The Ten Books on Architecture, 3.0

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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prThe Delphic Apollo, by the answer of his priestess, declared Socrates the wisest of men. Of him it is said he sagaciously observed that it had been well if men’s breasts were open, and, as it were, with windows in them, so that every one might be acquainted with their sentiments. Would to God they had been so formed. We might then not only find out the virtues and vices of persons with facility, but, being also enabled to obtain ocular knowledge of the science they profess, we might judge of their skill with certainty; whereby those who are really clever and learned would be held in proper esteem. But as nature has not formed us after this fashion, the talents of many men lie concealed within them, and this renders it so difficult to lay down an accurate theory of any art. However an artist may promise to exert his talents, if he have not either plenty of money, or a good connexion from his situation in life; or if he be not gifted with a good address or considerable eloquence, his study and application will go but little way to persuade persons that he is a competent artist.

2We find a corroboration of this by reference to the ancient Sculptors and Painters, among whom, those who obtained the greatest fame and applause are still living in the remembrance of posterity; such, for instance, as Myron, Polycletus, Phidias, Lysippus, and others who obtained celebrity in their art. This arose from their being employed by great cities, by kings, or by wealthy citizens. Now others, who, not less studious of their art, nor less endued with great genius and skill, did not enjoy equal fame, because employed by persons of lower rank and of slenderer means, and not from their unskilfulness, seem to have been deserted by fortune; such were Hellas the Athenian, Chion of Corinth, Myagrus the Phocæan, Pharax the Ephesian, Bedas of Byzantium, and many more; among the Painters, Aristomenes of Thasos, Polycles of Adramyttium, Nicomachus and others, who were wanting neither in industry, study of their art, nor talent. But their poverty, the waywardness of fortune, or their ill success in competition with others, prevented their advancement.

3Nor can we wonder that from the ignorance of the public in respect of art many skilful artists remain in obscurity; but it is scandalous that friendship and connexion should lead men, for their sake, to give partial and untrue opinions. If, as Socrates would have had it, every one’s feelings, opinions, and information in science could be open to view, neither favor nor ambition would prevail, but those, who by study and great learning acquire the greatest knowledge, would be eagerly sought after. Matters are not however in this state as they ought to be, the ignorant rather than the learned being successful, and as it is never worth while to dispute with an ignorant man, I propose to shew in these precepts the excellence of the science I profess.

4In the first book, O Emperor, I laid before you an explanation of the art, its requisites, and the learning an architect should possess, and I added the reasons why he should possess them. I also divided it into different branches and defined them: then, because chiefest and most necessary, I have explained the proper method of setting out the walls of a city, and obtaining a healthy site for it, and have exhibited in diagrams, the winds, and quarters whence they blow. I have shewn the best methods of laying out the streets and lanes, and thus completed the first book. In the second book I have analysed the nature and qualities of the materials used in building, and adverted to the purposes to which they are best adapted. In this third book I shall speak of the sacred temples of the immortal gods, and explain them particularly.

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