Da Vinci: father of cryptography?

Wednesday, 16 April 2003, 12:29 PM EST

Ever looked at the Mona Lisa and wondered why he's got such a goofy grin? Yes, we do mean he.

Evidently, Mona isn't quite the woman art historians thought she was. But only those who know the secret code can look at Leonardo Da Vinci's famous portrait and see the happy hermaphrodite that lurks within.

Dan Brown's latest novel, The Da Vinci Code, published by Doubleday Books, is about the famous Renaissance artist and the oblique references to the occult contained in his equally famous paintings. It's also about ancient secret societies, modern forensics, science and engineering, and the history of religion.

Most of all The Da Vinci Code is about the history of encryption -- the many methods developed over time to keep private information from prying eyes.

The novel begins with Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receiving an urgent late-night phone call: The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum.

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