Between+XX+and+XY:+Intersexuality+and+the+myth+of+two+sexes

For years leonardo da vinci had studied human anatomy

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Unformatted text preview: corpses and lift the corrugated tubes and gristle and muscles and bones and organs from within those cadavers and line those pieces up neatly along the edges of his oiled dissection table. Curiosity, too, drew him into thoughts of the sky and flying machines, tanks, submarines, the Mona Lisa, and the Last Supper. And curiosity finally compelled him to seek the underpinnings of human sexuality and the anatomy of sexual intercourse. For years, Leonardo da Vinci had studied human anatomy— patiently slicing through skin and muscle, bone and viscera, cracking skulls and puncturing eyeballs—undressing the dead in the most intimate of ways. On top of that, he was a meticulous observer. Nothing escaped his attention. By the low lights of his candles he drew each of his dissections and made careful notes in the pages of his notebooks— every tendon, every fascia, each nerve found its way there. In his work he was methodical, meticulous, nearly maniacal in his search for the A Brief History of Sex 13 truth. He knew human bodies like few others. Leonardo’s anatomical drawings rank among the most beautiful ever made. Leonardo’s lifetime of work led him to envision a great treatise on the nature of human beings—a book that would place him alongside Galen as one of the greatest anatomists of all time, a book that would lay the lives of men and women open like tapestries colored only by the fluids that make us human. This book would begin with the intricacies of human sex and the moment of human conception; after all, this was where each life began. Then he would work his way through the complexities of life in the womb, a human birth, a child, a man, a woman, each with all the nerves and muscles and bones and blood vessels. The book would end, as each of us does, in the contradictions of old age and the wrinkled face of death. It would be the culmination of his life’s work.3 Leonardo da Vinci would have his great book, and it would open with something no one had ever seen or even attempted before. Inside his studio, Leonardo began to sketch. A man he had known, perhaps, or maybe all the men he had known took shape beneath his fingers as he worked across the page. But not a whole man. Instead Leonardo laid out for our inspection a man cut, from skull tip to scrotum, in half. Once he had the man’s outline in place, Leonardo’s hand pulled out the shape of a heavy-breasted woman, headless and split like a gourd from pubis to clavicle. Spines and hearts, bones and brains fell onto the page. Muscles took shape and backs stiffened. The last part must have presented a particular challenge. Penises he could draw, he’d seen dozens, even in cross-section, and vaginas as well. But he had never seen this moment as an anatomist, from the inside. He was curious, though. He added the erect penis, opened the vagina slightly, and pulled the two together. “I expose to men the origin of their first, and perhaps second, reason for existing.”4 With those tantalizing words Leonardo unveiled one of his now lesser-known drawings: The Copulation, a large, elaborate sketch of a man and a woman engaged in the most essential union of humankind—sexual intercourse. Though Leonardo surely wasn’t the first to wonder what sex might look like, he was the first, so far as I know, to draw in such detail two humans so intimately coupled. Curiously, the part he knew least about 14 Between XX and XY is the part he got most nearly right, or so it seems from our present perspective. The union of the man and the woman—the part he wrought from his imagination—lies mostly correct upon his page. The man’s penis falls nearly where it should within the woman’s vagina. The shape and placement are off a little, but not by much. The depth of penetration, the placement of the organs, and the angles of the bodies all are nearly correct. But the part Leonardo knew, or should have known most fully—the simple truths of human anatomy—is rich with errors. From the woman’s uterus, a duct extends into her abdomen, passes through her chest, and ends inside the nipple of a single breast. To modern-day anatomists it seems no such duct exists. In the man, another duct extends from the penis and reaches, via the spinal cord, to the brain. People have speculated that Leonardo put it there to carry sperm from its birthplace, which he believed was inside a man’s brain, and deliver it at just the right moment to the tip of his penis. The man’s penis contains two tubes—one apparently for urine, the other for sperm. Of course, many have proposed a direct connection between a man’s penis and his brain, but neither of these ducts appears in modern anatomical drawings. Sperm comes from the testicles, not the brain, and a single tube carries both sperm and urine, though not simultaneously, through the shaft of the penis. Finally, in Leonardo’s rendering there is another tube, a blood vessel perhaps, that runs directly from the penis and scrotum to the heart. Possibly he put it there to The Copulation: a sketch by Leonardo pro...
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