The DaVinci Quote
February 7, 2013 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Help me track down the origin of this Leonardo Da Vinci maxim, of which I can only find a French translation.

Last summer I visited Clos Luce, the last residence of Leonardo Da Vinci, his "retirement home" in France, so to speak.

There were several of his quotations framed throughout the villa, one of which was "Ne pas prevoir, c'est deja gemir". Roughly, in English, "not to plan is to be whining/moaning".

I'd like to know the origin of this quote: does it appear in his notebooks or is it attributed to him via some other source? Was it originally said in Italian, or in Latin, or did he actually say it in French? If it was in his notebooks, can someone point me to the location in one of the online versions of them?

It seems to be a well-known and oft-used maxim in France but I can't seem to track it back any further. Forgive my lack of proper accents, I have keyboard limitations apparently.
posted by padraigin to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
Googling the French phrase brings up the alternative "Not to anticipate is already to moan." This appears on many English quotation sites, attributed to da Vinci, although I'd still say it's a rough translation.
posted by Petrot at 8:30 AM on February 7, 2013

Yes, but what I'm looking for is the origin, what DaVinci actually said or wrote. Or confirmation that he said it in French right off the bat.
posted by padraigin at 8:37 AM on February 7, 2013

I'd bet it's misattributed.

Searching for that phrase in French Google books only comes up with a handful of hits, mostly from recent business books, such as the 2011 "400 citations pour le manager stratège". There's nothing like it on the Da Vinci English wikiquote page, nor the Google translate version of the Italian version. (There's no French version.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:50 AM on February 7, 2013

Sorry, I thought it might give you another avenue of search, as it brought up a larger number of hits.
posted by Petrot at 10:17 AM on February 7, 2013

The earliest mention I can find in Google Books is on page 83 of L'éducation en débats: la fin des certitudes, a 1998 book by Jacky Beillerot, who gives the uncertain attribution "(Jean Bosco ou Léonard de Vinci?)" I assume that's this John Bosco, whose writings are online here, with a concordance! I don't see any good candidates on the pages for prevedere or gemere, but I don't know Italian, so it's certainly possible I'm overlooking something. Anyway, maybe Beillerot was just making a guess, which later writers credited excessively.

Here's the only Italian example I can find, Non prevedere è già gemere, attributed to da Vinci in a 2004 book seemingly about management. This could just as easily have been translated from the French saying.

This page on the French Wikipedia asserts that the phrase appears in L'usage du monde, a 1963 book by Nicholas Bouvier. (That assertion was added by this anonymous edit.) There's no page number, alas, and I can't find it in this Google Books preview.
posted by stebulus at 10:22 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's an earlier appearance, from 1910. Unfortunately Google only provides a "snippet view" despite the book's age.
posted by gubo at 11:07 AM on February 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

The snippet gubo links to, which is from Joséphin Péladan’s 1910 book La philosophie de Léonard de Vinci d’après ses manuscrits, includes the following (pardon my terrible French if I’ve transcribed it wrong):
[…] à ses sentences il y en a de belles:
«Qui ne punit pas le mal commande qu’il se fasse.
«Ne pas prévoir c’est déjà gémir.»
«C’est même chose de dire du bien non mérité que…
Searching for the «Qui ne punit…» quotation tuned up another of Péladan’s publications, also dating from 1910: Les Manuscrits de Léonard de Vinci: LES 14 MANUSCRITS DE L’INSTITUT DE FRANCE, which can be found in PDF and other formats at, or at «Qui ne punit…» is printed in the section of that book concerned with manuscript ‘H’ (1493-4), so one might hazard that the «Ne pas prévoir…» quote is in there somewhere too, although if it is, I have yet to find it.

If I understand it right, Péladan’s book draws from an earlier facsimile edition of the Paris manuscripts: Les manuscrits de Léonard de Vinci de la Bibliothèque de l’Institut, publiés en fac-similés phototypiques avec transcription latérale et version française, ouvrage en 6 tomes in-folio, comprenant 2,178 folios ou fac-similés by Charles Ravaisson-Mollien, published by Quantin, 1882-1891.

It’s conceivable then that «Ne pas prévoir…» is a translation by Ravaisson-Mollien or Péladan of a maxim of da Vinci’s from one of the Paris manuscripts.
posted by misteraitch at 7:36 AM on February 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Les manuscrits de Léonard de Vinci de la Bibliothèque de l’Institut… by Charles Ravaisson-Mollien: vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6.
posted by misteraitch at 8:15 AM on February 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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