his activity, we must, I think, determine with some exactness what his attitude towards the antique tradition really was.
Here, as in artistic matters, he took from the Greeks and Romans a great deal more than is usually supposed. His hero was Archimedes, whose biography he may have read in Plutarch’s Lives.) Like the famous Syracusan, he flattered himself he could rout the enemy by the aid of his miraculous machines. But while Archimedes long held the Roman armies in check with inventions which, after all, he only put forward as more or less playful experiments in geometry, Leonardo never, so far as we know, succeeded in applying any of the apparently redoubtable contrivances of which he speaks.
A long series of drawings acquaints us with the more or less chimerical contrivances of Da Vinci. Sometimes he shows us horses armed with lances, at others chariots with hooks and scythes upon their wheels. Here we see a sort of flying defence, a kind of screen, intended to shelter archers (M. Valton's collection and others), there, new sorts of battering rams, balistas, and catapultas.
The uselessness of most of these engines cannot be better indicated than by metioning that Leonardo generally puts bows into the hands of his soldiers, just as though firearms had not long been discovered.3
1 In one of his notes he writes down the names of the famous engineers of antiquity : Callias of Rhodes, Epimachus of Athens, Demetrius Poliorcetes, Callimachus the architect, Diogenes the philosopher of Rhodes, Calcedonius the Thracian, Febar of Tyre (Richter, vol. ii. p. 422). As for Archimedes, his name crops up continually. The inventions of Leonardo have, in fact, a curious parallel in those of Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse. But just as the genius of Marcellus was too much for the ingenuity of Archimedes, so would the guns of Louis XII. have made short work of Leonardo's machines, had they ever come into action. See Plutarch's life of Marcellus.
2 Windsor, Grosvenor Gallery series, no. 51.-British Museum.-Library of the Institut de France.—Turin, Royal Library, no. 10.-- Demetrius and Mithridates, to go no further back, employed chariots armed with scythes (see Plutarch's lives of Demetrius and of Sylla). Cf. Müller-Walde, p. 204-210.
3 Maindron, Les Armes, p. 207.-In the army led into Italy in 1494 by Charles VIII., musketeers marched beside the archers, cross bowmen, and Swiss pikemen. (Fr. Delaborde, L'Expédition de Charles VIII. en Italie, p. 459.)
FOWLER RELEASING A BIRD. AN EMBLEM
OF SHORT-LIVED LIBERTY.
Elsewhere he proposes to asphyxiate besiegers with the smoke of feathers, sulphur, and di-sulphide of arsenic. 1
With ideas like these, it was only natural that he should turn his attention to the composition of Greek fire, “fuoco greco," for which he gives the receipt in the most simple good faith.2
If Lodovico Sforza's artist did even more for him than he promised, his engineer did a great deal less. He nursed, indeed, the most curious delusions. When we compare his promises
with the results he produced, it is difficult (Library of the Institut de France.)
to avoid being irritated by his optimism,
self-confidence. He calmly proposed to the Milanese ruler as practical and well-tested methods what were, in fact, nothing more than experiments in a laboratory. Projects on paper, which would not have stood the test of experiment for a single moment, were recommended as if they were tried and infallible processes. Otherwise, Lodovico would have been invincible; if Leonardo had been able to fulfil his promises, the armies of Charles VIII. and Louis XII. would have been routed at the first discharge. It cannot be said that Da Vinci had no chance of using his amazing inventions. The wars waged by his two patrons, Lodovico il Moro and Cæsar Borgia, gave him plenty of opportunities. The truth is that he dwelt in an atmosphere of pure speculation, and felt no real interest in material results.
With such a man as Leonardo, however, we must not rest too long under the influence of such unfavourable ideas as
(Library of the Institut de France.) these. He was one of the first to
SKETCH FROM ONE OF LEONARDO's
1 Ravaisson-Mollien, Les Manuscrits, vol. ii. fol. 63, verso.
Cf. fol. 69, verso ; 72. 2 Richter, vol. i. p. 280-281.-Beltrami, Il Codice di Leonardo da Vinci, fol. 43. Cf. p. 306.
commend the use of mines for the destruction of fortifications. He anticipated the inventors of our own time in suggesting breech-loading guns, and mitrailleuses with many barrels, fixed or movable (Codex Atlanticus). 1 According to information I have received from M. Henry de Geymüller, certain engines of this nature are to be found in many collections of arms, among others in that of Venice.
No doubt his advice on the construction of flying bridges also contains
Leonardo seems have put his pencil at the service of fencingmasters,
among other people. Lomazzo tells
that he drew for Gentile dei Borri the different positions of a horseman fighting with a man on foot, and showed "how
on foot may attack a horseman, or defend himself against one, taking account of the difference in their arms. pity," Lomazzo goes on to say, "that this work has not been given to the public; it would have added glory to that wonderful art.'
(Library of the Institut de France.)
It is a great
1 Müller-Walde, in his Leonardo da Vinci, gives an ample dissertation on the firearms invented or improved by the master (pp. 184–197, 211, et seq.).
2 Müller-Walde, p. 165-170.
3 In a drawing published by Gerli (pl. vii.), a horseman armed with a lance charges a foot soldier, who defends himself with a lance-shield, shaped like an umbrella. This is Lomazzo's commentary : “Ma ritornando ai professori delle armi, eccellente appresso ai