The link between Mohamed Salah and Leonardo da Vinci
They flew, they crashed, they rose to fly again ...
One fine day in 1505 a genius and his assistant climbed Monte Ceceri, then an unwooded hill in Fiesole, a town outside Florence as beautiful as it is ancient, and tried to fly.
In fact only the assistant tried to fly. He was, according to some, Zoroastro da Peretola, the illegitimate son of Bernardo Rucellai, part of a rich and powerful family of Florentine wool merchants.According to others Zoroastro’s real name was Tommaso di Giovanni Masini, and he was a common gardener’s son who cooked up his story of more exciting origins to ease access to the great and the good of Renaissance Florence.
That seems closer to the truth: Rucellai was 13 when Zoroastro was born. What is not in dispute is that Rucellai was among the genius’s pupils.The genius was Leonardo da Vinci, at the time of that day at Monte Ceceri in his 50s and with 20 years of interest and research into the mystery of flight smouldering in his mind.
The assistant, then, was expendable; a minion in the march towards the magnificence of a man whose ideas continue to capture the world’s imagination some 499 years after his death.To Zoroastro was strapped a frame of lightweight wood covered in feathers, and of Leonardo’s design. Then the human-fuelled experiment stepped off the side of the hill. The spot he did so is marked today by a puzzlingly shaped cement bench: is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a feather? Is it even a bench?
Remarkably, Zoroastro did not perish. He even flew — towards Florence for a kilometre, which was more than twice as far as the Wright brothers in a total of four attempts adding up to 411m 398 years later in what has come to be known as the first powered flight.
A happy ending? Not quite. Zoroastro broke both legs when he hit the ground.That brings us to another, more modern genius. This one does his own flying. But he was also injured when he crashed to earth.
His name is Mohamed Salah, and he is in a race against time and the rapidly beating hearts of all 99 million Egyptians in Egypt — and the millions more around the world — to play in the World Cup in Russia. Salah’s team’s first game is against Uruguay in Yekaterinburg on June 15.
Egypt are in the tournament for only the third time and not since 1990. They are there not least because of Salah, who scored five of their eight goals in their six qualifiers.
Salah’s 32 goals for Liverpool led the English Premier League this season, and he was in those colours in the 30th minute of the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Kiev on Saturday when Sergio Ramos cut him down with a cynical challenge that resulted in a shoulder injury.“Sometimes football shows you its good side and other times the bad,” Ramos tweeted on Sunday. “Above all, we are fellow pros. #GetWellSoon #MoSalah.”
That didn’t wash with an Egyptian-born gelato seller in Florence on Wednesday. At the empathetic mention of Salah’s injury he roared: “Ramos! Bastardo!”
He is not alone. A petition demanding Uefa take action against Ramos has garnered more than 500,000 signatures, and now the bloody lawyers are trying to make an offer that can’t be refused.
“Ramos intentionally injured Mo Salah and should be punished about his actions,” the suit behind the suit, Bassem Wahba, said on Egyptian television.
“I’ve filed a lawsuit and a complaint to Fifa. I'll ask for compensation, which could exceed €1-billion (R14.6-billion), for the physical and psychological harm that Ramos gave Salah and the Egyptian people.”Good luck, Mr Wahba. The world, including the non-Egyptian part of it — Spain and their fans excepted — no doubt wish you success.
If Wahba or indeed Salah need inspiration they could find it in other aspects of Zoroastro’s remarkable life.
He knew Leonardo since at least the 1490s, and besides grinding colours for some of his paintings he left a lasting impression in bizarre ways.
Nicknamed “Indovino”, or fortune teller, Zoroastro was considered by some an alchemist and a magician, and by others a mere blacksmith.
Leonardo wasn’t Zoroastro’s only fan. Dom Miguel da Silva, the Bishop of Viseo, wrote in a letter dated February 21 1520 of a laboratory he had set up with “Indovino”:“We make spheres which shine brilliantly and in which appear strange human figures with horns on their heads and crabs’ legs and a nose like a prawn.
“In an old fireplace we have made a furnace, built up with bricks, and here we distill and separate the elements of everything; and with these we extract the fire from a marine monster which forever burns and shines.
“In the middle of the room there is a large table cluttered with pots and flasks of all sorts, and paste and clay and Greek pitch and cinnabar, and the teeth of hanged men, and roots.
“There is a plinth made of sulphur polished up on a lathe, and on this stands a vessel of yellow amber, empty except for a serpent with four legs, which we take for a miracle.
“Zoroastro believes that some gryphon [a mythical dragon-like creature] carried it through the air from Libya and dropped it at the Mamolo bridge, where it was found and tamed by him.
“The walls of this room are all daubed with weird faces and drawings on paper, among which is one of a monkey who is telling stories to a crowd of rats who are attentively listening, and a thousand other things full of mystery.”
Good drugs? Maybe. Salah could use some to make it to Russia.