The Ten Books on Architecture, 5.8

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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Acoustics of the Site of a Theatre

8All this having been settled with the greatest pains and skill, we must see to it, with still greater care, that a site has been selected where the voice has a gentle fall, and is not driven back with a recoil so as to convey an indistinct meaning to the ear. There are some places which from their very nature interfere with the course of the voice, as for instance the dissonant, which are termed in Greek κατηχουντεϛ; the circumsonant, which with them are named περιηχουντες; again the resonant, which are termed ἁντηχουντες; and the consonant, which they call συνηχουντες. The dissonant are those places in which the first sound uttered that is carried up high, strikes against solid bodies above, and, being driven back, checks as it sinks to the bottom the rise of the succeeding sound.

2The circumsonant are those in which the voice spreads all round, and then is forced into the middle, where it dissolves, the case-endings are not heard, and it dies away there in sounds of indistinct meaning. The resonant are those in which it comes into contact with some solid substance and recoils, thus producing an echo, and making the terminations of cases sound double. The consonant are those in which it is supported from below, increases as it goes up, and reaches the ears in words which are distinct and clear in tone. Hence, if there has been careful attention in the selection of the site, the effect of the voice will, through this precaution, be perfectly suited to the purposes of a theatre.

The drawings of the plans may be distinguished from each other by this difference, that theatres designed from squares are meant to be used by Greeks, while Roman theatres are designed from equilateral triangles. Whoever is willing to follow these directions will be able to construct perfectly correct theatres.

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