Leonardo’s Literary Writings: History, Genre, Philosophy

Leonardo da VinciLeonardo’s Literary Writings: History, Genre, Philosophy

Filomena Calabrese

University of Toronto : Doctor of Philosophy Graduate Department of Italian Studies (2011)


This dissertation examines Leonardo da Vinci’s literary writings, namely those known as the Bestiario, Favole, Facezie, and Profezia, as compelling expressions of how Leonardo envisioned the role and influence of morality in human life. Through an analysis of these four literary collections from the perspective of their genre history, literariness, and philosophical dimension, it aims to bring to light the depth with which Leonardo reflected upon the human condition.

The Bestiario, Favole, Facezie, and Profezia are writings that have considerable literary value in their own right but can also be examined in a wider historical, literary, and philosophical context so as to reveal the ethical ideas that they convey. By studying them from a historical perspective, it is possible to contextualize Leonardo’s four collections within the tradition of their respective genres (the bestiary, fable, facetia, and riddle) and thus recognize their adherence as well as contribution to these traditions. The literary context brings to light Leonardo’s intentionality and ingenuity as a writer who uses generic conventions in order to voice his ethical views. Assessed from a philosophical standpoint, these four literary collections prove to be meaningful reflections on the moral state of humanity, thereby justifying the characterization of Leonardo as a moral philosopher.

Current scholarship on the Bestiario, Favole, Facezie, and Profezia generally views these writings as minor Leonardo works and treats them as ancillary parts of his production This dissertation, conceiving Leonardo as a moral philosopher, provides interpretations that lead to the conclusion that his thought pervades both his major and minor works and that these literary writings must be viewed as an extension (and result) of Leonardo’s greater notions of the world and of how all parts relate to one another. The Bestiario, Favole, Facezie, and Profezia are works that deserve greater attention reflecting as they do the thought of this Renaissance man.

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