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A Memorandum of Leonardo Da Vinci (1490s)

A memorandum of Leonardo da Vinci is no ordinary to-do list: it is a map of mental search and intellectual development that illuminates the nature of genius

The Memorandum of Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve been writing my to-do lists religiously since 2010. Before that I  always used to make a list for groceries shopping (because you cannot possibly remember all the items you need to buy, especially when the respective shelves are scattered all over the store). And I had also made notes of what needed to be done, but I rarely set it up as a list. Then one day in 2010 I had to run 8 places for errands, so I wrote them all up in a list, grouped them by location… and by the end of the day I did visit them all! This was a real proof of the list-mania working, so I just carried on.

Frankly speaking, my lists mostly deal with work and errands. Work – because I do a lot of that, and unless I list and prioritise I won’t accomplish much. Errands – because I love doing my work, and I may genuinely forget paying that bill or buying that item. So, I have to be really exacting.

More seldom, unfortunately, I schedule breaks and rest and other activities, like sport or languages. I think this is where I need to up the level of my list-making.

Yet I’m sure very few of us follow in Leonardo’s footsteps, whose to-do list is in the photo. Strictly speaking, this list is called a “memorandum of Leonardo da Vinci”, and it’s not exactly a “to-do list” but rather a reminder of things one needs, or wants, to do, know, learn, and ask about. As I see it, there’s a difference between the two. A to-do list has a trait of immediacy; it’s usually a list of actions one needs to take in a more or less precise frame of time. That’s why it’s a list, and that’s why it may even have times added to it, to make it more like a timetable.

The memorandum of Leonardo da Vinci is of a different nature. It is a list of subjects for contemplation and investigation. Obviously, learning the size of the Sun isn’t the most important thing on anyone’s agenda, neither is the Lombard manner of repairing locks, or understanding why on Earth the Tower of Ferrara has the wall without a single loophole. This is a list of things a person wants to learn. I’d rather think of it as a map of a learning process, and as such it is far more valuable than a mere to-do list. How many of us jot down things they want to learn? Those little matters that tickle our curiosity, do you write them down or just let them die off? How many of us actually expand the learning process beyond an immediate field of specialisation?

The image is taken from a post by Robert Krulwich, Leonardo’s To-Do List.

Author: Julia Shuvalova

Julia Shuvalova is the author of Los Cuadernos de Julia blog. She is an author of several books, a translator, and a Foreign Languages tutor. She lives and works in Moscow, Russia.

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