Leonardo and the Flying Boy
Written by Laurence Anholt
THERE were no spaceships or airplanes when Zoro was a boy. The sky belonged to the birds. But one man dreamed of something incredible. “One day, Zoro,” he told his pupil, “people will sail through the clouds
and look down at the world below.
Anything is possible.”
The man with the amazing dream and a beard like a wizard was Leonardo da Vinci.
Anything seemed possible in Leonardo‟s busy studio. He was a painter, a
sculptor, a musician, and a scientist.
Sometimes he showed Zoro his beautiful notebooks where a thousand ideas spilled from every page.
“We must try to understand everything,” said the great genius…
How does life begin?
How does a plant grow?
How do the planets move? And how could a person fly like a bird?
But when Zoro tried to read the books, he found them written back to front:
So the secret word could only be read in mirror. (opposite way) P5
There was one place where Zoro could never go – one mysterious
workshop where the door was always locked. No one was allowed in there except Leonardo himself.
Zoro longed to know what was inside. “Maybe it‟s a fantastic
sculpture,” he thought, “or a huge war machine.”
In the studio everyone had to work hard. Zoro mixed colors, cleaned brushes and practiced his drawing.
“When I am grown-up, I will have my own studio,”
he said, “and a secret workshop, too!”
“Of course you will, Zoro,” smiled Leonardo.
Leonardo was a kind man. If ever he found an animal that was sick or hungry, he would bring it home for his pupils to take care of. But one day, Leonardo found something very strange. He dragged the wild and noisy creature into the studio, where it kicked and fought and spat at the great artist. “What is it?” asked Zoro.
“It‟s a boy!” laughed Leonardo. “A very wild boy. He‟s never been to
school and his mother is too poor to take care of him. She begged me to give him some work before he ends up in prison.”
The wild boy grabbed Leonardo‟s hand and bit very hard. Leonardo
pretended to be angry, but Zoro could see that he was laughing.
“I‟ll call you Salai,” said Leonardo. “It means „Little Devil,‟ and
that‟s exactly what you are.”
So Salai came to stay in the studio and, although he was a bad boy, everyone grew to like him.
“But you can‟t wear those rags,” said Leonardo. “I‟m going to buy
you a real velvet suit and some shoes…
Now where did I leave my money?”
They searched high and low until at last Zoro found the money – hidden
in Salai‟s filthy coat.
Zoro couldn‟t believe it. Who would dare to steal from Leonardo da Vinci?
Day after day, Leonardo dreamed up inventions of every kind. Zoro was amazed to see… a parachute, the very first bicycle, a deadly was machine,
a gadget for walking on water, a life preserver, and a diving suit. Once, he built a machine for cutting and polishing glass and made himself a pair of spectacles.
“Now I can keep an eye on Salai!” he said, winking at Zoro.
Early one morning, Leonardo took Zoro into town to look for interesting faces to draw. When he noticed someone especially beautiful or unusually
ugly, Leonardo would follow them, making dozens of sketches.
They came to the market where a lady was selling birds in tiny cages.
Leonardo looked at the birds, then, to Zoro‟s surprise, he bought
them all; but instead of taking the birds home as pets, Leonardo told Zoro to open the cages. Everybody stared. No one could understand. P14
“A bird should be free,” said Leonardo. “Look, Zoro! Can you see how
their wings push against the air? It gives me an idea…”
Leonardo began to run.
As soon as he got home, he locked himself in the secret workshop again. Zoro could hear hammering and sawing from inside.
Hour after hour, Zoro waited, but Leonardo wouldn‟t stop for food or
drink. What on earth was he building?
“It must be something incredible,” thought Zoro. “Something no one
had ever dreamed of.”
At last he fell asleep on the steps outside.
Leonardo began a wonderful painting of a woman called Mona Lisa. She had to sit for weeks without moving, so Leonardo paid acrobats and musicians to keep her from getting bored.
Zoro stared at the dreamy green mountains and the twisting rivers.
“Surely no one has painted anything so perfect,” he thought.
The face in the painting was smiling – a mysterious, gentle smile.
“It‟s as if she knows some secret,” thought Zoro. “As if she has seen
inside that locked room.”
Suddenly Salai crept up behind him.
“Come with me, Zoro!” he hissed. “I‟ll show you something more
interesting than that picture.” Salai looked very suspicious. He dragged Zoro out of the studio and quietly down the stairs. At the door of the secret workshop, Salai pulled out a big bunch of keys.
