The Ten Books on Architecture, 6.7

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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The Greek House

7The Greeks, having no use for atriums, do not build them, but make passage-ways for people entering from the front door, not very wide, with stables on one side and doorkeepers’ rooms on the other, and shut off by doors at the inner end. This place between the two doors is termed in Greek θυρωρειον. From it one enters the peristyle. This peristyle has colonnades on three sides, and on the side facing the south it has two antae, a considerable distance apart, carrying an architrave, with a recess for a distance one third less than the space between the antae. This space is called by some writers “prostas,” by others “pastas.”

2Hereabouts, towards the inner side, are the large rooms in which mistresses of houses sit with their wool-spinners. To the right and left of the prostas there are chambers, one of which is called the “thalamos,” the other the “amphithalamos.” All round the colonnades are dining rooms for everyday use, chambers, and rooms for the slaves. This part of the house is termed “gynaeconitis.”

3In connexion with these there are ampler sets of apartments with more sumptuous peristyles, surrounded by four colonnades of equal height, or else the one which faces the south has higher columns than the others. A peristyle that has one such higher colonnade is called a Rhodian peristyle. Such apartments have fine entrance courts with imposing front doors of their own; the colonnades of the peristyles are decorated with polished stucco in relief and plain, and with coffered ceilings of woodwork; off the colonnades that face the north they have Cyzicene dining rooms and picture galleries; to the east, libraries; exedrae to the west; and to the south, large square rooms of such generous dimensions that four sets of dining couches can easily be arranged in them, with plenty of room for serving and for the amusements.

4Men’s dinner parties are held in these large rooms; for it was not the practice, according to Greek custom, for the mistress of the house to be present. On the contrary, such peristyles are called the men’s apartments, since in them the men can stay without interruption from the women. Furthermore, small sets of apartments are built to the right and left, with front doors of their own and suitable dining rooms and chambers, so that guests from abroad need not be shown into the peristyles, but rather into such guests’ apartments. For when the Greeks became more luxurious, and their circumstances more opulent, they began to provide dining rooms, chambers, and store-rooms of provisions for their guests from abroad, and on the first day they would invite them to dinner, sending them on the next chickens, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and other country produce. This is why artists called pictures representing the things which were sent to guests “xenia.” Thus, too, the heads of families, while being entertained abroad, had the feeling that they were not away from home, since they enjoyed privacy and freedom in such guests’ apartments.

5Between the two peristyles and the guests’ apartments are the passage-ways called “mesauloe,” because they are situated midway between two courts; but our people called them “andrones.”

This, however, is a very strange fact, for the term does not fit either the Greek or the Latin use of it. The Greeks call the large rooms in which men’s dinner parties are usually held ἁνδρωνεϛ, because women do not go there. There are other similar instances as in the case of “xystus,” “prothyrum,” “telamones,” and some others of the sort. As a Greek term, ξνστὁς means a colonnade of large dimensions in which athletes exercise in the winter time. But our people apply the term “xysta” to uncovered walks, which the Greeks call παραδρομἱδες. Again, πρὁθυρα means in Greek the entrance courts before the front doors; we, however, use the term “prothyra” in the sense of the Greek διἁθυρα.

6Again, figures in the form of men supporting mutules or coronae, we term “telamones”—the reasons why or wherefore they are so called are not found in any story—but the Greeks name them ἁτλανες. For Atlas is described in story as holding up the firmament because, through his vigorous intelligence and ingenuity, he was the first to cause men to be taught about the courses of the sun and moon, and the laws governing the revolutions of all the constellations. Consequently, in recognition of this benefaction, painters and sculptors represent him as holding up the firmament, and the Atlantides, his daughters, whom we call “Vergiliae” and the Greeks Πλειἁδες, are consecrated in the firmament among the constellations.

7All this, however, I have not set forth for the purpose of changing the usual terminology or language, but I have thought that it should be explained so that it may be known to scholars.

I have now explained the usual ways of planning houses both in the Italian fashion and according to the practices of the Greeks, and have described, with regard to their symmetry, the proportions of the different classes. Having, therefore, already written of their beauty and propriety, I shall next explain, with reference to durability, how they may be built to last to a great age without defects.

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