Drafts of Letters and Reports referring to Armenia.


[3] The recent disaster in our Northern parts which I am certain will terrify not you alone but the whole world, which

[Footnote: Lines 1-52 are reproduced in facsimile on Pl. CXVI.

1. Diodario. This word is not to be found in any Italian dictionary, and for a long time I vainly sought an explanation of it. The youthful reminiscences of my wife afforded the desired clue. The chief town of each Turkish Villayet, or province---such as Broussa, for instance, in Asia Minor, is the residence of a Defterdar, who presides over the financial affairs of the province. Defterdar hane was, in former times, the name given to the Ministry of Finance at Constantinople; the Minister of Finance to the Porte is now known as the Mallie-Nazri and the Defterdars are his subordinates. A Defterdar, at the present day is merely the head of the finance department in each Provincial district. With regard to my suggestion that Leonardo’s Diodario might be identical with the Defterdar of former times, the late M. C. DEFREMERIE, Arabic Professor, and Membre de l’Institut de France wrote to me as follows: Votre conjecture est parfaitement fondee; diodario est Vequivalent de devadar ou plus exactement devatdar, titre d’une importante dignite en Egypt’e, sous les Mamlouks.

The word however is not of Turkish, but of Perso-Arabie derivation. [Defter written in Arabic XXX SCANME XXX] literally Defter (Arabic) meaning folio; for dar (Persian) Bookkeeper or holder is the English equivalent; and the idea is that of a deputy in command. During the Mamelook supremacy over Syria, which corresponded in date with Leonardo’s time, the office of Defterdar was the third in importance in the State.

Soltano di Babilonia. The name of Babylon was commonly applied to Cairo in the middle ages. For instance BREIDENBACH, Itinerarium Hierosolyma p. 218 says: “At last we reached Babylon. But this is not that Babylon which stood on the further shore of the river Chober, but that which is called the Egyptian Babylon. It is close by Cairo and the twain are but one and not two towns; one half is called Cairo and the other Babylon, whence they are called together Cairo-Babylon; originally the town is said to have been named Memphis and then Babylon, but now it is called Cairo.” Compare No. 1085, 6.

Egypt was governed from 1382 till 1517 by the Borgite or Tcherkessian dynasty of the Mamelook Sultans. One of the most famous of these, Sultan Kait Bey, ruled from 1468-1496 during whose reign the Gama (or Mosque) of Kait Bey and tomb of Kait Bey near the Okella Kait Bey were erected in Cairo, which preserve his name to this day. Under the rule of this great and wise prince many foreigners, particularly Italians, found occupation in Egypt, as may be seen in the ‘Viaggio di Josaphat Barbaro’, among other travellers. “Next to Leonardo (so I learn from Prof. Jac. Burckhardt of Bale) Kait Bey’s most helpful engineer was a German who in about 1487, superintended the construction of the Mole at Alexandria. Felix Fabri knew him and mentions him in his Historia Suevorum, written in 1488.”

3. Il nuovo accidente accaduto, or as Leonardo first wrote and then erased, e accaduto un nuovo accidente. From the sequel this must refer to an earthquake, and indeed these were frequent at that period, particularly in Asia Minor, where they caused immense mischief. See No. 1101 note.]

shall be related to you in due order, showing first the effect and then the cause. [Footnote 4: The text here breaks off. The following lines are a fresh beginning of a letter, evidently addressed to the same person, but, as it would seem, written at a later date than the previous text. The numerous corrections and amendments amply prove that it is not a copy from any account of a journey by some unknown person; but, on the contrary, that Leonardo was particularly anxious to choose such words and phrases as might best express his own ideas.]

Finding myself in this part of Armenia [Footnote 5: Parti d’Erminia. See No. 945, note. The extent of Armenia in Leonardo’s time is only approximately known. In the XVth century the Persians governed the Eastern, and the Arabs the Southern portions. Arabic authors—as, for instance Abulfeda—include Cilicia and a part of Cappadocia in Armenia, and Greater Armenia was the tract of that country known later as Turcomania, while Armenia Minor was the territory between Cappadocia and the Euphrates. It was not till 1522, or even 1574 that the whole country came under the dominion of the Ottoman Turks, in the reign of Selim I.

