In 1502, Italy was riven by conflict, with the city of Florence as the ultimate prize. Machiavelli, the consummate political manipulator, attempted to placate the savage Borgia by volunteering Leonardo to be Borgia’s chief military engineer. That autumn, the three men embarked together on a brief, perilous, and fateful journey through the mountains, remote villages, and hill towns of the Italian Romagna—the details of which were revealed in Machiavelli’s frequent dispatches and Leonardo’s meticulous notebooks.
Superbly written and thoroughly researched, The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior is a work of narrative genius—whose subject is the nature of genius itself.
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The Artist, the Philosopher, and the WarriorDa Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped
By Paul Strathern
BantamCopyright © 2011 Paul Strathern
All right reserved.
leonardo da vinci was born in 1452 in the hilly Tuscan country?side near the village of Vinci, some twenty miles west of Florence. He was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero da Vinci, a twenty-six-year-old notary, who during Leonardo's childhood remained for the most part in Florence, pursuing a successful career. All that is known for certain of Leonardo's mother, Caterina, is that she was a twenty-five-year-old peasant girl, who may have been the daughter of a local woodcutter.
Few facts are known about Leonardo's early years and we have to rely upon occasional, often enigmatic, remarks made years later in his notebooks. A prime example is the comment made by Leonardo whilst he was writing on the flight of birds, in this case observing the flight of the fork-tailed kite, a bird that often flew over Vinci from the slopes of nearby Mount Albano:
Writing in such detail about the kite seems to be my destiny, since in the first memory of my childhood it seemed to me that whilst I was lying in my cradle a kite flew down and brushed open my mouth with its tail, and struck me several times with its tail on the inside of my lips.
Out of this suggestive fragment Freud would construct an entire psychological history for Leonardo, leading from the trauma of separ?ation from his mother, and his consequent ambivalent feelings towards her, to his homosexuality and his reluctance to finish projects upon which he embarked. Unfortunately the German translation used by Freud mistakenly rendered the Italian word for kite (nebbio) as "vulture," lending an altogether more lurid tone to this memory. Despite this error, Freud's claim that Leonardo's memory of the tail probing his lips was a masked image of his mother's nipple, when he was suckling her breast, seems plausible enough. And there is little doubt that Leonardo did suffer a trauma on separation from his mother. Years later he would write down a series of riddles, amongst which there is a recurrent theme of violent separation of a mother and her child. A typical example reads: "Many children will be torn from the arms of their mother with pitiless blows and be thrown to the ground to be mutilated." The answer to the riddle is in fact "Nuts, and olives and acorns," but the power of the prior image is suggestive.
In 1456, when Leonardo was four, Tuscany was devastated by a great storm, possibly a tornado. Years later he could still vividly recall:
I have witnessed movements of air so furious that they have borne away, mixed up within them, the largest trees of the forest and the whole roofs of great palaces, and I have seen the same fury bore a hole with its whirling force, digging out a gravel pit, and carrying off gravel, sand and water more than half a mile through the air.
Several years after this, the River Arno would overflow its banks, causing severe floods throughout the Val d'Arno. The power of these two natural disasters that Leonardo experienced in his youth would long remain in his memory, the latter initiating a fearful fascination with deluges and floods that would last throughout his life.
Leonardo was brought up in the household of his paternal grandfather, Antonio da Vinci, where he seems to have become particularly attached to Antonio's youngest son, Francesco, who despite being Leonardo's uncle was just fifteen years older than he. Unlike Leonardo's ambitious father, Francesco had remained behind in the country, where he busied himself looking after the da Vinci farmland and vineyards. We can imagine the impressionable young Leonardo dogging the footsteps of his uncle as he oversaw the laborers on the estate. Francesco was almost certainly the first of the several powerful figures to whom Leonardo would be drawn throughout his life. Significantly, all these figures would be young men: initially older than Leonardo, later younger—but mostly in their twenties, the age of Francesco when the child Leonardo would first have become attached to him. (For example, Cesare Borgia was just twenty-five when the middle-aged Leonardo first encountered him.)
