The Ten Books on Architecture, 3.1

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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Of the Design and Symmetry of Temples

1The design of Temples depends on symmetry, the rules of which Architects should be most careful to observe. Symmetry arises from proportion, which the Greeks call ἀναλογία. Proportion is a due adjustment of the size of the different parts to each other and to the whole; on this proper adjustment symmetry depends. Hence no building can be said to be well designed which wants symmetry and proportion. In truth they are as necessary to the beauty of a building as to that of a well formed human figure,

2which nature has so fashioned, that in the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead, or to the roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the height of the whole body. From the chin to the crown of the head is an eighth part of the whole height, and from the nape of the neck to the crown of the head the same. From the upper part of the breast to the roots of the hair a sixth; to the crown of the head a fourth. A third part of the height of the face is equal to that from the chin to the under side of the nostrils, and thence to the middle of the eyebrows the same; from the last to the roots of the hair, where the forehead ends, the remaining third part. The length of the foot is a sixth part of the height of the body. The fore-arm a fourth part. The width of the breast a fourth part. Similarly have the other members their due proportions, by attention to which the ancient Painters and Sculptors obtained so much reputation.

3Just so the parts of Temples should correspond with each other, and with the whole. The navel is naturally placed in the centre of the human body, and, if in a man lying with his face upward, and his hands and feet extended, from his navel as the centre, a circle be described, it will touch his fingers and toes. It is not alone by a circle, that the human body is thus circumscribed, as may be seen by placing it within a square. For measuring from the feet to the crown of the head, and then across the arms fully extended, we find the latter measure equal to the former; so that lines at right angles to each other, enclosing the figure, will form a square.

4If Nature, therefore, has made the human body so that the different members of it are measures of the whole, so the ancients have, with great propriety, determined that in all perfect works, each part should be some aliquot part of the whole; and since they direct, that this be observed in all works, it must be most strictly attended to in temples of the gods, wherein the faults as well as the beauties remain to the end of time.

5It is worthy of remark, that the measures necessarily used in all buildings and other works, are derived from the members of the human body, as the digit, the palm, the foot, the cubit, and that these form a perfect number, called by the Greeks τέλειος. The ancients considered ten a perfect number, because the fingers are ten in number, and the palm is derived from them, and from the palm is derived the foot. Plato, therefore, called ten a perfect number, Nature having formed the hands with ten fingers, and also because it is composed of units called μονάδες in Greek, which also advancing beyond ten, as to eleven, twelve, &c. cannot be perfect until another ten are included, units being the parts whereof such numbers are composed.

6The mathematicians, on the other hand, contend for the perfection of the number six, because, according to their reasoning, its divisors equal its number: for a sixth part is one, a third two, a half three, two-thirds four, which they call δίμοιρος; the fifth in order, which they call πεντάμοιρος, five, and then the perfect number six. When it advances beyond that, a sixth being added, which is called ἔφεκτος, we have the number seven. Eight are formed by adding a third, called triens, and by the Greeks, ἐπίτριτος. Nine are formed by the addition of a half, and thence called sesquialteral; by the Greeks ἡμιόλιος; if we add the two aliquot parts of it, which form ten, it is called bes alterus, or in Greek ἐπιδίμοιρος. The number eleven, being compounded of the original number, and the fifth in order is called ἐπιπεντάμοιρος. The number twelve, being the sum of the two simple numbers, is called διπλασίων.

7Moreover, as the foot is the sixth part of a man’s height, they contend, that this number, namely six, the number of feet in height, is perfect: the cubit, also, being six palms, consequently consists of twenty-four digits. Hence the states of Greece appear to have divided the drachma, like the cubit, that is into six parts, which were small equal sized pieces of brass, similar to the asses, which they called oboli; and, in imitation of the twenty-four digits, they divided the obolus into four parts, which some call dichalca, others trichalca.

8Our ancestors, however, were better pleased with the number ten, and hence made the denarius to consist of ten brass asses, and the money to this day retains the name of denarius. The sestertius, a fourth part of a denarius, was so called, because composed of two asses, and the half of another. Thus finding the numbers six and ten perfect, they added them together, and formed sixteen, a still more perfect number. The foot measure gave rise to this, for subtracting two palms from the cubit, four remain, which is the length of a foot; and as each palm contains four digits, the foot will consequently contain sixteen, so the denarius was made to contain an equal number of asses.

9If it therefore appear, that numbers had their origin from the human body, and proportion is the result of a due adjustment of the different parts to each other, and to the whole, they are especially to be commended, who, in designing temples to the gods, so arrange the parts that the whole may harmonize in their proportions and symmetry.

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