Le Temps Revient...

Poetry, Music, Art & Ideas for the Archaic Recurrence...

viernes, 1 de agosto de 2014

The Life and Times of Leonardo.

Leonardo was born in the small town of Vinci near to Florence in the Tuscan countryside of Italy. He has been considered to be one of the great geniuses of all time, but what can we learn about his genius from the life he lead?

Firstly, he was an illegitimate son and was never recognized by his father. He was deprived of the education he could have expected. One of the clues is in his hand writing. Leonardo wrote backwards! Why? Some people have suggested that it was to hide his ideas from getting into the wrong hands, but the answer is probably far simpler. Leonardo, like many creative people, was left handed. Until recent times left handed people were forced to write how teachers thought was best. In fact western culture has always had a disposition towards this perspective. For example in many European languages the word “right” is a synonym of “correct”, whilst in some languages, such as Italian the word for “left” (“sinestra” or “sinister”) literally means “strange” or “unusual”. We can now see the origins of these prejudiced attitudes towards the left! Precisely because he had never been “corrected” his mind remained outside of the box, free from the constraints of formal education.

Another clue is in the fact that  Leonardo never learnt to read Latin. Most of the scientific knowledge of his times was in the language of the church and strictly controlled by it. Scientific enquiry had not been about experimentation since the times of the ancient Greeks. This was mainly due to the presence of slavery in society. Investigation which required physical effort or “getting your hands dirty” came to be perceived as something vulgar. Only slaves used their hands! From the times of the Greek philosopher Plato science and philosophy became a “pure” pursuit of the mind. This was extremely damaging to the progress of science and lead to the end of classical culture and the beginning of the dark ages.

Leonardo came exactly at the end of these times and the fact that he couldn’t read Latin meant that he was the first person to start again with physical experimentation. He made lots of observations that may seem to be obvious, but most scholars had their heads in books that had been written hundreds of years in the past (usually full of mistakes!) and did not make the effort to observe the world themselves!

The method of scientific inquiry was reborn and would lead to the great discoveries of  scientists such as Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. It also gave us the idea that there is no such thing as an “authority” in science. A theory must be proved with evidence and no matter how much we like it or are attached to an idea (probably because it is traditional to believe it!) we must question it and if necessary change our ideas along with the evidence.

Leonardo was fortunate to live in an era that was rediscovering the classical past. Florence was a city where new ideas could flourish. A place which attracted young talent with new ideas which would not have been tolerated in other places because of the church’s control over society. However the Italy of the renaissance was a dangerous place to live. Here are some of the most influential people of the era. 

Lorenzo de Medici

Lorenzo came from a family of bankers who took control of the city of Florence. However these bankers decided to use their wealth and influence to patronise the arts, science and literature. Lorenzo was different to most leaders as he was open to new ideas and embraced change. He was a humanist and wanted to encourage the best in people. He was one of the first to recognise Leonardo’s talent, translated ancient texts into modern languages and provided the money for most of what we now consider the renaissance or rebirth after the middle ages. His most important act was probably his discovery of a young boy who could make sculptures like the ancient Greeks. Lorenzo instantly took the boy into his own family and helped him towards greatness. That boy was called Michelangelo and he grew up to create the most famous statue in the world.

Pope Sixtus IV

Pope Sixtus was notorious for his policies of nepotism. He used his power to give land and riches to members of his family. He was Lorenzo’s main enemy as he was against the forward thinking progressive direction in which he was taking the city of Florence. There was a delicate balance of power in the Italy of his times. The Pope controlled no army, but had an alliance with the military city state of Naples to the south. 

Galeazzo Maria Sforza

Lorenzo didn’t control an army either, but he had an alliance with the northern Italian city state of Milan, which was controlled by the Sforza family (who Leonardo would go to work for later in his life) Galeazzo Maria was the head of the Sforza family and although he was a degenerate who ruled Milan with fear and intimidation, Lorenzo, a humanist, needed his protection against the threat of attack by the Pope and Naples.  It was a balance of power too fragile to last…

Watch the trailer for Da Vinci's Demons here. The series picks up during Leonardo's youth and plays loose and wild with his character. More adventure story than history, but still interesting to get the flavour of the times. This is Leonardo as we'd like him to be. You can instantly tell that it's by the same guy who wrote the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy! Yes, there's a totally unapologetic license taken with all the could have beens around Leonardo's enigmatic sketches fully realised as renaissance era gadgets!

The Death and Rebirth of Science.

The scientific method is fundamental to our understanding of the world which we live in. Not everyone wants to be a scientist, but it is of direct practical importance for us to understand science because it is the only way to be sure that our lives will not be controlled by superstition. This article looks at some of the pioneers of science and shows us the dangers we will have if we ever lose it again...