Francesco must have passed on much country lore to his young nephew. The ways of nature—how it appeared, what was happening, what this meant—would remain one of Leonardo's constant preoccupations throughout his life. This curiosity may well have been what initially prompted him to draw.
At least temporarily, Francesco would be the father-figure who was missing from Leonardo's life. During this period the young boy was also virtually motherless, for within a year of his birth Caterina married a returned soldier, not long after which Leonardo seems to have been left largely to his own devices. Far from being lonely, he soon began discovering the joys of solitude, of which he later spoke so warmly: "While you are alone you are completely yourself; and if you are accompanied by even one other person you are but half yourself." This solitude was from the beginning associated with drawing nature: "You should say to yourself, 'I will go my own way and withdraw apart from others, the better to study the form of natural objects.'" Years later he would recall an occasion when he was walking alone in the countryside:
Driven by my eager desire and wishing to see the multitude of varied and strange forms created by nature, and having wandered some distance amongst overhanging rocks, I came to the entrance of a great cavern, in front of which I stood for some time, astonished, having never seen such a thing before. Bending forward, I rested my tired hand on my knee and held my right hand above my furrowed eyebrows as I peered down. I shifted from side to side, to see whether I could discern anything inside, but this was prevented by the deep darkness within. After having remained there for some time, I felt the contrary emotions of fear and desire arising within me—fear of the forbidding dark cavern, and my desire to see whether there was anything marvelous within it.
This description exhibits a riveting particularity—one can vividly picture the young Leonardo amongst the rocks, leaning on his knee, peering forward in the bright sunlight. Yet at the same time he consciously introduces elements that allude to something more: his desires, his fears, the very nature of his individuality. It is as if Leonardo is prompting us to read this passage imaginatively, as one might read an occasional poem. Under such circumstances we become aware of the sexual undertones of the cave and the primeval fear of the unknown that lurks in the darkness, as well as the longing to discover the "marvelous" truth of that very same unknown.
Soon, of course, curiosity overcame Leonardo's fears and he entered the darkness of his metaphorical cave to explore its secrets. Such curiosity suffused his dreams, which included great and strange ambitions. Later, in one of his riddles, he would describe dreaming in the following words, which reek of subjective experience:
Men will seem to see unknown destructions in the sky. It will seem that they are flying up into the sky, and then they are fleeing in terror from the flames that pour down on them. They will hear animals of every kind speaking in human language. Their bodies will glide in an instant to various parts of the world without moving. They will see the greatest splendors in the midst of the darkness. What a marvel is the human race! What frenzy has led you to this? . . . You will see yourself falling from great heights without harming yourself. Torrents will sweep you along and whirl you in their rapid course. . . .
It is as if we are seeing Leonardo's future ambitions in embryo, and yet these are the very dreams we all experience. Leonardo's life would be spent trying to realize the dreams of humanity itself. He remained deeply attuned to the promptings of his unconscious mind—its wish to fly, to understand the secrets of nature, to survive a torrent of water. Instead of being taught what to do, what to think, he dreamed of what he wanted to do, and no formal schooling persuaded him otherwise.
Leonardo's father, Ser Piero, would certainly have visited his own father, Antonio da Vinci, and his brother, Francesco, at the da Vinci estate for feast-day family gatherings and during longer summer holidays. And he would of course have brought along his young wife, Albiera, whom he had married in Florence, just as he would bring along his second wife, Francesca, whom he married when Albiera died. Both of these women remained childless. Leonardo may have been a lone motherless child, but it appears that his growing good looks and precocious skill in drawing charmed both his childless stepmothers. From the beginning, he exhibited the self-certainty of one who is used to being the center of attention, of a boy who has grown up experiencing worshipful and unquestioning female love. The fact that both these adoring stepmothers would die when he was still young doubtless caused him sorrow, and may have contributed to the reserved self-possession that he began to display.
