The Ten Books on Architecture, 1.1

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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What Architecture Is: And of the Education of an Architect

1Architecture is a science arising out of many other sciences, and adorned with much and varied learning; by the help of which a judgment is formed of those works which are the result of other arts. Practice and theory are its parents. Practice is the frequent and continued contemplation of the mode of executing any given work, or of the mere operation of the hands, for the conversion of the material in the best and readiest way. Theory is the result of that reasoning which demonstrates and explains that the material wrought has been so converted as to answer the end proposed.

2Wherefore the mere practical architect is not able to assign sufficient reasons for the forms he adopts; and the theoretic architect also fails, grasping the shadow instead of the substance. He who is theoretic as well as practical, is therefore doubly armed; able not only to prove the propriety of his design, but equally so to carry it into execution.

3In architecture, as in other arts, two considerations must be constantly kept in view; namely, the intention, and the matter used to express that intention: but the intention is founded on a conviction that the matter wrought will fully suit the purpose; he, therefore, who is not familiar with both branches of the art, has no pretension to the title of architect. An architect should be ingenious, and apt in the acquisition of knowledge. Deficient in either of these qualities, he cannot be a perfect master. He should be a good writer, a skilful draftsman, versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed on the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the sciences both of law and physic, nor of the motions, laws, and relations to each other, of the heavenly bodies.

4By means of the first named acquirement, he is to commit to writing his observations and experience, in order to assist his memory. Drawing is employed in representing the forms of his designs. Geometry affords much aid to the architect: to it he owes the use of the right line and circle, the level and the square; whereby his delineations of buildings on plane surfaces are greatly facilitated. The science of optics enables him to introduce with judgment the requisite quantity of light, according to the aspect. Arithmetic estimates the cost, and aids in the measurement of the works; this, assisted by the laws of geometry, determines those abstruse questions, wherein the different proportions of some parts to others are involved.

5Unless acquainted with history, he will be unable to account for the use of many ornaments which he may have occasion to introduce. For instance; should any one wish for information on the origin of those draped matronal figures crowned with a mutulus and cornice, called Caryatides, he will explain it by the following history. Carya, a city of Peloponnesus, joined the Persians in their war against the Greeks. These in return for the treachery, after having freed themselves by a most glorious victory from the intended Persian yoke, unanimously resolved to levy war against the Caryans. Carya was, in consequence, taken and destroyed, its male population extinguished, and its matrons carried into slavery. That these circumstances might be better remembered, and the nature of the triumph perpetuated, the victors represented them draped, and apparently suffering under the burthen with which they were loaded, to expiate the crime of their native city. Thus, in their edifices, did the antient architects, by the use of these statues, hand down to posterity a memorial of the crime of the Caryans.

6Again; a small number of Lacedæmonians, under the command of Pausanias, the son of Cleombrotus, overthrew the prodigious army of the Persians at the battle of Platea. After a triumphal exhibition of the spoil and booty, the proceeds of the valour and devotion of the victors were applied by the government in the erection of the Persian portico; and, as an appropriate monument of the victory, and a trophy for the admiration of posterity, its roof was supported by statues of the barbarians, in their magnificent costume; indicating, at the same time the merited contempt due to their haughty projects, intimidating their enemies by fear of their courage, and acting as a stimulus to their fellow countrymen to be always in readiness for the defence of the nation. This is the origin of the Persian order for the support of an entablature; an invention which has enriched many a design with the singular variety it exhibits. Many other matters of history have a connexion with architecture, and prove the necessity of its professors being well versed in it.

7Moral philosophy will teach the architect to be above meanness in his dealings, and to avoid arrogance: it will make him just, compliant and faithful to his employer; and what is of the highest importance, it will prevent avarice gaining an ascendancy over him: for he should not be occupied with the thoughts of filling his coffers, nor with the desire of grasping every thing in the shape of gain, but, by the gravity of his manners, and a good character, should be careful to preserve his dignity. In these respects we see the importance of moral philosophy; for such are her precepts. That branch of philosophy which the Greeks call φυσιολογία, or the doctrine of physics, is necessary to him in the solution of various problems; as for instance, in the conduct of water, whose natural force, in its meandering and expansion over flat countries, is often such as to require restraints, which none know how to apply, but those who are acquainted with the laws of nature: nor, indeed, unless grounded in the first principles of physic, can he study with profit the works of Ctesibius, Archimedes, and many other authors who have written on the subject.

8Music assists him in the use of harmonic and mathematical proportion. It is, moreover, absolutely necessary in adjusting the force of the balistæ, catapultæ, and scorpions, in whose frames are holes for the passage of the homotona, which are strained by gut-ropes attached to windlasses worked by hand-spikes. Unless these ropes are equally extended, which only a nice ear can discover by their sound when struck, the bent arms of the engine do not give an equal impetus when disengaged, and the strings, therefore, not being in equal states of tension, prevent the direct flight of the weapon.

