jump to navigation

Leonardo’s Dream and the Kite July 24, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

Another case study from the historic dream series. This time the only dream to be recorded from Leonardo da Vinci’s snoozes. The record appears in  a notebook dating to c. 1504 replete with sketches and considerations of flight:

This writing in such a distinct manner about the kite seems to be my destiny, because in the first recollection of my infancy it seemed to me that, while I was in my cradle a kite came to me and opened my mouth with its tail, and struck me several times with its tail inside my lips.

Questo scriver si distintamente del nibbio par che sia mio destino, perchè nella prima ricordazione della mia infanzia e mi parea che, essendo io in culla, un nibbio venissi a me e mi aprissi la bocca colla sua coda e molte volte mi percotessi con tal coda dentro le labbra.

This dream passed almost unnoticed until Sigmund Freud, practitioner par excellence of Viennese Voodoo, frustrated beyond belief not to have  Leonardo on his couch, jumped up and down upon it. Freud subsequently wrote a long pamphlet on the subject with the enticing name  Leonardo da Vinci : A psychosexual study of an infantile reminiscence.

Freud’s book is a tremendous read: who was it who said that Sigmund wrote good novels rather than bad science? However, its central thesis – Beachcombing should remind the reader that  ‘bird’ in Italian is associated with the male member: nuff said – is vitiated because Freud (strangely Jungian in this monograph) got a bit confused about bird types. He mistranslated nibbio/kite as ‘vulture’ (as you do) and went off at a tangent into Egyptian mythology: it happens to the best of us.

Freud and many of his successors – be they historians or psychologists – have suggested that this was not really a childhood dream, but an adult re-elaboration or even an adult fantasy. Beach hasn’t the slightest idea why this casual, private aside in LdV’s notebooks should be doubted. LdV’s Italian perfectly suggests one of those early dreams that become so integrated into the child’s memories that they are easily confused with reality: a phenomenon Beach has previously noted.

And without stepping into debates that the present writer could not possibly understand or approve about infant sexuality he sees no reason why this dream need, pace Freud, have anything to do with oral sex…

For what it is worth Beachcombing would guess that the child Leonardo had a ‘shamanic’ dream of a bird ‘sealing’ his lips with genius, (whatever that means). If there was re-elaboration it was Leonardo later remembering the bird as a kite: not the most obvious choice for an infant who would perhaps be more generic.

The kite (pictured above) is remarkable in flight and has an extraordinary tail that moves with great exactness in the air. The Roman writer Pliny says that the movements of the kite inspired early sailors to create rudders and steering, which may or (very probably) may not be true but says something about the kite’s skill in cutting through the air: did Leonardo know this passage?

Possibly Da Vinci ‘remembered’ a kite because it was the bird that had most excited him during his early observations of birds or, indeed, in his own experiments with flying? As noted above the page where the dream is written is full of reflections on flight.

Any other historic dreams: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

PS If Beach was Dan Brown he would point out that ‘kite’ in Hebrew was Christ’s middle name, but it’s getting late.

PPS Useless but strangely memorable fact: the kestrel (another impressive flier) is described as a ‘wind-fucker’ in some early modern texts.