Around the mid-1460s, at the beginning of Leonardo's adolescence, he went to live in Florence, where his exceptional talent for drawing enabled him to become apprenticed to the studio of the leading artist Andrea del Verrocchio. Here Leonardo would learn drawing, painting, anatomy, sculpting, and architectural design. This led him into new fields, extending his intellect even further. Drawing would lead him to the study of perspective, which then interested him in geometry; anatomy would lead him to ponder the workings of mechanical devices; architecture would lead him to a study of arithmetic proportions; and this would in turn lead him to learn about harmony in music. His intellectual curiosity coupled with his lack of formal education prompted him to an endless quest for new knowledge. But this would be knowledge that he insisted upon acquiring in his own way: not from books (most of which were written in Latin, which he could not understand), but from experience; not systematically, but as and when the appropriate opportunity presented itself. He began jotting things down in notebooks, without overall order or consequence, just as he would throughout his life. There was no encompassing plan beyond the pure initial impulse, which led with childlike power and wonder in its own direction. Yet his education was not entirely without book learning. It was at around this period that he started reading, in Italian translation, the first-century bc Roman author Lucretius, whose epic poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) sought to explain the world in scientific terms. Although Leonardo's investigations may have appeared serendipitous, they were increasingly guided by an overall vision, a consistent empirical view of the world, and this he probably drew from Lucretius.
Many of Florence's finest artists would gather at Verrocchio's studio, including Botticelli, the favorite painter of Lorenzo the Magnificent, head of the powerful Medici family that ruled Florence. Lorenzo's "magnificence" extended into many fields. As a ruler he would make Florence great; his bravery in jousting was legendary; he was one of the most accomplished poets of his time, and the circle he maintained at the Palazzo Medici on the Via Larga included the finest poets, artists, philosophers, and scholars. Amongst these were the poet Angelo Poliziano, the philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and the Platonic scholar Marsilio Ficino, all leading luminaries of the Renaissance that was taking place in Florence.
Inevitably, it was not long before the handsome and talented Leonardo da Vinci came to the attention of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Here was another powerful young man to whom Leonardo would find himself drawn, and Leonardo would soon be regarded as part of Lorenzo's circle of artists, philosophers, and poets. In the course of his musical studies Leonardo had learned to play the lyre and had devel-oped an exceptionally harmonious singing voice, with which he would now entertain Lorenzo and his friends. This personal connection with the city's ruler was to have serious consequences for Leonardo. Partly in self-conscious assertion of his own exceptional abilities, and partly in bravura compensation for his illegitimacy, Leonardo had developed into something of a dandy. Tall and handsome, he cut a fine figure striding through the streets of Florence in his thigh-length boots of soft Cordoba leather, his long hair falling in curls about the shoulders of his short pink tunic, his passing presence wreathed in rose-water scent.
In April 1476 Leonardo was denounced, along with three others, in an anonymous note to the authorities claiming that he had practiced sodomy with a young man called Jacopo Saltarelli. As a result Leonardo was charged, and almost certainly spent some time in the cells, before being released pending a trial in two months' time. The charges were finally dropped after a word to the authorities from Lorenzo the Magnificent. The accus?ation against Leonardo appear to have been engineered by one or other of the powerful families who resented Medici rule, as an attempt to discredit Lorenzo and his circle.
