The Ten Books on Architecture, 7.0

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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prThe antients by means of writing established the wise and useful practice of handing down to posterity their sentiments on different subjects, so that not only those might not be lost, but that by their works continually increasing, a gradual advancement might be made to the highest point of learning. Our obligations to them therefore are great and many, from their not having sullenly kept their knowledge to themselves, but on the contrary, having recorded their opinions on every subject.

2Had they omitted to do this, we should not have known what happened in Troy, nor the sentiments of Thales, Democritus, Anaxagoras, Xenophanes, and other physiologists respecting the nature of things; nor the system of ethics laid down by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, and other philosophers. Of the actions of Croesus, Alexander, Darius, and other kings, and the principles on which they acted, we should have been uninformed, unless the antients had handed them down to posterity in their writings.

3As we are indebted to these, so we are on the contrary bound to censure those, who, borrowing from others, publish as their own that of which they are not the authors; not less are they censurable, who, distorting the meaning of an author, glory in their perversion of it; indeed they deserve punishment for their dishonest conduct. It is said that this practice was strictly punished by the antients; I do not therefore think it foreign to the purpose to relate from history the result of some examples made by them.

4The Attalic kings, stimulated by their great love for philology, having established an excellent public library at Pergamus, Ptolemy, actuated by zeal and great desire for the furtherance of learning, collected with no less care, a similar one for the same purpose at Alexandria, about the same period. When by dint of great labour he had completed it, he was not satisfied, unless, like the seed of the earth, it was to go on increasing. He therefore instituted games to the Muses and Apollo, and in imitation of those in which wrestlers contended, he decreed rewards and honors to the victorious in literature.

5These being established, when the time of the games arrived, learned judges were to be selected for the decisions. The king having chosen six, and not readily finding a seventh, applied to those persons who had the care of the library, to ascertain whether they knew any one fit for the purpose. They told him that there was a certain man named Aristophanes, who with great labour and application was day after day reading through the books in the library. At the celebration of the games, Aristophanes was summoned and took his seat among those allotted for the judges.

6The first that contended were the poets, who recited their compositions, and the people unanimously signified to the judges the piece which they preferred. When the judges were required to decide, six of them agreed to award the first prize to him who had most pleased the multitude, and the second prize to some other candidate. The opinion of Aristophanes being required, he observed that the best poet had pleased the people the least.

7The king and the whole multitude expressed their great indignation at this opinion, but he rose and besought that they would allow him to speak. Silence being obtained, he told them that one only of the competitors was a poet, that the others had recited other men’s compositions, and that the judges ought not to decide upon thefts but upon compositions. The people were astonished, and the king in doubt; but Aristophanes relying on his memory, quoted a vast number of books on certain shelves in the library, and comparing them with what had been recited, made the writers confess that they had stolen from them. The king then ordered them to be proceeded against for the theft, and after their condemnation dismissed them with ignominy. Aristophanes, however, was honoured with great rewards, and appointed librarian.

8Some time afterwards Zoilus of Macedonia, who assumed the cognomen of Homeromastix, came to Alexandria, and recited before the king his compositions in derogation of the Iliad and Odyssey. When Ptolemy perceived that the father of poetry and all philology, whose works are in esteem throughout all nations, was, because out of the reach of reply, abused by this man, he was enraged and did not deign to answer him. Zoilus, however, remaining some time longer in the country, oppressed with poverty, besought the king to bestow something on him.

9The king is said to have answered, that Homer, who had been dead more than a thousand years, had been the means during that period of affording a livelihood to thousands; that he, therefore, who boasted that he possessed greater talent, ought to be able to support, not only himself, but many other persons. Having been condemned as a parricide, his death is variously related. Some have written that he was crucified by Philadelphus, some that he was stoned at Chios, others that he was burnt alive at Smyrna. Whichever of these circumstances occurred he richly deserved it, for that person does not seem to have merited a better fate, who reflects on those that are beyond the reach of hearing and explaining what is said of their writings.

10I, therefore, O Cæsar, do not publish this work, merely prefixing my name to a treatise which of right belongs to others, nor think of acquiring reputation by finding fault with the works of any one. On the contrary, I own myself under the highest obligations to all those authors, who by their great ingenuity have at various times on different subjects, furnished us with copious materials; from which, as from a fountain, converting them to our own use, we are enabled to write more fully and expediently, and, trusting to whom we are prepared to strike out something new.