Thales is considered to be the first person who followed the scientific method. He lived in Miletus, Asia Minor from 624 to 546BCE. In his times it was common to think that the gods were responsible for all geological activity and weather. Earthquakes and tsunamis were attributed to Poseidon while Zeus was thought to be responsible for thunder storms. Thales is important to science as he was the first person to explain these kinds of events as happening naturally, without the need for mythological entities. He is also famous for having predicted eclipses which the superstitious people of his time feared. This brought him great respect from the ignorant community and he became known as one of the Seven Sages of Greece. 


Democritus continued the scientific method that was begun by Thales. He was born in 460BCE in the small Greek town of Abdera. He was called the laughing philosopher because he considered all human behaviour to be ridiculous! He is most influential for being the first person to propose the theory of atoms. He saw particles of dust floating in the sunlight and imagined that all matter was made of similar particles which were too small to be seen. The Greek word atomos literally means "cannot be cut". His theory was finally proven to be correct in the the nineteenth century by the English scientist John Dalton, who had the benefit of the microscope which hadn't been in existence in Democitus' times! 

Pythagoras is now known for his mathematics but he was really of importance in his times as a mystic. He thought that numbers had sacred meanings and developed numerology, a type of horoscope which people could use to show how numbers would effect their lives. Pythagoras didn't use scientific experiments to observe the world, rather abstract thinking of perfect numbers and forms in the mind. This helped the growth of popular superstitions which later became mystery religions such as Christianity. 


Hypatia was the last of the great scientists in the ancient world. She was born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria in 350CE. She worked at the legendary library of Alexandria which contained all of the knowledge of the ancient world. She lived in times of trouble towards the end of the Roman Empire whose emperor Theodosius had recently converted to Christianity. As times were changing the Christians became more powerful in the city and they considered it heretical that a woman should be independent and educated as well as a leader and teacher of men. Hypatia's fate was connected to that of the ancient library whose destruction she tried to prevent unsuccessfully. The library was burnt and almost all of the achievements of classical civilization were lost. She became a martyr to science when she was brutally murdered in public in the year 415CE. Science would be forgotten and as a consequence Europe experienced a period known as the dark ages which lasted for a thousand years, until the renaissance in the 1400's, but women would not regain equal rights until well into the 20th century.

Horace: Seize The Hour

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Epode XIII: Seize The Hour.

horrida tempestas

See gathering clouds obscure the sky,
The air seems melting from on high
In fleecy snow, or showers of rain.
What howling tempests sweep the main
And shake the woods! While in our power,
My friends, we'll seize the hour
While youth yet revels in our veins,
And unimpaired our strength remains.
The cares of age to age resign,
But hither bring the generous wine
Laid up in my Torquatus' year,
When first I breathed the vital air.
No more of adverse fate complain,
Perhaps the gods may smile again.
Let Achaemenian essence shed
Its spicy odours round your head,
And the Cyllenian lyre compose
With soft melodious strains your woes.
Thus Chiron to his pupil sung:
"Great hero from a goddess sprung,
Fame calls thee to the Trojan plain,
To old Assaracus' reign,
Where small Scamander slowly glides, 
And Simois rolls his rapid tides;
There must thou fall by fate's decree,
Nor shall thy Mother of the sea
Her short-lived son again receive.
Then every anxious thought relieve
By wine or music's charms, for they
Can best the cares of life allay."

Translated by John Duncombe.
Music by Michael Levy.


There is nothing inherently Christian in the origin of the virgin birth. 

Isis & baby Horus. Osiris is betrayed by his brother Set and murdered. The different parts of his body are spread around Egypt but Isis manages to get hold of his phallus in order to give birth to Horus the sun god. Similar to the Christians there's the muddled idea that the son and the father the same person who died in order to act as judge of the dead in the duat (underworld)

Devaki & Krishna, the Greek word for Cristos comes from the Sanskrit root Krsna.

Leto & the sun god Apollo. Zeus got Leto pregnant. She was an outcast and had to travel to various places until she finally gave birth on the island of Delos. You may think I've forgotten to mention Apollo's twin sister, right? In many versions Artemis is born fully grown.... and even helps out in the birth of her brother! Feminists have a lot to say about this one! 

Semele/ Zeus & Dionysus. This one is even weirder. Again, Zeus is up to his old tricks but this time his wife Hera gets wind of his latest fling and decides to take revenge. She tells Semele that if her lover really loves her he will come to her in his true form. Zeus, of course promises but soon regrets having done so as when he comes as pure lightning the heavily pregnant Semele is fried. Zeus takes his son and re-gives birth to him himself. Thus Dionysus is known as the twice born or resurrected god who has a special knack for changing water into wine.

Messalina & Britanicus (son of the deified emperor Claudius) although not technically a virgin birth it is this one that was the main inspiration for the later Christian imagery.