The Mamelook Sultans of Egypt seem to have taken a particular interest in this, the most Northern province of their empire, which was even then in danger of being conquered by the Turks. In the autumn of 1477 Sultan Kait Bey made a journey of inspection, visiting Antioch and the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates with a numerous and brilliant escort. This tour is briefly alluded to by Moodshireddin p. 561; and by WEIL, Geschichte der Abbasiden V, p. 358. An anonymous member of the suite wrote a diary of the expedition in Arabic, which has been published by R. V. LONZONE (’Viaggio in Palestina e Soria di Kaid Ba XVIII sultano della II dinastia mamelucca, fatto nel 1477. Testo arabo. Torino 1878’, without notes or commentary). Compare the critique on this edition, by J. GILDEMEISTER in Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palaestina Vereins (Vol. Ill p. 246—249). Lanzone’s edition seems to be no more than an abridged copy of the original. I owe to Professor Sche’fer, Membre de l’Institut, the information that he is in possession of a manuscript in which the text is fuller, and more correctly given. The Mamelook dynasty was, as is well known, of Circassian origin, and a large proportion of the Egyptian Army was recruited in Circassia even so late as in the XVth century. That was a period of political storms in Syria and Asia Minor and it is easy to suppose that the Sultan’s minister, to whom Leonardo addresses his report as his superior, had a special interest in the welfare of those frontier provinces. Only to mention a few historical events of Sultan Kait Bey’s reign, we find that in 1488 he assisted the Circassians to resist the encroachments of Alaeddoulet, an Asiatic prince who had allied himself with the Osmanli to threaten the province; the consequence was a war in Cilicia by sea and land, which broke out in the following year between the contending powers. Only a few years earlier the same province had been the scene of the so-called Caramenian war in which the united Venetian, Neapolitan and Sclavonic fleets had been engaged. (See CORIALANO CIPPICO, Della guerra dei Veneziani nell’ Asia dal 1469—1474. Venezia 1796, p. 54) and we learn incidentally that a certain Leonardo Boldo, Governor of Scutari under Sultan Mahmoud,—as his name would indicate, one of the numerous renegades of Italian birth—played an important part in the negotiations for peace.

Tu mi mandasti. The address tu to a personage so high in office is singular and suggests personal intimacy; Leonardo seems to have been a favourite with the Diodario. Compare lines 54 and 55.

I have endeavoured to show, and I believe that I am also in a position to prove with regard to these texts, that they are draughts of letters actually written by Leonardo; at the same time I must not omit to mention that shortly after I had discovered these texts in the Codex Atlanticus and published a paper on the subject in the Zeitschrift fur bildende Kunst (Vol. XVI), Prof. Govi put forward this hypothesis to account for their origin:

Quanto alle notizie sul monte Tauro, sull’Armenia e sull’ Asia minore che si contengono negli altri frammenti, esse vennero prese da qualche geografro o viaggiatore contemporaneo. Dall’indice imperfetto che accompagna quei frammenti, si potrebbe dedurre che Leonardo volesse farne un libro, che poi non venne compiuto. A ogni modo, non e possibile di trovare in questi brani nessun indizio di un viaggio di Leonardo in oriente, ne della sua conversione alla religione di Maometto, come qualcuno pretenderebbe. Leonardo amava con passione gli studi geografici, e nel suoi scritti s’incontran spesso itinerart, indicazioni, o descrizioni di luoghi, schizzi di carte e abbozzi topografici di varie regioni, non e quindi strano che egli, abile narratore com’era, si fosse proposto di scrivere una specie di Romanzo in forma epistolare svolgendone Pintreccio nell’Asia Minore, intorno alla quale i libri d’allora, e forse qualche viaggiatore amico suo, gli avevano somministrato alcuni elementi piu o meno fantastici”. (See Transunti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei Voi. V Ser. 3).

It is hardly necessary to point out that Prof. Govi omits to name the sources from which Leonardo could be supposed to have drawn his information, and I may leave it to the reader to pronounce judgment on the anomaly which is involved in the hypothesis that we have here a fragment of a Romance, cast in the form of a correspondence. At the same time, I cannot but admit that the solution of the difficulties proposed by Prof. Govi is, under the circumstances, certainly the easiest way of dealing with the question. But we should then be equally justified in supposing some more of Leonardo’s letters to be fragments of such romances; particularly those of which the addresses can no longer be named. Still, as regards these drafts of letters to the Diodario, if we accept the Romance theory, as pro- posed by Prof. Govi, we are also compelled to assume that Leonardo purposed from the first to illustrate his tale; for it needs only a glance at the sketches on PI. CXVI to CXIX to perceive that they are connected with the texts; and of course the rest of Leonardo’s numerous notes on matters pertaining to the East, the greater part of which are here published for the first time, may also be somehow connected with this strange romance.

