The Ten Books on Architecture, 8.0

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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prThales, the Milesian, one of the seven wise men, taught that water was the original cause of all things. Heraclitus maintained the same of fire: the priests of the magi, of water and fire. Euripides, a disciple of Anaxagoras, called by the Athenians the dramatic philosopher, attributed it to air and earth; and contended that the latter, impregnated by the seed contained in the rain falling from the heavens, had generated mankind and all the animals on the earth; and that all these, when destroyed by time, returned to their origin. Thus, such as spring from the air, also return into air, and not being capable of decay, are only changed by their dissolution, returning to that element whereof they first consisted. But Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epicharmus, and other physiologists, and philosophers, maintained that there were four elements, air, fire, water, and earth; and that their mixture, according to the difference of the species, forms a natural mould of different qualities.

2We must recollect, that not only from these elements, are all things generated, but that they can neither be nourished, nor grow without their assistance. Thus bodies cannot live without abundance of air; that is, without its being furnished for inspiration and respiration in considerable quantity. So, also, if a body do not possess a due proportion of heat, it can neither be endued with animal spirits nor a strong constitution, nor will the hardness of its food be duly attenuated: and if the members of the body are not nourished by the fruits of the earth, they will waste, because deprived of the mixture of that element with them.

3Lastly, animals deprived of moisture, from want of water dry up, and are bloodless and parched. Divine Providence has made those things neither scarce nor dear which are necessary for mankind, as are pearls, gold, silver, and the like, which are neither necessary for the body nor nature; but has diffused abundantly, throughout the world, those things, without which the life of mortals would be uncertain. Thus, if a body be deficient in spirit, the deficiency is supplied by the air. The power of the sun, and the discovery of fire, are always ready to assist us, and render life more certain. The fruits of the earth also, furnishing nourishment even to excess, feed and support animals continually. Water is of infinite utility to us, not only as affording drink, but for a great number of purposes in life; and it is furnished to us gratuitously.

4Hence the priests of the Egyptian worship teach, that all things are composed of water; and when they cover the vase of water, which is borne to the temple with the most solemn reverence, kneeling on the earth, with their hands raised to heaven, they return thanks to divine goodness for its creation.

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