Why I Want To Smack Leonardo DaVinci

“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.
I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made
reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees………Yet when I surveyed all that
my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless
a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
King Solomon – Ecclesiastes 2:4-6,11

Have you ever met somebody who is uber talented, extremely good looking and wealthy to boot and they are complaining about some minor deficiency they possess? Did you find yourself having an unbridled urge to reach out and slap them? Come on. Admit it. You know you have. I felt that urge recently when I was reading a book about Leonardo Davinci entitled “Leonardo’s Horse.”   Leonardo Da Vinci's Bronze HorseIn the book they describe Leonardo. He was (at age 30) handsome with curly blonde hair. He had a beautiful singing voice and could play musical instruments. He could juggle, ask riddles and stage elaborate plays. In addition to being an artist and musician he was an engineer, architect, philosopher and astronomer. Apparently however there was one project that dogged Leonardo to his dying day: the bronze horse. The Duke of Milan got it in his head to honor his father with a bronze horse to be placed in front of his palace. Leonardo wanted to be the man for the job, and was in fact recommended. Leonardo felt that this would be “his mark on history.”

Leonardo began his work. First he studied everything he could about horses. He made numerous drawings of them in various stages of movement. Then he collected 58,000 pounds of metal- tin and copper. Once the metals were heated they could be made into the bronze they would use to cast the horse. There was one little problem however. No one had ever made a single pour of anything that large. The horse was supposed to be 24 feet high. He completed a clay model of the horse and presented it to the Duke at a special celebration. The people of Milan were thrilled! Yet he put off casting because he had been commissioned to do another work. The new project: painting the wall of a convent with a depiction of The Last Supper. No big deal. Just another day in the life of Leonardo. Meanwhile the French do a nasty thing and invade Milan. All the metal that had been collected for the bronze horse had to be used for weaponry. Eventually Leonardo and the Duke flee and the French destroy the clay model horse Leonardo had left behind. The project was never completed.

It is said that Leonardo was haunted by this to his dying day. Apparently Michelangelo taunted him for starting a project he could not figure out how to complete. Leo should have brushed him off. Seriously, what the heck did THAT guy know anyway? The book says that Leonardo became depressed at the end of his life and wrote in one of his journals: “Tell me, if anything has been achieved by me. Tell me. Tell me…….I have wasted my hours.” To begin with, somebody should have told him to chill out and that the “Last Supper deal” was “pretty good.” Secondly, someone should have told him that the “Mona Lisa chick” was “pretty cool too.” Heck she’s even smiling her reassurance. It is striking that for a world class artist he lacked one thing: Perspective. If there should be one thing an artist knows about it is perspective. I guess Leo had it for his paintings, but not his life. Obviously he was aiming for some fame. Yet no one can say for sure what will make them “famous.” Some people ARE famous for great works of art. Some people are famous for destroying great works of art and being burned at the stake for it. (Read the history of the Temple of Diana). Some have decided that “if you can’t beat em’, destroy em’.” Seriously though I wondered if Leonardo could come to the end of his life and wonder if HE did anything of value, what hope do the rest of us have? Us mortals who walk on two feet. Us regular people who feel thrilled when we are able to make a play dough sculpture that sort of resembles Yoda. Who are ecstatic when our kindergarten finger painting gets chosen for display. Who marvel when we successfully make proper Rice Krispie Treats. Who delight when we learn to tie our shoes. For us regular mortals, the bar for achievement is a bit lower. That’s why I feel a strong urge to get violent when Leonardo is lamenting his life’s work. In truth none of us will be able to completely evaluate our “life’s work.” Our life’s work will continue to play out it’s effects long after we are gone. All of us probably will have a “bronze horse of regret” at life’s end. Something we wish we could have completed, but didn’t . One thing is true however, our lives do matter. (Even the lives of us regular mortals) and how we spend our time is crucial. Someone once said that “Character is the sum of our habits.” For some of us that statement is downright frightening. It is a wake up call. How do you spend your time? Since you have innumerable choices of things you can do, how do you chose what is infinitely most important so that when you come to the end you won’t feel you “wasted your hours?” God became man and answered this very question. When Jesus was being offered hospitality at the home of his friends Martha and Mary, Mary sat at his feet listening while Martha was “busy and distracted with many things.” Martha rebukes Jesus for not asking Mary to help her. Jesus rebukes Martha saying “Mary has chosen what is better and it won’t be taken from her.” Clearly God says some things in life do have greater weight and priority, the number one being spending time learning about who He is. We could for example spend a couple of hours watching T.V., or we could spend a couple of hours reading God’s word. Two choices, two weights, two outcomes. The difference between them is like say the difference between making a bronze horse and painting The Last Supper.

