Following the number 5 down a rabbit hole
Three weeks left in 2020 when the first fifth of the 20th century comes to an end, and all week, I've been thinking about the Vitruvian Man -- you know the one, right? The drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of the man with his arms spread out. I was thinking of it because it shows the five human appendages in such perfect proportion: two arms, two legs and the head. I figured it has something significant to teach me and that I can share that with you.
But, as I searched, I was led to an interview with Walter Isaacson, author of many books including Steve Jobs and Einstein. In 2017, National Geographic interviewed him upon the release of his most recent book, Leonardo da Vinci. The interview did mention the Vitruvian Man, but was so interesting that I lost track of Vitruvian Man and the number five, and I ordered the book. Isaacson made it clear that one of da Vinci's most compelling traits was his unending curiosity, and I thought, "That is a trait I like."
But then I wondered why he was called Vitruvian Man, and followed that thread to Vitruvius, specifically Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, a Roman architect and military engineer who lived in the century before Christ (c.90 - c.20 BCE). He wrote De Architectura, a treatise on architecture and engineering of the period, as well as historical works. No similar book of that time survives, and it's about much more than architecture, including philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and more. No wonder a self-taught kid with an insatiable curiosity wanted to read that book 1,500 years later.
Vitruvius had a deep and vast comprehension of the relationship among current science, art and nature. He espoused three functions that all buildings should have: they should be beautiful, stable and useful. Oh!!! Doesn't that sound simple? Universal? And, well, right?
So, where does this connect with the number five or with one-fifth? Well, I don't know for sure but after this week, I feel a lot like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and landing in a world of wonderful and strange things. Looking forward to the rest of the 21st century (I know, I know, I kept saying 20th last week. Old habits...), let us all be like Vitruvius, Leonardo and Alice and let us welcome wonder and invite curiosity. And let us all also look to create structures that are beautiful, stable and useful. There is so much mystery and potential joy ahead and the world needs your curious inquiry.
Wishing you a week of curiosity satisfied, creativity expressed and usefulness found.