11Thus adhering to the principles which I found in those of their works adapted to my purpose, I have endeavoured to advance further. Agatharcus, at the time when Æschylus taught at Athens the rules of tragic poetry, was the first who contrived scenery, upon which subject he left a treatise. This led Democritus and Anaxagoras, who wrote thereon, to explain how the points of sight and distance ought to guide the lines, as in nature, to a centre; so that by means of pictorial deception, the real appearances of buildings appear on the scene, which, painted on a flat vertical surface, seem, nevertheless, to advance and recede.

12Silenus afterwards produced a treatise on the symmetry of Doric buildings; Theodorus, on the Doric temple of Jupiter in Samos; Ctesiphon and Metagenes, on that of the Ionic order in the temple of Diana at Ephesus. Phileos wrote a volume on the Ionic temple of Minerva at Priene, and Ictinus and Carpion on the Doric temple of Minerva at Athens, on the Acropolis; Theodorus Phoceus on the vaulted temple at Delphi; Philo on the symmetry of temples, and on the arsenal at the Piræus; Hermogenes on the Ionic pseudodipteral temple at Magnesia, and the monopteral one of Father Bacchus at Teos. Argelius wrote on the proportions of buildings of the Corinthian order, and on the Ionic temple of Æsculapius at Tralles, which he is said to have built; Satyrus and Phyteus, who were extremely fortunate, on the Mausoleum,

13to which some contributed their exertions whose talents have been admired in all ages, and who have gained lasting reputation. Each front was assigned to a separate artist, to ornament and try his skill thereon. Those employed were Leochares, Bryaxes, Scopas, and Praxiteles; some say that Timotheus was employed. The great art displayed by these men, caused this work to be ranked among the seven wonders.

14Besides these, many of less celebrity have written precepts on proportions, as Nexaris, Theocydes, Demophilos, Pollis, Leonides, Silanion, Melampus, Sarnacus, and Euphranor. Many on mechanics, as Cliades, Archytas, Archimedes, Ctesibius, Nymphodorus, Philo Byzantius, Diphilus, Democles, Charidas, Polyidus, Phyros, Agesistratus. From the commentaries of these, what I thought useful I have thrown together, and that the more especially because I observe that on this branch the Greeks have published much, and our own countrymen very little. Fussitius, however, and he was the first, produced an excellent work on the subject. Terentius Varro, in his work on the nine sciences, includes one on architecture. Publius Septimius wrote two.

15Besides these, I do not recollect any one that up to this time has written, though we have formerly produced great architects, and such as were well qualified to have written with elegance. In fact the foundations of the temple of Jupiter Olympius at Athens were prepared by Antistates, Callæschrus, Antimachides and Porinus, architects employed by Pisistratus, after whose death, on account of the troubles which affected the republic, the work was abandoned. About two hundred years afterwards, king Antiochus, having agreed to supply the money for the work, a Roman citizen, named Cossutius, designed with great skill and taste the cell, the dipteral arrangement of the columns, the cornices, and other ornaments. This work is not only universally esteemed, but is accounted one of the rarest specimens of magnificence.

16For in four places only are the temples embellished with work in marble, and from that circumstance the places are very celebrated, and their excellence and admirable contrivance is pleasing to the gods themselves. The first is the temple of Diana at Ephesus, of the Ionic order, built by Ctesiphon of Gnosus, and his son Metagenes, afterwards completed by Demetrius, a priest of Diana, and Pæonius, the Ephesian. The second is the temple of Apollo, at Miletus, also of the Ionic order, built by the above-named Pæonius, and Daphnis, the Milesian. The third is the Doric temple of Ceres and Proserpine, at Eleusis, the cell of which was built by Ictinus, of extraordinary dimensions, for the greater convenience of the sacrifices, and without an exterior colonnade.

17This structure, when Demetrius Phalereus governed Athens, was turned by Philus into a prostyle temple, with columns in front, and by thus enlarging the vestibule, he not only provided accommodation for the noviciates, but gave great dignity to its appearance. Lastly, in Athens it is said that Cossutius was the architect of the temple of Jupiter Olympius, which was of large dimensions, and of the Corinthian order and proportions, as above mentioned. From the pen of this man no treatise is extant; nor is it from him alone that such would have been less desirable, than from Caius Mutius, who with great science, and according to the just rules of art, completed the cell, columns, and entablature of the temples of Honour and Virtue, near the trophy of Marius, a work, which, had it been of marble, and thereby endowed with the splendour and richness which the material must have added, would have been reckoned among the first and most excellent examples.

18It therefore appears that our country can boast of as great architects as Greece herself, many of them even within our own times, but since few have left behind them any treatises, I thought it improper to omit any thing, and to treat of the different branches in different books. In the sixth book I have given rules for building private houses; in this, the seventh, I shall describe their finishing, and how that is to be rendered both beautiful and durable.

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