The Ten Books on Architecture, 2.0

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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prDinocrates the architect, relying on the powers of his skill and ingenuity, whilst Alexander was in the midst of his conquests, set out from Macedonia to the army, desirous of gaining the commendation of his sovereign. That his introduction to the royal presence might be facilitated, he obtained letters from his countrymen and relations to men of the first rank and nobility about the king’s person; by whom being kindly received, he besought them to take the earliest opportunity of accomplishing his wish. They promised fairly, but were slow in performing; waiting, as they alleged, for a proper occasion. Thinking, however, they deferred this without just grounds, he took his own course for the object he had in view. He was, I should state, a man of tall stature, pleasing countenance, and altogether of dignified appearance. Trusting to the gifts with which nature had thus endowed him, he put off his ordinary clothing, and having anointed himself with oil, crowned his head with a wreath of poplar, slung a lion’s skin across his left shoulder, and carrying a large club in his right hand, he sallied forth to the royal tribunal, at a period when the king was dispensing justice.

2The novelty of his appearance excited the attention of the people; and Alexander soon discovering, with astonishment, the object of their curiosity, ordered the crowd to make way for him, and demanded to know who he was. “A Macedonian architect,” replied Dinocrates, “who suggests schemes and designs worthy your royal renown. I propose to form Mount Athos into the statue of a man holding a spacious city in his left hand, and in his right a huge cup, into which shall be collected all the streams of the mountain, which shall thence be poured into the sea.”

3Alexander, delighted at the proposition, made immediate inquiry if the soil of the neighbourhood were of a quality capable of yielding sufficient produce for such a state. When, however, he found that all its supplies must be furnished by sea, he thus addressed Dinocrates: “I admire the grand outline of your scheme, and am well pleased with it: but I am of opinion he would be much to blame who planted a colony on such a spot. For as an infant is nourished by the milk of its mother, depending thereon for its progress to maturity, so a city depends on the fertility of the country surrounding it for its riches, its strength in population, and not less for its defence against an enemy. Though your plan might be carried into execution, yet I think it impolitic. I nevertheless request your attendance on me, that I may otherwise avail myself of your ingenuity.”

4From that time Dinocrates was in constant attendance on the king, and followed him into Egypt; where Alexander having perceived a spot, at the same time naturally strong, the centre of the commerce of the country, a land abounding with corn, and having those facilities of transport which the Nile afforded, ordered Dinocrates to build a city whose name should be Alexandria. Dinocrates obtained this honour through his comely person and dignified deportment. But to me, Emperor, nature hath denied an ample stature; my face is wrinkled with age, and sickness has impaired my constitution. Deprived of these natural accomplishments, I hope, however, to gain some commendation through the aid of my scientific acquirements, and the precepts I shall deliver.

5In the first book I have treated of architecture, and the parts into which it is divided; of the walls of a city, and the division of the space within the walls. The directions for the construction of sacred buildings, their proportions and symmetry, will follow and be explained: but I think they will be out of place, unless I previously give an account of the materials and workmanship used in their erection, together with an investigation of their several properties and application in different cases. Even this I must preface with an inquiry into the origin and various species of the earliest buildings, and their gradual advance to perfection. In this I shall follow the steps of Nature herself, and those who have written on the progress from savage to civilized life, and the inventions consequent on the latter state of society. Thus guided, I will proceed.

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