“You stole them!” gasped Zoro. “Leonardo will throw you back on
Salai only laughed and unlocked the door.
Zoro knew he shouldn‟t be there. He should turn and run to Leonardo, but… he just had to see inside that secret room.
Zoro couldn‟t believe his eyes! An extraordinary machine filled the room. Its wings were like a great eagle‟s. “Help me pull it outside,” ordered
Salai. “If we wait until Leonardo is ready, we will never fly. Anyway, you are the only one small enough to fit in the machine. It was made for you –
you will be the Flying Boy!”
“Leonardo will be furious,” whispered Zoro.
“Not when he sees you flying above the studio!” shouted Salai.
“Come on, Zoro. Help me.”
So, as Leonardo worked upstairs, Salai and Zoro hauled and dragged the heavy machine out of the workshop, along the streets, and far into the fields.
Salai pointed to the highest hill.
“We will try the machine from there,” he said.
As the sun set, they reached the top.
“Now,” panted Salai, “just lie in here. When you pedal, the wings will flap.”
Zoro was shaking. He felt ill.
“Maybe the machine isn‟t finished,” he cried. “We should be
But Salai ws already strapping Zoro into the machine and dragging it toward the edge of the hill.
Zoro was terrified. He began to shout.
Suddenly there was a gust of wind, Salai pushed and the flying machine left the ground.
Zoro looked down at the world below; he was sobbing with fear, but for a few seconds…
…he flew like a bird!
“It works! It works!” shouted the wild boy far below.
But something was wrong!
The bird was too heavy. Zoro pedalled and pulled, but the machine began to fall.
At that moment, Leonardo came running across the fields. Zoro tugged on the ropes and screamed, as the machine fell like a stone and crashed into a tree.
Leonardo himself pulled Zoro‟s limp body from the wrecked machine and
carefully carried him home.
Salai followed slowly – his head hanging in shame.
Zoro was lying in bed. His leg hurt. His head was wrapped in bandages. “Oh, Zoro,” said Leonardo sadly, “it doesn‟t surprise me that Salai would
disobey me. But you…
Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps people will never fly. We are not birds. From now on I will stick to painting.”
“No,” said Zoro quietly. “Remember what you told me – one day people
WILL fly! The machine was too heavy, that‟s all.”
Leonardo thought for a moment. Then he jumped up. “Yes!” he shouted.
“And the wings should be longer. Like this…”
And he threw open his notebook and began to work, slowly and patiently, until a beautiful drawing appeared – a new flying machine, more amazing
And while he worked, Leonardo began to smile, a mysterious, gentle smile, a mysterious, gentle smile as if he could see far the future where boys and girls just like Zoro would sail through the clouds…
...and anything is possible.
LEONARDO DA VINCI
was born in 1452, the son of a rich lawyer and a poor peasant woman.
This great genius of the Italian Renaissance left few paintings, but his many notebooks give insight into a man who, according to the painter and biographer Vasari, was “marvelously endowed by heaven with beauty,
grace and talent in such abundance that he leaves other men far behind.”
Vasari also notes that the gentle vegetarian was strong enough to bend a horseshoe with his bare hands.
Leonardo conceived the breathtaking plan of making a pictorial record of every object in the world. He was a supremely talented painter, architect, musician, military engineer, mathematician, botanist,
astronomer, and, above all, inventor. Many of his devices were doomed to failure because of the limits of contemporary materials, but his designs for tanks, submarines, parachutes, hoists, pulleys, and levers were uncannily ahead of their time and he became a favorite at the courts of Milan and France.
Leonardo‟s obsession with flight lasted throughout his life. It is unlikely that his contraptions stayed airborne for long, but he certainly made several attempts, and Zoro‟s leap from Mount Ceccero became
legendary. Zoro (Zoroaste de Peretolo) was one of Leonardo‟s many
apprentice pupils as was “Salai” Giacomo (1480-1524) who was taken in
by Leonardo at ten years old. Leonardo recorded Salai‟s many thefts and
delinquent acts, and at one point wrote the words, “THIEF, LIAR,
OBSTINATE GLUTTON!” in the margin of his note book, in which
Salai later scribbled obscene drawings. The untalented and mischievous boy stayed with Leonardo until the master‟s death in 1519, and Leonardo
even left him substantial property. Salai met a predictably reckless end when he was killed by a crossbow.
Zoro‟s history is not well documented but he undoubtedly became a highly talented artist who contributed to his master‟s great paintings,
where their brush marks are now inseparable.