Leonardo da Vinci did most of his writing backward.

  • Da Vinci sculpture
Da Vinci sculpture
Victor Ovies Arenas/ Moment via Getty Images

Famed Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci left behind thousands of pages of notes and diagrams from his many pursuits in math, anatomy, botany, science, engineering, and art — he created more than 200 illustrations with notes on flight alone. Leonardo had groundbreaking ideas on everything from human anatomy to bridge design, and even the writing itself is impressive: Most of it is written from right to left, in a mirror image of ordinary European script. He only wrote left to right when someone else needed to read it. He also used his own form of shorthand.

Leonardo never directly explained why he wrote this way, but there are a few prevailing theories. It may have been simply practical: The artist was most likely left-handed, and writing left to right could get messy using a pen and ink. He also may have been trying to keep his ideas secret from potential copycats, or even trying to hide his work from the Roman Catholic Church. While Leonardo’s artwork is rich with religious symbolism, he was also a skeptic, and some of his ideas would have been at odds with the teachings of the church. After Leonardo’s death, his loose-leaf notes went to his student Francesco Melzi, an Italian painter. They were bound into several volumes, mirror writing and all, and soon began circulating among European elites as collector’s items. They are still kept in museums and private collections today.

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