Leonardo da Vinci—our first vegetarian?

Question: if Leonardo da Vinci came across a bird in a cage, what would he do?

a) Speak to it (he was a genius—naturally he could speak bird).
b) Admire its colourful plumage, then draw a picture for later study.
c) Buy it and keep it as a pet—his own personal musician!
d) Buy it so that he could study flight.
e) Buy it so he could set it free.

You probably figured it out as the list wore on: Leonardo da Vinci would pay for the caged bird and then set it free. Leonardo da Vinci was a vegetarian; his very reason for leading a vegetarian lifestyle lay in his wish to avoid causing animals pain or suffering. But your choice to be vegetarian may have nothing to do with animals, and you can like them and still eat meat. After all, Leonardo did study animals…which required their carcass…but he wouldn’t eat them and so he was—among being a genius, painter, scientist—a vegetarian.

How do we know?

“It appears from Corsali’s letter that Leonardo ate no meat, but lived entirely on vegetables, thus forestalling modern vegetarians by several centuries.” – writes Eugene Muntz, in Leonardo da Vinci Artist, Thinker, and Man of Science (1898)

“…The mere idea of permitting the existence of unnecessary suffering, still more that of taking life, was abhorrent to [Leonardo]. Vasari tells, as an instance of his love of animals, how when in Florence he passed places where birds were sold he would frequently take them from their cages with his own hand, and having paid the sellers the price that was asked would let them fly away in the air, thus giving them back their liberty.
      That this horror of inflicting pain was such as to lead him to be a vegetarian is to be inferred from a reference which occurs in a letter sent by Andrea Corsali to Giuliano de’Medici, in which, after telling him of an Indian race called Gujerats, who neither eat anything that contains blood nor permit any injury to any living creature, he adds ‘like our Leonardo da Vinci.” –writes Edward MacCurdy, in The Mind of Leonardo da Vinci (1928)

“Leonardo loved animals so much, it seems, that he turned vegetarian.” –writes Serge Bramly, in n Leonardo: Discovering the Life of Leonardo da Vinci (English translation 1991) [Source for these quotes]

Did you know Leonardo da Vinci was a vegetarian? Do you know of any recorded vegetarians who lived before him?

Want more?
Awesome things you didn’t know about Leonardo da Vinci

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