7. Citta de Calindra (Chalindra). The position of this city is so exactly determined, between the valley of the Euphrates and the Taurus range that it ought to be possible to identify it. But it can hardly be the same as the sea port of Cilicia with a somewhat similar name Celenderis, Kelandria, Celendria, Kilindria, now the Turkish Gulnar. In two Catalonian Portulans in the Bibliotheque Natio- nale in Paris-one dating from the XV’h century, by Wilhelm von Soler, the other by Olivez de Majorca, in l584-I find this place called Calandra. But Leonardo’s Calindra must certainly have lain more to the North West, probably somewhere in Kurdistan. The fact that the geographical position is so care- fully determined by Leonardo seems to prove that it was a place of no great importance and little known. It is singular that the words first written in 1. 8 were divisa dal lago (Lake Van?), altered afterwards to dall’Eitfrates.

Nostri confini, and in 1. 6 proposito nostro. These refer to the frontier and to the affairs of the Mamelook Sultan, Lines 65 and 66 throw some light on the purpose of Leonardo’s mission.

8. I corni del gra mote Tauro. Compare the sketches PI. CXVI-CXVIII. So long as it is im- possible to identify the situation of Calindra it is most difficult to decide with any certainty which peak of the Taurus is here meant; and I greatly regret that I had no foreknowledge of this puzzling topographical question when, in 1876, I was pursuing archaeological enquiries in the Provinces of Aleppo and Cilicia, and had to travel for some time in view of the imposing snow-peaks of Bulghar Dagh and Ala Tepessi.

9-10. The opinion here expressed as to the height of the mountain would be unmeaning, unless it had been written before Leonardo moved to Milan, where Monte Rosa is so conspicuous an object in the landscape. 4 ore inanzi seems to mean, four hours before the sun’s rays penetrate to the bottom of the valleys.] to carry into effect with due love and care the task for which you sent me [Footnote: ][6]; and to make a beginning in a place which seemed to me to be most to our purpose, I entered into the city of Calindrafy[7], near to our frontiers. This city is situated at the base of that part of the Taurus mountains which is divided from the Euphrates and looks towards the peaks of the great Mount Taurus [8] to the West [9]. These peaks are of such a height that they seem to touch the sky, and in all the world there is no part of the earth, higher than its summit[10], and the rays of the sun always fall upon it on its East side, four hours before day-time, and being of the whitest stone [Footnote 11:Pietra bianchissima. The Taurus Mountains consist in great part of limestone.] it shines resplendently and fulfils the function to these Armenians which a bright moon-light would in the midst of the darkness; and by its great height it outreaches the utmost level of the clouds by a space of four miles in a straight line. This peak is seen in many places towards the West, illuminated by the sun after its setting the third part of the night. This it is, which with you [Footnote 14: Appresso di voi. Leonardo had at first written noi as though his meaning had,been: This peak appeared to us to be a comet when you and I observed it in North Syria (at Aleppo? at Aintas?). The description of the curious reflection in the evening, resembling the “Alpine-glow” is certainly not an invented fiction, for in the next lines an explanation of the phenomenon is offered, or at least attempted.] we formerly in calm weather had supposed to be a comet, and appears to us in the darkness of night, to change its form, being sometimes divided in two or three parts, and sometimes long and sometimes short. And this is caused by the clouds on the horizon of the sky which interpose between part of this mountain and the sun, and by cutting off some of the solar rays the light on the mountain is intercepted by various intervals of clouds, and therefore varies in the form of its brightness.

THE DIVISIONS OF THE BOOK [Footnote 19: The next 33 lines are evidently the contents of a connected Report or Book, but not of one which he had at hand; more probably, indeed, of one he purposed writing.].

The praise and confession of the faith [Footnote 20: Persuasione di fede, of the Christian or the Mohammedan faith? We must suppose the latter, at the beginning of a document addressed to so high a Mohammedan official. Predica probably stands as an abbreviation for predicazione (lat. praedicatio) in the sense of praise or glorification; very probably it may mean some such initial doxology as we find in Mohammedan works. (Comp. 1. 40.)].

The sudden inundation, to its end.

[23] The destruction of the city.

[24]The death of the people and their despair.

The preacher’s search, his release and benevolence [Footnote 28: The phraseology of this is too general for any conjecture as to its meaning to be worth hazarding.]

Description of the cause of this fall of the mountain [Footnote 30: Ruina del monte. Of course by an earthquake. In a catalogue of earthquakes, entitled kechf aussalssaleb an auasf ezzel-zeleh, and written by Djelal eddin].

The mischief it did.

