This section is from the book "Leonardo Da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study Of An Infantile Reminiscence", by Sigmund Freud. Also available from Amazon: Leonardo da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence.
It would be futile to delude ourselves that at present, readers do not find every pafhography82 unsavory. This attitude is excused with the reproach that from a pathographic study of a great man one never obtains an understanding of his importance and his attainments, that it is therefore useless mischief to study in him things which could just as well be found in the first comer. However, this criticism is so clearly unjust that it can only be grasped when viewed as a pretext and a disguise for something. As a matter of fact pathography does not aim at making comprehensible the attainments of the great man; no one should really be blamed for not doing something which one never promised. The real motives for the opposition are quite different. One finds them when one bears in mind that biographers are fixed on their heroes in quite a peculiar manner. Frequently they take the hero as the object of study because, for reasons of their personal emotional life, they bear him a special affection from the very outset. They then devote themselves to a work of idealization which strives to enroll the great men among their infantile models, and to revive through him, as it were, the infantile conception of the father. For die sake of this wish they wipe out the individual features in his physiognomy, they rub out the traces of his life's struggle with inner and outer resistances, and do not tolerate in him anything of human weakness or imperfection; they then give us a cold, strange, ideal form instead of the man to whom we could feel distantly related. It is to be regretted that they do this, for they thereby sacrifice the truth to an illusion, and for the sake of their infantile fantasies they let slip the opportunity to penetrate into the most attractive secrets of human nature.83
Leonardo himself, judging from his love for the truth and his inquisitiveness, would have interposed no objections to the effort of discovering the determinations of his psychic and intellectual development from die trivial peculiarities and riddles of his nature. We respect him by learning from him. It does no injury to his greatness to study the sacrifices which his development from the child must have entailed, and to compile the factors which have stamped on his person die tragic features of failure.
Let us expressly emphasize that we have never considered Leonardo as a neurotic or as a "disturbed person" in die sense of this awkward term. Whoever takes it amiss that we should even dare apply to him viewpoints gained from pathology, still clings to prejudices which we have at present jusdy given up. We no longer believe that health and disease, normal and disturbed, are sharply distinguished from each odier, and diat neurotic traits must be judged as proof of general inferiority. We know to-day that neurotic symptoms are substitutive formations for certain repressive acts which have to be brought about in die course of our development from die child to the adult, that we all produce such substitutive formations, and diat only die amount, intensity, and distribution of diese substitutive formations justify die practical conception of illness and the conclusion of constitutional inferiority. Following the slight signs in Leonardo's personality we would place him near that neurotic type which we designate as the "compulsive type," and we would compare his investigation with the "reasoning mania" of neurotics, and his inhibitions with the so-called "abulias"81 of the latter.
The object of our work was to explain the inhibitions in Leonardo's sexual life and in his artistic activity. For this purpose we shall now sum up what we could discover concerning the course of his psychic development.
We were unable to gain any knowledge about his hereditary factors. On the other hand we recognize that the accidental circumstances of his childhood produced a far reaching disturbing effect. His illegitimate birth deprived him of the influence of a father until perhaps his fifth year, and left him to the tender seduction of a mother whose only consolation he was. Having been kissed by her into sexual prematurity, he surely must have entered into a phase of infantile sexual activity of which only one single manifestation was definitely evinced, namely, die intensity of his infantile sexual investigation. The impulse for looking and inquisitiveness were most strongly stimulated by his impressions from early childhood; die erogenous oral zone received an emphasis which it never gave up. From his later contrasting behavior, such as an exaggerated sympathy for animals, we can conclude that diis infantile period did not lack in strong sadistic traits.
An energetic shift of repression put an end to this infantile excess, and established the dispositions which became manifest in the years of puberty. The most striking result of this transformation was a turning away from all gross sensual activities. Leonardo was able to lead a life of abstinence and made the impression of being an asexual person. When die floods of pubescent excitement came over die boy diey did not make him ill by forcing him to costly and harmful substitutive formations; owing to the early preference for sexual inquisitiveness, the greater part of the sexual needs could be sublimated into a general thirst after knowledge and so elude repression. A much smaller portion of the libido was applied to sexual aims, and represented the stunted sexual life of the grown up. In consequence of the repression of die love for die modier this portion assumed a homosexual attitude and manifested itself as ideal love for boys. The fixation on the modier, as well as the happy reminiscences of his relations with her, was preserved in his unconscious but remained for the time in an inactive state. In this manner the repression, fixation, and sublimation participated in die disposal of die contributions which die sexual impulse furnished to Leonardo's psychic life.