It was a deeply humiliating episode, yet the only evidence we have of Leonardo's feelings is characteristically oblique and ingenious. Amongst his drawings from around this period there is a sketch of one of his earliest inventions—a powerful and meticulously drawn "design for a device for unhinging a prison door from the inside." One can but imagine him sitting in his soiled finery in the dimness of his cell amidst the stinking vermin-ridden straw, bitterly piecing together in his mind a machine that would have enabled him to escape.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations ix
Images Appearing Only in the Color Plate Section xi
Dramatis Personae xvii
Prologue: A Unique Constellation 1
Part 1 The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior
1 Leonardo Learning 11
2 Machiavelli: A Surprise Appointment 37
3 The Pope and His Bastard 63
4 Cesare Rising 80
Part 2 In the Romagna
5 Treachery and Bluff 101
6 Obeying Orders 109
7 "Either Caesar or nothing" 114
8 "A new science" 121
9 Leonardo at Work 128
10 Borgia at Bay 143
11 Machiavelli's Mission 152
12 The Ghost 158
13 Borgia Negotiates 169
14 A Definitive Move 182
15 "An action worthy of a Roman" 193
Part 3 Looking to the Future
16 "What has happened so far is nothing compared with what is planned for the future" 207
17 Leonardo at Work 220
18 Machiavelli Uses His Influence 236
19 The Election of a New Pope 257
20 Squaring the Circle 270
21 A Changed Man 283
Part 4 Consequences
22 Return to Florence 305
23 Coaxing Water 318
24 Borgia's Gamble 329
25 Machiavelli's Militia 346
26 Borgia in Spain 364
27 Leonardo's Loss 374
28 "Am I a Machiavel?" 395
Select Bibliography 438
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I got this book through the Early Reviewers Program. I was very excited to get a chance to read it, however, I have been struggling to get through it. It just hasn't grabbed me the way I had expected it to, it's currently sitting in my husband's "to be read" pile since he was also interested in reading it. I may try to pick it up and start over after the holidays.
Leonardo da Vinci is world reknown as an inventor and artist. Niccolo Machiavelli, a strategist and philosopher. Cesare Borgia, illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, built a reputation for himself as a brilliant military strategist and commander.One would think these 3 individuals had nothing in command, but what this book describes is an intriguing relationship between the 3, after Borgia took Romagna in Italy. Machiavelli was sent as an envoy from Florence to observe Borgia but not to concede to any sort of an alliance with him. During this time, Borgia met with with Leonardo, and impressed with his innovative engineering ideas, engaged the inventor to design military weapons that could be easily used to defend as well as to attack.If you've read any history of these 3 individuals on their own, some of the information in this book will be familiar. But what makes this an interesting book is the angle with which the author has tied in not just the beginnings of each of them as an individual, but also the intersection of their lives, and how they were each affected by the other.The author does a good job of bringing history alive.
Paul Strathern's goal in The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior is to analyze the influence of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Cesare Borgia on each other from the time that they were together in 1502. Although he does allude to these influences from time to time, the better part of the book is spent in a textbook narrative detailing the events of the Borgias' attempt to unite Italy under their family control. In fact, Pope Alexander VI, Cesare's father, should probably have been included in the title as an equally important driver of events. For persons interested and ignorant of this period, this is a good straightforward account of events. As a ground-breaking analysis of three of the most intriguing figures in history, it falls short. None of the characters is allowed to come to life.
Borgia is more the instigator of action than a personality influenced by the other two. His ruthlessness and cruelty apparently ended Da Vinci's passion for designing war machines and gave Machiavelli a point of departure for describing the perfect political man. Strathern's main thesis seems to be that both Da Vinci and Machiavelli depended on their own observations and experience rather than on authority as medieval thinkers had.
Some recent scholarship is fascinating. For instance, fingerprints thought to be Leonardo's have been lifted from his notebooks. They show many common points with prints typical of near Eastern natives, leading Strathern to posit that his mother was a slave from the near East. Supporting this theory is her name, "Caterina," a name often used for women slaves.
This is an uncorrected proof, but the writing is pedestrian at best and depressingly bad at worst. Surely a man of Paul Strathern's stature knows the difference between "imply" and "infer," but the latter is used for the former in this text. Anyone who expects serious scholarship to be seriously written will be disappointed. A typical sentence, "Ancient vendettas were reactivated, while once more footpads (robbers)roamed the highways and byways," demonstrates his dependence on cliche, poor word choice, and ignorance of his audience. In fact, I could never determine what audience he expected. I found it too dull for popular history and too insubstantial for academic history.
