The Ten Books on Architecture, 6.0

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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prAristippus, the Socratic philosopher, shipwrecked on the coast of Rhodes, perceiving some geometrical diagrams thereon, is reported to have exclaimed to his companions, “Be of good courage, I see marks of civilization:” and straightway making for the city of Rhodes, he arrived at the Gymnasium; where, disputing on philosophical subjects, he obtained such honours, that he not only provided for himself, but furnished clothing and food to his companions. When his companions had completed their arrangements for returning home, and asked what message he wished to send to his friends, he desired them to say: that the possessions and provision to be made for children should be those which can be preserved in case of shipwreck;

2inasmuch as those things are the real supports of life which the chances of fortune, the changes of public affairs, and the devastation of war, cannot injure. Thus, also, Theophrastus, following up the sentiment that the learned ought to be more honoured than the rich, says, “that the learned man is the only person who is not a stranger in foreign countries, nor friendless when he has lost his relations; but that in every state he is a citizen, and that he can look upon a change of fortune without fear. But he who thinks himself secured by the aid of wealth, and not of learning, treads on slippery ground, and leads an unstable and insecure life.”

3Epicurus also says, that fortune is of little assistance to the wise, since all that is of consequence or necessary may be obtained by the exercise of the mind and understanding. The poets, not less than the philosophers, have argued in this way; and those who formerly wrote the Greek comedies delivered the same sentiments in verse; as Euchrates, Chionides, Aristophanes, and, above all, Alexis, who said, that the Athenians deserved particular commendation, since, inasmuch as the laws of all the Greeks make it imperative on children to support their parents, those of the Athenians are only obligatory on those children who have been instructed, by the care of their parents, in some art. Such as possess the gifts of fortune are easily deprived of them: but when learning is once fixed in the mind, no age removes it, nor is its stability affected during the whole course of life.

4I therefore feel myself under infinite obligations, and am grateful to my parents, who, adopting the practice of the Athenians, took care that I should be taught an art, and one of such a nature that it cannot be practised without learning and a general knowledge of the sciences. Since, then, by my parents’ care, and by the instruction of masters, I had the means afforded me of acquiring knowledge, and was naturally delighted with literary and philosophical subjects, I laid up those stores in my mind, from the use of which I enjoy the advantage of wanting no more, and the value of riches consists in having nothing to wish for. But some thinking, perhaps, lightly of these things, suppose those only are wise who have plenty of money. Hence, many, aiming at that end alone, have, by the aid of their assurance, acquired notoriety from their riches.

5But I, Cæsar, have not sought to amass wealth by the practice of my art, having been rather contented with a small fortune and reputation, than desirous of abundance accompanied by a want of reputation. It is true that I have acquired but little; yet I still hope, by this publication, to become known to posterity. Neither is it wonderful that I am known but to a few. Other architects canvass, and go about soliciting employment, but my preceptors instilled into me a sense of the propriety of being requested, and not of requesting, to be entrusted, inasmuch the ingenuous man will blush and feel shame in asking a favour; for the givers of a favour and not the receivers, are courted. What must he suspect who is solicited by another to be entrusted with the expenditure of his money, but that it is done for the sake of gain and emolument.

6Hence the antients entrusted their works to those architects only who were of good family and well brought up; thinking it better to trust the modest, than the bold and arrogant, man. These artists only instructed their own children or relations, having regard to their integrity, so that property might be safely committed to their charge. When, therefore, I see this noble science in the hands of the unlearned and unskilful, of men not only ignorant of architecture, but of every thing relative to buildings, I cannot blame proprietors, who, relying on their own intelligence, are their own architects; since, if the business is to be conducted by the unskilful, there is at least more satisfaction in laying out money at one’s own pleasure, rather than at that of another person.

7No one thinks of practising at home any art (as that of a shoemaker or fuller, for instance, or others yet easier) except that of an architect; and that because many who profess the art are not really skilled in it, but are falsely called architects. These things have induced me to compose a treatise on architecture and its principles, under an idea that it would be acceptable to all persons. As in the fifth book I treated on the construction of public works, I shall in this explain the arrangement and symmetry of private buildings.

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