15 July 2009

Leonardo's leviathan

On folio 265 of the Codex Atlanticus, Leonardo begins to jot down evidence to prove a theory of the growth of the earth. After giving examples of buried cities swallowed up the soil, he goes on to the marine fossils found in the mountains, and in particular certain bones that he supposes must have belonged to an antediluvian monster. At this moment his imagination must have been caught by a vision of the immense animal as it was swimming among the waves. At any rate, he turns the page upside down and tries to capture the image of the animal, three times attempting a sentence that will covey that evocation.

...[On the third attempt] he chooses the verb 'solcare' (to furrow) and alters the whole construction of the passage, giving it compactness and rhythm with sure literary judgment:
O how many times were you seen among the waves of the great swollen ocean, looming like a mountain, defeating and overwhelming them, and with your black and bristly back furrowing the sea waters, and with stately and grave bearing! [1]
-- from Exactitude, one of Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino (1985).

[1] O quante volte fusti tu veduto in fra l'onde del gonfiato e grande oceano, a guisa di montagna quelle vincere e sopraffare, e col setoluto e nero dosso solcare le marine acque, e con superbo e grave andamento!

No comments: