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Was Leonardo da Vinci Dyslexic?


2019 marks the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, a man so talented in arts and science as to be arguably the most creative person who ever lived. His biographer, Giorgio Vasari, called him, “Largita da Dio”1 (a gift from God), and half a millennium later we still ponder what made him so unique. The recent observation that Leonardo might have suffered from intermittent exotropia2 sheds some light on his artistic genius, because ocular misalignment is often linked to talent in the visual arts, but also raises the possibility of dyslexia, because this too can result from misalignment.3

Difficulty with the written word was first suggested by Sartori in 1987,4 based on Leonardo’s peculiar orthography, too bizarre and error-ridden to be caused by his mirror writing, Tuscan dialect, or the inconsistency of Renaissance Italian.4 Sartori proposed surface dysgraphia, a developmental disorder associated with dyslexia and characterized by incorrect spellings that create homophonic nonwords—such as writing rane for rain. Almost half of Leonardo’s misspellings (consonant doubling; blending/splitting of words; letter substitutions/additions/deletions) are, in fact, homophonic nonwords (Table).

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-Salvatore Mangione, MDa,, Rolando Del Maestro, MD, PhD, FRCS(C), FACS, DABNSb

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

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