The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Words

For many years, I have mulled over the last words of Leonardo de Ser Piero da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452 and died on May 2, 1519.

As you no doubt know, he was a true Renaissance Man - a man gifted in many areas. He was an inventor, a scientist, a painter, an architect, an engineer, a military engineer, a musician, both as performer and composer, able to sing and compose songs spontaneously, a noted anatomist, a geologist, a geometer, a mathematician, a sculptor, a physicist and astronomer, a Roman Catholic and a vegetarian. He was the quintessential polymath, who could turn his hand to anything and acquit himself as well - usually better - than any man of his Age. There is much more that I could say about this astonishing universal genius - and I have written one post about him already. However, it is to his last words that I wish to draw your eyes.

I cannot read Italian in the original, nor would I be familiar with any dialectical variations attendant on the sixteenth century Italian he would have spoken, so I have had to rely on translations.

Many years ago, in a book now forgotten, in a place unremembered, I read what were stated to be the last words of Leonardo da Vinci - and it is this first version or translation of his final utterances that remains my favourite.

"I have offended God and Mankind, by doing so little with my life."

Think about that. The greatest universal genius of all time, thought that he had done nothing much with his life. Isn't that a humbling thought?

He died in the arms of the King Francis, the King of France: the highest honour that could be accorded in the situation, the King being divine.

I have since seen two other, different versions of these words and rather wish that I was familiar with the original Italian language.

"I have offended God and Mankind, by not having worked at my Art as I should have."

and "I have offended God and Mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have."

All three versions agree that he was expressing dissatisfaction, either with himself or his work. In a way, this is tremendously sad, that he should summarize his life of struggle and achievement in this way. It seems that his inner vision of what he sought to achieve was ever higher than the result.

If only Leonardo da Vinci could know how much he is appreciated almost five hundred years after his death. Perhaps, then, he would not be so worried about having offended Mankind by his lack of personal effort. Rest in peace, Leonardo.

(If you would like to read about my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one week old, and his gifted brothers, then please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:34 AM 


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