Life. It’s all in the perspective.

Reference:  Jean Fritz, Hudson, Talbott, Leonardo’s Horse, (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001)

 

Tangled: A Critical Analysis of Rapunzel

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill

of things unknown but longed for still

and his tune is heard on the distant hill for

the caged bird sings of freedom”

Maya Angelou

Rapunzel's Tower

Before there was the Cohen brothers, there was the Brothers Grimm. Jacob born in 1785, and Wilhelm in 1786 were raised in the Kingdom of Hesse (what is now central Germany). Their father died when they were young, leaving their mother Dorthea to raise six children. The eldest two Grimm brothers became the hope for the family. They were sent to get an education and eventually became two of Europe’s most preeminent philological scholars. They became interested early on in preserving the folk tales of the common people. In an effort to preserve their heritage in the face of Napoleonic oppression, they set out to unearth “every folk story ever told in German tongue.” They painstakingly collected and transcribed the tales. The collection of the tales was a communal effort. Many of the fairy tales were either collected by listening to other women story tellers, or recorded by women assisting the brothers in their project. From that collaboration the brothers produced “Children’s and Household Fairy Tales”, which has become a modern classic selling second only to the Bible in Western cultures. From them we get such classic tales as Rumplestiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and the topic of my story: Rapunzel.

Recently I had a mother say to me, “Oh I took my daughters to see “Tangled.” (Based on the fairy tale Rapunzel). I loved it! It was so great. Of all the movies Disney has put out recently, this one is my favorite. You must go see it.” So go see it I did. Obviously the movie aimed for humor and it was definitely beautifully animated. Yet as I watched it I found myself being moved deeply and I wondered if anyone really understood the themes and ideas behind Rapunzel.

In the original version there was a woman who greatly longed for a child. After a long while it seemed that God was going to grant her wish. However the woman’s house overlooked the garden of an enchantress. In that garden was some beautiful rampion (rapunzel). Every day she longed to have some of the rampion. She felt she would die if she did not have it. Her husband climbs down into the garden and steals some and she eats it in a delicious salad. The next day she longed for it three times as much. So her husband dutifully steals some more, only this time he is caught by the enchantress. Greatly angered the enchantress agrees to allow him to have it if he will give her the child once it is born. So when the child is born the enchantress appears, names her Rapunzel and carries her away. The child grows up to be very beautiful with magnificent long hair, fine as spun gold. At the age of twelve, the enchantress shuts her in a tower, which lay in a forest and had no stairs nor door, but had a little window at the top. When the enchantress wanted up she would call for Rapunzel to “let down her hair” and she would climb up. Rapunzel passes the time by “letting her sweet voice resound.” One day the King’s son hears the singing and it deeply touches him. He eventually sees how the enchantress climbs up. After she has gone he too calls for Rapunzel to let her hair down. Climbing up he asks her to marry him. He is to bring a skein of silk with him every time so they can weave a ladder and escape. However, one day Rapunzel gives away the secret that she has been seeing the prince  (apparently Rapunzel is very beautiful, but not too bright!). The enchantress cuts Rapunzel’s hair in a rage and banishes her to the desert, where Rapunzel gives birth to twins. When the prince comes the enchantress tricks him into climbing up. Instead of finding Rapunzel he finds the enchantress who gazes at him with “wicked and venomous looks.” He escapes by jumping out the window, but he is blinded by thorns when he lands. He roams about for some years lamenting the loss of his wife, until eventually he wanders into the desert and hears her beautiful singing. Rapunzel’s tears wets his eyes and his eyesight is restored. He leads her and their children to his kingdom and they live happily ever after. Definitely different than the Disney version for sure.