[32] Fall of snow.

The finding of the prophet [33].

His prophesy.

[35] The inundation of the lower portion of Eastern Armenia, the draining of which was effected by the cutting through the Taurus Mountains.

How the new prophet showed [Footnote 40:Nova profeta, 1. 33, profeta. Mohammed. Leonardo here refers to the Koran:

In the name of the most merciful God.—When the earth shall be shaken by an earthquake; and the earth shall cast forth her burdens; and a man shall say, what aileth her? On that day the earth shall declare her tidings, for that thy Lord will inspire her. On that day men shall go forward in distinct classes, that they may behold their works. And whoever shall have wrought good of the weight of an ant, shall behold the same. And whoever shall have wrought evil of the weight of an ant, shall behold the same. (The Koran, translated by G. Sale, Chapter XCIX, p. 452).] that this destruction would happen as he had foretold.

Description of the Taurus Mountains [43] and the river Euphrates.

Why the mountain shines at the top, from half to a third of the night, and looks like a comet to the inhabitants of the West after the sunset, and before day to those of the East.

Why this comet appears of variable forms, so that it is now round and now long, and now again divided into two or three parts, and now in one piece, and when it is to be seen again.

OF THE SHAPE OF THE TAURUS MOUNTAINS [Footnote 53-94: The facsimile of this passage is given on Pl. CXVII.].

I am not to be accused, Oh Devatdar, of idleness, as your chidings seem to hint; but your excessive love for me, which gave rise to the benefits you have conferred on me [Footnote 55] is that which has also compelled me to the utmost painstaking in seeking out and diligently investigating the cause of so great and stupendous an effect. And this could not be done without time; now, in order to satisfy you fully as to the cause of so great an effect, it is requisite that I should explain to you the form of the place, and then I will proceed to the effect, by which I believe you will be amply satisfied.

[Footnote 36: Tagliata di Monte Tauro. The Euphrates flows through the Taurus range near the influx of the Kura Shai; it rushes through a rift in the wildest cliffs from 2000 to 3000 feet high and runs on for 90 miles in 300 falls or rapids till it reaches Telek, near which at a spot called Gleikash, or the Hart’s leap, it measures only 35 paces across. Compare the map on Pl. CXIX and the explanation for it on p. 391.]

[Footnote 54: The foregoing sketch of a letter, lines 5. 18, appears to have remained a fragment when Leonardo received pressing orders which caused him to write immediately and fully on the subject mentioned in line 43.]

[Footnote 59: This passage was evidently intended as an improvement on that immediately preceding it. The purport of both is essentially the same, but the first is pitched in a key of ill-disguised annoyance which is absent from the second. I do not see how these two versions can be reconciled with the romance-theory held by Prof. Govi.] Do not be aggrieved, O Devatdar, by my delay in responding to your pressing request, for those things which you require of me are of such a nature that they cannot be well expressed without some lapse of time; particularly because, in order to explain the cause of so great an effect, it is necessary to describe with accuracy the nature of the place; and by this means I can afterwards easily satisfy your above-mentioned request. [Footnote 62: This passage was evidently intended as an improvement on that immediately preceding it. The purport of both is essentially the same, but the first is pitched in a key of ill-disguised annoyance which is absent from the second. I do not see how these two versions can be reconciled with the romance-theory held by Prof. Govi.]

I will pass over any description of the form of Asia Minor, or as to what seas or lands form the limits of its outline and extent, because I know that by your own diligence and carefulness in your studies you have not remained in ignorance of these matters [65]; and I will go on to describe the true form of the Taurus Mountain which is the cause of this stupendous and harmful marvel, and which will serve to advance us in our purpose [66]. This Taurus is that mountain which, with many others is said to be the ridge of Mount Caucasus; but wishing to be very clear about it, I desired to speak to some of the inhabitants of the shores of the Caspian sea, who give evidence that this must be the true Caucasus, and that though their mountains bear the same name, yet these are higher; and to confirm this in the Scythian tongue Caucasus means a very high [Footnote 68: Caucasus; Herodot Kaoxaais; Armen. Kaukaz.] peak, and in fact we have no information of there being, in the East or in the West, any mountain so high. And the proof of this is that the inhabitants of the countries to the West see the rays of the sun illuminating a great part of its summit for as much as a quarter of the longest night. And in the same way, in those countries which lie to the East.


