You thought you were learning to live, kid? Sure, if you want. Live it up. But look around. See these rocks? And beyond? What’s next? I tell you, it isn’t another commission and you’ll be going empty-handed. Think I always dressed like this? I had clothes, finery. But what for, here? I get it, though. Look at me, even now. One hand clutching the rock, I can’t help myself, but look out there. Name one solid form.
I can’t either. Are you on the lion now? Sure, but put your hand here. Feel: fur, warmth, body. Breathing, just like us. Dying, too. Not soon, I hope. I named him Leo, actually, but don’t let it go to your head. He’s not a symbol of courage or danger, just a fellow creature I met along the way. He was suffering, too. You’ve probably heard the stories. Sure, I pulled a thorn from his paw, but it wasn’t what they make it out to be. Poor guy was almost passed out from the pain when I got to him. It was infected, he had lizards in his mane. Now we’re friends and he waits with me here. We walk together when we’re not on these rocks. Sure, you can come.
Why are you here, anyway? Let me guess. You think if you can study the extent of my torment, you can be ready for it. Let me tell you, night after night the dancing girls would come visit as I slept, to mock my restraint. They still come, but I’ve lost most of my vanity by this point, so the torture is less.
So now what? It’s a long walk back. Where’s your horse?
In honor of the birthday of Leonardo DaVinci (1452-1519), today’s post is in an imagined voice of one of his subjects. DaVinci worked on St. Jerome in the Wilderness toward the end of his life, and the painting (which hangs in the Vatican) was never finished. DaVinci appears to have been in a difficult time in his life, in part related to a sexual scandal, and also because his worldview was shifting with age. “I thought I was learning to live,” the painter wrote in his diary around this time, adding, “I was only learning to die” (from Liana Bortolon’s The Life and Times of Leonardo). In this light, I can only imagine that St. Jerome’s hermetic life in the desert may have been of special interest. An apocryphal story about Jerome features him pulling a thorn from the paw of a lion.