9So the vessels called ἠχεῖα by the Greeks, which are placed in certain recesses under the seats of theatres, are fixed and arranged with a due regard to the laws of harmony and physics, their tones being fourths, fifths, and octaves; so that when the voice of the actor is in unison with the pitch of these instruments, its power is increased and mellowed by impinging thereon. He would, moreover, be at a loss in constructing hydraulic and other engines, if ignorant of music.

10Skill in physic enables him to ascertain the salubrity of different tracts of country, and to determine the variation of climates, which the Greeks call κλίματα: for the air and water of different situations, being matters of the highest importance, no building will be healthy without attention to those points. Law should be an object of his study, especially those parts of it which relate to party-walls, to the free course and discharge of the eaves’ waters, the regulations of sesspools and sewage, and those relating to window lights. The laws of sewage require his particular attention, that he may prevent his employers being involved in law-suits when the building is finished. Contracts, also, for the execution of the works, should be drawn with care and precision: because, when without legal flaws, neither party will be able to take advantage of the other. Astronomy instructs him in the points of the heavens, the laws of the celestial bodies, the equinoxes, solstices, and courses of the stars; all of which should be well understood, in the construction and proportions of clocks.

11Since, therefore, this art is founded upon and adorned with so many different sciences, I am of opinion that those who have not, from their early youth, gradually climbed up to the summit, cannot, without presumption, call themselves masters of it.

12Perhaps, to the uninformed, it may appear unaccountable that a man should be able to retain in his memory such a variety of learning; but the close alliance with each other, of the different branches of science, will explain the difficulty. For as a body is composed of various concordant members, so does the whole circle of learning consist in one harmonious system. Wherefore those, who from an early age are initiated in the different branches of learning, have a facility in acquiring some knowledge of all, from their common connexion with each other. On this account Pythius, one of the antients, architect of the noble temple of Minerva at Priene, says, in his commentaries, that an architect should have that perfect knowledge of each art and science which is not even acquired by the professors of any one in particular, who have had every opportunity of improving themselves in it. This, however, cannot be necessary;

13for how can it be expected that an architect should equal Aristarchus as a grammarian, yet should he not be ignorant of grammar. In music, though it be evident he need not equal Aristoxenus, yet he should know something of it. Though he need not excel, as Apelles, in painting, nor as Myron or Polycletus, in sculpture, yet he should have attained some proficiency in these arts. So, in the science of medicine, it is not required that he should equal Hippocrates. Thus also, in other sciences, it is not important that pre-eminence in each be gained, but he must not, however, be ignorant of the general principles of each. For in such a variety of matters, it cannot be supposed that the same person can arrive at excellence in each, since to be aware of their several niceties and bearings, cannot fall within his power.

14We see how few of those who profess a particular art arrive at perfection in it, so as to distinguish themselves: hence, if but few of those practising an individual art, obtain lasting fame, how should the architect, who is required to have a knowledge of so many, be deficient in none of them, and even excel those who have professed any one exclusively.

15Wherefore Pythius seems to have been in error, forgetting that art consists in practice and theory. Theory is common to, and may be known by all, but the result of practice occurs to the artist in his own art only. The physician and musician are each obliged to have some regard to the beating of the pulse, and the motion of the feet, but who would apply to the latter to heal a wound or cure a malady? so, without the aid of the former, the musician affects the ears of his audience by modulations upon his instrument.

16The astronomer and musician delight in similar proportions, for the positions of the stars, which are quartile and trine, answer to a fourth and fifth in harmony. The same analogy holds in that branch of geometry which the Greeks call λόγος ὀπτικὸς: indeed, throughout the whole range of art, there are many incidents common to all. Practice alone can lead to excellence in any one: that architect, therefore, is sufficiently educated, whose general knowledge enables him to give his opinion on any branch when required to do so.

17Those unto whom nature has been so bountiful that they are at once geometricians, astronomers, musicians, and skilled in many other arts, go beyond what is required of the architect, and may be properly called mathematicians, in the extended sense of that word. Men so gifted, discriminate acutely, and are rarely met with. Such, however, was Aristarchus of Samos, Philolaus and Archytas of Tarentum, Apollonius of Perga, Eratosthenes of Cyrene, Archimedes and Scopinas of Syracuse: each of whom wrote on all the sciences.

18Since, therefore, few men are thus gifted, and yet it is required of the architect to be generally well informed, and it is manifest he cannot hope to excel in each art, I beseech you, O Cæsar, and those who read this my work, to pardon and overlook grammatical errors; for I write neither as an accomplished philosopher, an eloquent rhetorician, nor an expert grammarian, but as an architect: in respect, however, of my art and its principles, I will lay down rules which may serve as an authority to those who build, as well as to those who are already somewhat acquainted with the science.

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