Let’s look at the themes. First we see the mother’s longing for the forbidden rampion. Here we are once again, back in the garden of Eden. The man is involved by getting the food for the woman. Once she has the rampion she “longs for it three times as much.” It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis says in The Screwtape Letters. In describing pleasure Screwtape’s uncle reminds Screwtape that demons cannot produce a single pleasure, they can “only encourage humans to take the pleasures which God has produced, at times, or in degrees in which he has forbidden.” He says, “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” We see that played out here. The woman eats the forbidden rampion, and then her craving increases for more. The end result of her eating the forbidden rampion is that she must give up that for which she originally longed: the child. The forbidden pleasure cost her the real pleasure which was the child.

In the Disney version of the movie Rapunzel is shown in the tower enjoying her solitude by doing various seemingly fun activities such as painting. Yet what Rapunzel represents is a very real reality for many people in this world. Kris Mohandie wrote an article for the Journal of Threat assessment called “Human Captivity Experiences.” He makes the point that “captivity provides a unifying theme to describe the dynamics that underlie many victim experiences.” What are some of the very real ways people live in human captivity situations? Here are a few: being a victim of domestic abuse, being stalked, human trafficking, prostitution, cults, being kidnapped, slavery. The first example is one that is widespread and common. Though you may not realize it, you know many people who are living in human captivity situations and you are affected by them living in this captivity. Let me say without equivocation that if you have an understanding of that, or even greater if you have experienced it first hand, you know for sure that captivity is hell. Though Disney tries to make captivity look fun, there is absolutely nothing fun about it. When you watch the movie, if you understand that, it is sobering to see Rapunzel in the tower. It’s gut wrenching. What do we do for the meanest criminals? The ones who behave the worst? We put them in solitary confinement. That is what Rapunzel is in. The only human she is allowed to see is the one who is cruel and mean to her. Believe you me, that sums up many a battering relationship. It is absolutely anguishing in reality to see a person cut off from others. It is exquisite torture to experience it. Only something evil would do that because it is mercilessly cruel.

What Rapunzel also represents is that try as you may, the human soul cannot be killed. Though she is in almost complete isolation the one thing the enchantress can’t take away from her, try as she may, is her voice. What does she do in captivity? She sings. It so beautifully depicts Maya Angelou’s poem. You can cage a bird, but you can’t cage it’s song. We could enslave African Americans, but they sang their beautiful gospel songs while working in the fields. We kept them down to a degree, but never totally. The human spirit endeavors to be heard. That is part of why I am writing this blog.

On a brighter note, the story reminds us all of the great story that has and is unfolding. The story of Rapunzel is the story of all humanity really. We have all been taken captive by evil, the evil of our own sin. We find ourselves trapped in a tower of this sin with no escape. Yet God in his mercy saw the anguish of this condition and heard the voice of our laments and sent a prince to rescue us. Christ came to free us from the bondage of being enslaved to sin. In “Tangled” we see Rapunzel rejoicing greatly at her release. She is ecstatic! She is dancing, skipping and squealing! She is rejoicing! And so should we. The great Prince has come and we have been set free! That is the greatest news that any man could ever hear. I wonder how many people who watched “Tangled” truly understood what they were watching? I hope after reading this post you do not miss the points. They are astonishingly relevant to everyone.

References:

Paradiz, Valerie. Clever Maids: Te Secret History of The Grimm Fairy Tales. New York: Basic Books, 2005.

The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. New York: Pantheon Books, 1994.

Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. First Touchstone Edition. 1996.