[Footnote 73: The statements are of course founded on those of the ‘inhabitants’ spoken of in 1. 67.] The shadow of this ridge of the Taurus is of such a height that when, in the middle of June, the Sun is at its meridian, its shadow extends as far as the borders of Sarmatia, twelve days off; and in the middle of December it extends as far as the Hyperborean mountains, which are at a month’s journey to the North [75]. And the side which faces the wind is always free from clouds and mists, because the wind which is parted in beating on the rock, closes again on the further side of that rock, and in its motion carries with it the clouds from all quarters and leaves them where it strikes. And it is always full of thunderbolts from the great quantity of clouds which accumulate there, whence the rock is all riven and full of huge debris [Footnote 77: Sudden storms are equally common on the heights of Ararat. It is hardly necessary to observe that Ararat cannot be meant here. Its summit is formed like the crater of Vesuvius. The peaks sketched on Pl. CXVI-CXVIII are probably views of the same mountain, taken from different sides. Near the solitary peak, Pl. CXVIII these three names are written goba, arnigasar, caruda, names most likely of different peaks. Pl. CXVI and CXVII are in the original on a single sheet folded down the middle, 30 centimetres high and 43 1/2 wide. On the reverse of one half of the sheet are notes on peso and bilancia (weight and balance), on the other are the ‘prophecies’ printed under Nos. 1293 and 1294. It is evident from the arrangement that these were written subsequently, on the space which had been left blank. These pages are facsimiled on Pl. CXVIII. In Pl. CXVI-CXVIII the size is smaller than in the original; the map of Armenia, Pl. CXVIII, is on Pl. CXIX slightly enlarged. On this map we find the following names, beginning from the right hand at the top: pariardes mo (for Paryadres Mons, Arm. Parchar, now Barchal or Kolai Dagh; Trebizond is on its slope).

Aquilone —North, Antitaurus Antitaurus psis mo (probably meant for Thospitis = Lake Van, Arm. Dgov Vanai, Tospoi, and the Mountain range to the South); Gordis mo (Mountains of Gordyaea), the birth place of the Tigris; Oriente —East; Tigris, and then, to the left, Eufrates. Then, above to the left Argeo mo (now Erdshigas, an extinct volcano, 12000 feet high); Celeno mo (no doubt Sultan Dagh in Pisidia). Celeno is the Greek town of KeAouvat— see Arian I, 29, I—now the ruins of Dineir); oriente —East; africo libezco (for libeccio—South West). In the middle of the Euphrates river on this small map we see a shaded portion surrounded by mountains, perhaps to indicate the inundation mentioned in l. 35. The affluent to the Euphrates shown as coming with many windings from the high land of ‘Argeo’ on the West, is the Tochma Su, which joins the main river at Malatie. I have not been able to discover any map of Armenia of the XVth or XVIth century in which the course of the Euphrates is laid down with any thing like the correctness displayed in this sketch. The best I have seen is the Catalonian Portulan of Olivez de Majorca, executed in 1584, and it is far behind Leonardo’s.]. This mountain, at its base, is inhabited by a very rich population and is full of most beautiful springs and rivers, and is fertile and abounding in all good produce, particularly in those parts which face to the South. But after mounting about three miles we begin to find forests of great fir trees, and beech and other similar trees; after this, for a space of three more miles, there are meadows and vast pastures; and all the rest, as far as the beginning of the Taurus, is eternal snows which never disappear at any time, and extend to a height of about fourteen miles in all. From this beginning of the Taurus up to the height of a mile the clouds never pass away; thus we have fifteen miles, that is, a height of about five miles in a straight line; and the summit of the peaks of the Taurus are as much, or about that. There, half way up, we begin to find a scorching air and never feel a breath of wind; but nothing can live long there; there nothing is brought forth save a few birds of prey which breed in the high fissures of Taurus and descend below the clouds to seek their prey. Above the wooded hills all is bare rock, that is, from the clouds upwards; and the rock is the purest white. And it is impossible to walk to the high summit on account of the rough and perilous ascent.

Taken from The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci edited by Jean Paul Richter, 1880.

Notebooks of Leonoardo da Vinci
XXI: Letters. Personal Records. Dated Notes.
Drafts of Letters and Reports referring to Armenia.
Notes about events observed abroad.
Drafts of Letters to Lodovico il Moro.
Draft of letter to be sent to Piacenza.
Letter to the Cardinal Ippolito d’ Este.
Draft of Letter to the Governor of Milan.
Drafts of Letters to the Superintendent of Canals and to Fr. Melzi.
Drafts of a letter to Giuliano de’ Medici.
Draft of letter written at Rome.
Miscellaneous Records.
Miscellaneous drafts of letters and personal records.
. . .