I received this book through the ER program, and I was surprised how interesting this book was. I knew a little about da Vinci's life before I read the book, but didn't know many details about Machiavelli or the Borgia's. Machiavelli definitely came through as the most "normal" of the group, his letters to his friends sound like normal guy talk you would hear in a locker room or the golf course. The debauchery of the Popes was quite shocking, I had known there was corruption in the Church, but didn't realize how brazen they were. My only criticism of the book is that sometimes it felt like the author speculated a little too much on how these three men interacted with each other, even when there was no documentation.
[this review applies to the advance uncorrected proof; LT early reviewer] Well, i thoroughly enjoyed this one. 400 pages of history could be a tough slog, but Strathern does a remarkable job of keeping it moving, keeping it interesting, and keeping a large cast of characters from getting all confused. This book is essentially a Venn diagram of worlds of da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Cesare Borgia, and their individual stories are interesting enough. But from where they intersect, Strathern has coaxed some great insights, and intriguing possibilities regarding the mutual influence these three giants may have had on each other and on the events swirling around them.The way Strathern keeps track of the threads of these three lives is a major victory. As I mentioned above, a lot of characters move across this stage. Fortunately, a 'dramatis persona' is provided, as well as a timeline, to help keep track. This ones a winner.Os.
Strathern attempts to weave together the combined fortunes of da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia. And while he provides a great many fascinating details about each man -- and perhaps a more illuminating picture of da Vinci than the other two -- the use of one to illuminate the other is of limited success. This is partly because of the limited facts about the crucial points of intersection (at least crucial for Strathern's method) between da Vinci and the other two (especially between da Vinci and Machiavelli). These limitations lead to a rather forced conjunction, instead of a convincing account. If one can focus on the information at hand, and the sometimes lively storytelling, and leave the forced conjunctions problem aside, it's a fascinating book. If one cannot, it becomes increasing irritating.
This book took me nearly 2 years to read from start to finish. Of course I read about 150 other books in between starting and finishing it so I want to decipher why.For me, it really was that this was a poorly written book. It wanted to be one thing and failed at it, then tried to be another, and was terrible in its effort. First I thought the author wanted us to be presented with a great piece of history, beyond what you would find in a textbook, or a dissertation.As I read this though, we hear too much of the author's opinions, and his prose is too often evident to show that we have a scholarly work. We have something that jumps to conclusions of the authors own presumptions, and then turning back to a text based history, cites other historians who have written about our three characters we are studying. That confusion, along with the introduction of a tremendous amount of supporting characters with little context and little mapping as we read along, left me so confused that I put down the book again and again. By our title, I would have expected to have seen closer how Da Vinci, Michiavelli, and Borgia influenced one another. What I am left with is that Borgia is the glue, and far too little is there for the author to tell us how they did interact.He surmises from the lives of the artist and philosopher after Borgia's fall, that Borgia gave them a reason to change in their lives. But from my interpretation of this work, Borgia gave everyone a reason to change. Perhaps 350 years too soon, he tried to reunify Italy, and in hindsight was the best man for the job. Cesare comes off to me in all this more heroic then either of the other two, and yet he falls from power the quickest and much sooner is off to the grave then the other two men. I shall never reread this work, and do not know that I got much from it. I think instead of, like a bell shaped curve, telling us the three biographies, concentrating on the years that their lives intersected, making that the only focus of the piece, with much more supporting material, would have been a better work.
This book is an account of the interactions between three of the most well-known Renaissance figures: Leonardo DaVinci (the artist), Niccolo Macchiavelli (the philosopher), and Cesar Borgia (the warrior). The book follows the lives of these three men and discusses how they were influenced by one another. In particular, Macchiavelli's best-known work, The Prince, is based on his experiences with some of the most powerful political and military leaders of the period, including Borgia and his father, Pope Alexander VI.I found this book to be highly interesting, although it does get bogged down at times. However, it really does make some interesting connections between these three men and how their influence shaped the world around them, and indeed the future.
