Wovember Words: On Grasses
This evening we will hear about Working with Wool from conservation grazing flocks – that is, sheep whose grazing powers are beneficial for the maintenance of grassland habitats and pastoral landscapes. Today’s WOVEMBER WORDS post explores an experiment conducted by Leonardo da Vinci in relation to the special grassy diet of sheep.
ITEM: if a cow eats grasses and nothing else, and if a sheep eats grasses and nothing else, and if they both do survive, and then if I eat cow and the sheep to no ill effect, why then should we not all eat grasses? Salai will help me to pursue the matter*
*Yet again we are indebted to a letter (dated September 1493 in Annali di Firenze Vol XV p. 342) from the omniprescent Florentine Pietro Alemanni to the Signoria of Florence for a description of the events subsequent to this thought of Leonardo’s:
‘…For this last week Master Leonardo has caused his disciple Salai to resort to a diet exclusively of Grasses, in order, says the Maestro, to solve the Problem of Salvation in our world. Master Leonardo himself had been choosing the Grasses, washing them and cutting off parts of their roots, yet even after one day Salai was complaining he had been unable to digest any part of what was set before him. And Master Leonardo being in a great fury that the wretched Salai was refusing to digest his chosen Grasses, and hearing none of it that the poor man, nor any member of the human race, might be unable to digest them – withdrew to the kitchen to make more palatable. The contents of one bowl of Grasses he boiled, to another he added some oil and vinegar, a third he formed into small balls and placed on his roasting apparatus, and at the end of his labours he commanded his quivering pupil to eat of which and say which was his preference. The near-tearful youth first essayed the Grasses which were boiled and pronounced them as indigestible as the raw Grasses; then he placed in his mouth some of that which was covered in the oil and vinegar and spat it out forthwith. And now in a fury far greater than before Master Leonardo took a handful of the roasted grass balls and essayed to thrust them down the throat of Salai, whereupon Salai threw vomit all over the Maestro and the Maestro retired disguested claiming that his gretest offering to mankind was wasted and ruined through the selfishness of his useless pupil. But then I do believe, Master Leonardo forgot totally of the experiment for some short time later I perceived him at his sketchbook detailing geometric outlines.’
‘Leonardo’s Kitchen Note Books – Leonardo da Vinci’s notes on cookery and table etiquette’, newly rendered into English and edited by Shelagh and Jonathan Routh. Collins, London, 1987, p.106