It's Just Latin

It’s Just Latin

"It's just latin."

This is my new phrase.  I whisper it to myself as my mind spins out of control, threatening to coax me into some needless action.  I shout it at those random, errant thoughts - the ones who insist I have strayed from some mythical laid-out-for-everyone course, the ones who suggest I should conform to useless norms, the ones who want me to spend my time and life and energy on things which hold no value for me.

"It's just latin," I say to them.

I've had my nose in this amazing biography on Leonardo Da Vinci for more than a month and it has been perfectly timed reading for multiple reasons.  Today I'm thinking about just one.

"It's just latin."

Leonardo was the bastard son of a Notary.  Had he been legitimate, or legitimized, he would have been schooled - educated - but he wasn't.  He was "unlettered" (his words), which mostly meant he did not know latin.  The schooled kids were "lettered."  The schooled kids knew latin.  The schooled adults could read the books.  Latin was a big deal.

Until it wasn't.

By the time Leonardo was a young apprentice, Gutenberg's printing press made it to Italy and books began printing in Italian.  I'm not sure no access to books would have handicapped Leonardo much - he did not for the most part like to rely on other people's observation - but with the spread of printing he DID have access.  The thing which kept him from literacy, an inability to read latin, suddenly didn't much matter.

It's just Latin.

Leo's Latin .JPG

Except it must have mattered to him, at least a little.  His journals betray his attempts to master Latin - word lists written out by a 30-something Leonardo - but don't state a reason.  Maybe there was a book or books not yet printed in Italian to which he desired access, or maybe the language sparked his curiosity, but I think it was something different.  

From Walter Isaacson's Leonardo Da Vinci

Despite Latin being of little use to him, despite Latin being a terrible waste of time he could have spent doing more Leonardo-esque things, despite it being something he likely found difficult and boring (check out the sketch among the word lists!), he still attempted to learn it.  He used up some of his time, his energy, his life on this thing and (most likely) he did not ever actually learn Latin.  

It didn't slow him down.  The man was centuries ahead of his time in multiple disciplines.  What use was Latin to Leonardo? None, really. So why did he study it?

I hope he doesn't mind my assumptions about his reasons. I hope he doesn't mind if I assume he confused the traditions and cultural constructs of others with truth, if I assume he forgot the path others expect isn't the one he must take, if I assume he was swayed a bit - even with all his eccentricity - toward conformity.  I only assume because it is true of me.

I sometimes confuse the assumptions of others with what I should do.  I sometimes forget the path others expect isn't the path God laid out for me.  I sometimes am swayed - even with all my eccentricity - toward conformity.  But if a genius like Leonardo could be confused occasionally, I won't be too hard on myself.

And when I realize I'm doing something, or contemplating something, which has no value to me, when the world is doing it's best to box me in, I'm going to not do the something.  The something doesn't fit in this one life.  The something doesn't get my time. The something doesn't get my energy.

It's just Latin.