Paul Strathern's account of the intersecting lives of Cesare Borgia, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Leonardo da Vinci is well researched and interesting. While each individual affected the Italian Renaissance in different ways, Strathern's thesis is that the three men influenced each other and their subsequent careers: Leonardo as Borgia's military engineer, Machiavelli as a friend and political supporter of Leonardo's state commissions, and Borgia as a general influence on Machiaelli's later political writings. The book proceeds in a chronological account of the three individuals lives and the circumstances that brought them together. With the majority of attention paid to the years of Borgia's military campaigns, in which Machiavelli was a Florentine diplomat and Leonardo employed as Borgia's chief military engineer, the author discusses the various influences and consequences of this time. If nothing else, it is an enjoyable narrative describing the relationship between three Renaissance icons. An interesting story of Italian politics, papal power and ambition, with a motif of artistic brilliance. While some may disagree with the degree of influence of Borgia toward Leonardo in many respects, Strathern supports his claim with logical arguments; however, I found a few instances to be a bit of a stretch. The thing I most enjoyed about this book is the way Strathern lectures on such a detailed historic topic without sounding boring and dry. The writing and explanations are easy to understand, and he rightly provides background information when necessary. Someone who isn't familiar with the nuances of the Italian Renaissance could easy read this book and not be lost. I also felt that the tone of the work was upbeat and interested. One could tell that that author not only was knowledgeable about the subject, but was intellectually stimulated by it. The way he weaves the three lives together, yet still maintaining a forward chronology was well handled. While it does not read as a substantial academic thesis, I found the book enjoyable, educational, and stimulating.
An extraordinary account of the intertwined lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli and Borgia during the Renaissance in the year 1502. Individual chapters are devoted to each individual to set the stage of the circumstances leading up to their encounters with each other. These different unique point of views illustrates the complexities and richness of this period. The political situation in Italy is described with several maps of the major campaigns. Of particular interest are the various notes, such as the news that permission has been given for the Medici tombs in Florence to be opened for DNA testing to investigate the theories surrounding the deaths of members of this powerful family. This book is highly recommended for those historians fascinated by not only these three individuals but the world they shaped.
Warfare, Terror, Murder and da Vinci: Paul Strathern's "The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior"Leonardo da Vinci is an artist whose name is instantly recognizable but whose artwork can seem so familiar to 21st century eyes that the actual paintings feel lost behind a veil of cultural expectations. Paul Strathern's new book, "The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped", allows us to see Leonardo as a living man and artist shaped by his time, friendships and experiences. Strathern's book opens with an epigraph spoken by Orson Welles' character, Harry Lime, in "The Third Man". From the vantage point of a ferris wheel high above Vienna, Orson Welles surveys the battered post-war city beneath him and says:"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace¿and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."A Brief ConvergencePaul Strathern who has a background in philosophy, and writes often on the subject, approaches the brief convergence of Leonardo, Borgia and Machiavelli as a sort of biographical/philosophical thought experiment. Like a good professor, Strathern asks questions:"What was it precisely that made Leonardo agree to work for Borgia?"What were Leonardo's "real intentions"?How did Leonardo "become involved with Machiavelli?" Paul Strathern defines his terms with background and analysis of the three major characters. Like Orson Welles, Paul Strathern uses a keen eye and a sense of humor to survey the events surrounding Machiavelli's Florentine diplomatic mission in 1502 which put Leonardo in the service of Cesare Borgia. Strathern vividly describes Renaissance Italy in the 1500's, which was not a unified country under the banner of Italy but instead a collection of constantly battling city states and principalities dominated by Milan, Venice, Naples, Florence and the pope in Rome. The book's narrative introduces us to da Vinci, Machiavelli and Borgia and then weaves, in a Rashomon view, their