“I’ve lived, a life that’s full…
I’ve traveled each and every highway…”
Oh, how beautifully Frank Sinatra’s contented words transmit the same vibe of innermost beatitude that roughly 450 years before had been serenely emitted by an old yet gleeful Leonardo Da Vinci, as he felt his extraordinarily prolific life was drawing to an end! And wasn’t he, when he wrote that “The life well spent is a long one.”, grasping a universal truth? Had he lived any less, his life would still have been equally rich, for he lived every moment to the fullest, through and for passion.
And where could that unremitting fervor for living intensely be more conspicuous to us, several centuries later, if not in everything he created? Everything we know of, at least.
With curiosity throbbing through his veins as his vital energy, he is among those who sought to discover and to create as if it was one of his primary needs, even if he seldom finished what he began. Yet although his works of art brought him international fame even during his life, his seemingly insignificant inventions complete the portrait of who he was and how he lived. But since on this subject there are so many books, articles et cetera, I will focus on solely one item that could have saved him from the gruesome poverty he was threatened by at the time- had he not willingly destroyed it.
It so happened that Leonardo was in Venice as the Turks were menacingly close to the Republic, preparing a rather stormy attack. As he spent countless hours observing the sea and its tides, he couldn’t help but think for a key to this frightening problem they were all facing. Needless to say, it was not long before he found a solution that would not only provide them with a satisfactory defense, but that would most certainly bring salvation.
What if they could stay under water for lengthy spans of time? Couldn’t they place some bombs under the enemy’s ships as they would stay outside of the port ready to invade? Thus, after several experiments with a leather bag which had to hold the air, a mask with goggles and other necessary additions, he was confident he’d become immensely wealthy thanks to this novel invention of his. And he couldn’t have been more in the right, for how could the Venetian state not pay as much as they could in order to win against the Turks?
Still, nothing happened. The Republic never heard of this revolutionary suit, nor did its inventor get any money for it. Why? He simply chose to destroy it, and that merely because of (or thanks to) his insight into human conduct. Purely and simply he realized that people would abuse his invention in their unscrupulous desire for power, not resorting to it only in case defense was needed. And after all, his reasoning is tremendously accurate. But what made this decision of his so inspiring to my eyes is the fact that it exemplifies how knowledge and creation should, primarily, be goals in themselves. Even though by necessity one needs to sell their creations so as not to die of hunger, the most rewarding thing is the process of creation itself. Precisely this process, that makes one build something with one’s own might is the most fruitful endeavor conceivable, by making the mind accomplish its best possible results through struggle.
Struggling, reasoning and experimenting gave him more pleasure than any amount of money could have-because thus he created, not merely employed something already produced to satisfy certain desires of his. And by no means am I suggesting that one should die of hunger by refusing to sell their work. I’m only saying that what is the most important is how one invents, with what view in mind one accesses their imaginative powers.
One creates for oneself.