Last Saturday, I was browsing through some books on sale at a stall at Exeter’s Respect Festival, when a historical novel dealing with Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus leapt out at me. I had previously read a trilogy of books dealing with Hannibal by the same author, Ross Leckie, so I bought his novel about Scipio instantly, certain in the knowledge that I would thoroughly enjoy it.
It was so good that I buried myself in its pages for long hours on end, without watching television once. My sympathies have always been with Hannibal Barca, the unparalleled Carthaginian general of antiquity, but by simple virtue of the fact that this amazing man spent fourteen years in Italy, destroying every army sent against him, it stands to reason that I have a great deal of admiration for Scipio, the supremely cultured Roman who finally defeated Hannibal in Africa at the battle of Zama.
I could write about these matters for hours on end and long before now, I’ve done precisely that in the form of an essay on the wonderful site run by my friend Salim George Khalaf. All the same, the object of my short post is less to enthuse about the relative qualities of Scipio and Hannibal than it is to celebrate my good fortune, because when I eventually returned home on the Saturday in question, I discovered that my daughter Tanith had bought another book, pictured in the photo at the top of this post, that was a paperback version of the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.
My joy was unbounded when I saw this book, because as far back as the 1970s, I came to view Leonardo da Vinci as possibly the most gifted human being who has ever existed. There was a time, early on, when I thought that we admired Leonardo on account of his surviving sculptures, paintings and sketches, but this was before I became aware that this astonishing man had also committed a great many of his thoughts and observations to print, and that we are fortunate enough that they have survived, for us to wonder at.
So, having gone back in time to the late 3rd century BC to witness a titanic power struggle between Rome and Carthage, a military conflict that devastated northern Italy, I will now be immersing myself in the mind of a man who brought lasting renown to the same region by virtue of his unparalleled genius in so many fields of human endeavour.