Note To A Classicist, For The Day When He May Seek Employment

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

We are midway or more through the summer, when interns are most commonly in our midst. Normally, but not always, they are enrolled for the other nine months of the year either in undergraduate or graduate programs of just about every conceivable variety. And within a year or two of their internship they will seek employment. So we encourage them to contribute to this blog in part to practice their communication skills for when that day comes; this post in the Atlantic caught our attention for that reason, so we pass it on especially to our interns.

And to one more than the others, which seems fair in this case. As noted earlier, one of our adventurers in Costa Rica is headed soon to Cambridge, MA (USA) to enter a doctoral program in Classics. He will not likely seek employment, gainful or otherwise, for some years to come.  But when that day does come, this reference may come in handy, from one of the class classic acts of all time:

Selling yourself often feels like a grotesque act. So job applicants’ cover letters seem unlikely to contain much great prose. Instead, we tend to fill the page with false notes and empty phrases. (“I believe my skills make me the ideal candidate, and I would appreciate your consideration…”)

But it doesn’t have to be that way. When a 30-something Leonardo da Vinci sought work in the court of the duke of Milan in the 1480s, he wrote a short, bulleted list of ten skills that would have been sure to catch the eye of any Renaissance-era ruler: he could design portable, indestructible bridges; build unassailable vehicles; destroy most fortresses; and so on. (He also could “execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay,” and wasn’t so bad with a paintbrush, either.) His letter was brisk, convincing, and a pleasure to read…

Da Vinci’s letter to the ruler of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, overwhelms the reader’s defenses with details of his war-waging abilities, from constructing secret subterranean passageways to designing “very beautiful” cannons and catapults:

1. I have plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges with which to pursue and, on some occasions, flee the enemy, and others, sturdy and indestructible either by fire or in battle, easy and convenient to lift and place in position. Also means of burning and destroying those of the enemy.


4. I have also types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm; and the smoke from the cannon will instil a great fear in the enemy on account of the grave damage and confusion…

The rest of the post is worth a read to, for interns, classicist and otherwise.

4 thoughts on “Note To A Classicist, For The Day When He May Seek Employment

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