Leonardo da Vinci

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Student Question

How does Leonardo da Vinci's life compare to your own?

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This particular question—how would the life of Leonardo da Vinci compare with one's own life—requires a little contemplation on the part of the student, along with an examination of the life of one of the great figures in human history.

Leonardo da Vinci is considered the quintessential "Renaissance Man." As much or more than any other figure from that period, the Renaissance, da Vinci personified the concept. He was an accomplished artist, scientist, inventor and visionary who excelled in all capacities. His most famous paintings, The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, are among the most respected works of art in human history. His study and sketches of human anatomy contributed to the development of medical science, and his concepts of rotary wing aircraft and armored vehicles were remarkably prescient and accurate for someone living during the 15th and 16th centuries. His interest in geology contributed to the understanding of earth sciences that would evolve in later periods, and his skills and intellectual curiosity led da Vinci down even more roads of scholarship and understanding in additional disciplines.

So, how would one compare oneself to such a historical figure as Leonardo da Vinci? We can start with his illustrious beard, about the only characteristic of da Vinci's to which most of us can hope to aspire. Beyond that, most people are fortunate to develop academically and professionally in any one of the myriad fields at which da Vinci excelled, let alone all of them. He was, basically, as eclectic a figure as mankind has ever produced. When comparing or contrasting oneself to da Vinci, then, one can begin with recognition of one's own academic aspirations and personal interests. How many of us are actually sufficiently curious in so many areas to devote substantial time to studying and researching those areas? Furthermore, how many of us who actually mirror da Vinci's eclectic interests could hope to excel in as many endeavors as this figure from the Renaissance period?

An assignment such as the one specified in the student's question requires some degree of self-awareness and some capacity for critical thinking. Study Leonardo da Vinci and consider ways in which you are similar and different. Are you curious about as many areas of science and engineering as da Vinci? Are you artistically inclined? Do you thirst for knowledge about religion and the humanities and politics? The key to this assignment is not to be an expert on Leonardo da Vinci, but to display the capacity for self-awareness. And, consider the personal costs you may pay for advancing concepts or theories that contradict accepted orthodoxy. It is an interesting assignment, but it requires the individual student to engage in analytical thinking about themselves. Nobody else can do that for you.

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