lives and the events surrounding them from three different vantage points. Strathern helps us see the vibrance and struggle of Renaissance Italy from the viewpoints of the artist, the philosopher, and the warrior. A Visual Realm of IdeasIn a way that I find new to biographies of Leonardo, Paul Strathern concerns himself not only with the events in da Vinci's life, but especially in how Leonardo learned to think, ponder and dream. Leonardo da Vinci was born as the illegitimate son of Piero da Vinci. Because of the circumstances around his birth, Leonardo was not allowed to receive a classical education and so did not learn Latin as a youth. How did the young da Vinci grow into such a deep thinker?Strathern clearly shows that Leonardo's artistic and scientific investigations were prompted by his own curiosity and massive intelligence. Without having learned Latin, Leonardo was able to read the classics in translation. Through his study of the Roman author Lucretius, whose epic poem "De Rerum Natura" (On the Nature of Things) sought to explain the world in scientific terms, Leonardo learned that accurate understanding derives from investigation and experience. "Reflect that the most wicked act of all is to take the life of a man. For if his external form appears to be a marvelously subtle construction, realize that this is nothing compared with the soul which dwells within this structure."- Leonardo da Vinci, from his notebooksLeonardo cherished life so much that he became a vegetarian but at the same time he devised weapons and instruments of war. This conflict runs throughout Leonardo's adult life and Paul Strathern addresses this paradox throughout his book:Leonardo "served with no apparent show of unwillingness (even in the privacy of h
The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior by Paul Strathern is a history of the period in the early 1500s when the lives of Leonardo Da Vinci, Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia intersected. Leonardo worked as Borgia¿s chief military engineer during the same period that Machiavelli was Florence¿s envoy to the Borgia court. The book provides mini-biographies of the three main players as well as other minor players in European history of the period as a back-story to the central theme of intersecting lives. This is what makes the book worth reading. The ¿intersecting lives¿ theme is too speculative and takes away from the historical facts in the book. The speculation about possible meetings between Machiavelli and Da Vinci were the weakest parts of the book. There is no doubt that Machiavelli¿s observations of Borgia influenced the development of his political philosophy, but imagining what Da Vinci and Machiavelli might have talked about during a possible final meeting in 1516 and other such speculative descriptions detracted from the value of the book.The first hundred or so pages held my interest very well, but then the narrative started to get bogged down in detail and several instances of speculation about possible meetings. The last 50 pages or so again held my interest, especially the section on Da Vinci¿s last few years.The biographical details about the three main players and how their associations with each other led to some of the later decisions made by Da Vinci and Machiavelli make this an interesting history. There is little to no description of how Machiavelli and Da Vinci influenced Borgia, but overall, I like the book enough to give it 3.5 stars.
Borgia, Machiavelli, DaVinci. Who could ask for a more interesting trio of Medieval personalities than these guys? And who knew, at least among those of us who have a non-academic interest in all things middle ages, of the relationship which existed between them?Paul Strathern succeeds in his detailed and well-researched account of those turbulent times. Context is always important to an historian; the backgrounds of not only the three icons but of the history leading up to Borgia's despotism is not ignored. I'll leave any criticism of Strathern's conclusions to others who are qualified to do so.The proof copy does not include color plates; these are a nice addition to the published edition. This may not be the book for the younger or unfamiliar reader of Medieval history. I would recommend as an introduction to this fascinating time William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age, and Clemente Fusero's The Borgia's.
Although there are three fascinating persons in this book, the book itself is tedious at best and irritating at worst. After the first hundred pages or so it becomes bogged down by the author's inability to create a convincing account of the crucial points he was trying to make. A lot of the attempts to link the subjects come across as mere speculation. what could have been a fascinating account instead becomes a tiresome attempt to link people who may have had limited interaction in real life.