Why Leonardo da Vinci Wrote Backwards
Leonardo da Vinci, amongst his numerous ingenuities, had an insignificant quirk. He was left-handed and often wrote backwards. Also known as mirror-writing, where the words appear as normal when seen with a mirror.
The three main hypothesises are:
- He’s making it harder for people to steal his ideas
- He’s hiding his notes from churches as his beliefs were contradictory to religious views
- Prevent the smudging of ink
Since the first and second are essentially the same, there’s really only two main hypothesises.
But anyone who truly believes that Leonardo da Vinci is trying to prevent people from reading his notes is insulting the intelligence of the great inventor, artist, painter, mathematician, linguist, and the grandfather of Renaissance men.
Do you really think that a man as clever as Leonardo thought it was a good way to prevent people from reading his notes? This man, this genius, if he truly wanted to make his notes readable only to himself, he would’ve invented an entirely new language for this purpose. We’re talking about a dude who conceptualised parachutes even before helicopters were a thing. Hell, even before people from his time knew how birds fly. And by the way, he also did conceptualise the helicopter, which was only produced more than 420 years later.
As such, only the last hypothesis makes any sense. It’s logical. You don’t want your precious notes to be smudged.
However, I think there’s another reason I don’t see mentioned anywhere.
The language he wrote in, Italian, like many other languages, are really designed to be written by right-handers. You write from left to right. Your hands move across the pages unobstructed by fresh ink. #leftieswillrelate
Mirror-writing, unlike all his other legacies, isn’t a huge invention or contribution to humanity by itself. But he knew intuitively, without the backup of our modern scientific research prowess, that getting his brain to recognise and produce words (essentially shapes) in their different forms would train something of his mind, be it better spatial awareness or higher brain processing power.
Simply put, languages aren’t fair. And Leonardo wanted to challenge that rigidity.
‘Why must I write from left to right?’
‘Why are languages so inflexible, meant only for right-handers, and not left-handers?’
‘Fuck the person who came up with this language!’
Something like that must have had ran through his mind when he decided to challenge society and to practice mirror-writing.
While he recognised all the different benefits there are to mirror-writing, I think the chief reason was just da Vinci being da Vinci. It was his way of flicking a finger at the rigidity of languages and the society as a whole. Leonardo da Vinci’s tiny act of rebellion.
I have a feeling Leonardo would immensely enjoy and purport languages that support a vertical writing system, such as Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, and Egyptian hieroglyphs (which you can dictate if it’s read left-to-right, right-to-left, top-to-bottom, or bottom-to-top).
If you enjoyed this article, you can find more of Walker’s musings (his synonym for rambles) on his personal blog.