The Ten Books on Architecture, 8.0

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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prAmong the Seven Sages, Thales of Miletus pronounced for water as the primordial element in all things; Heraclitus, for fire; the priests of the Magi, for water and fire; Euripides, a pupil of Anaxagoras, and called by the Athenians “the philosopher of the stage,” for air and earth. Earth, he held, was impregnated by the rains of heaven and, thus conceiving, brought forth the young of mankind and of all the living creatures in the world; whatever is sprung from her goes back to her again when the compelling force of time brings about a dissolution; and whatever is born of the air returns in the same way to the regions of the sky; nothing suffers annihilation, but at dissolution there is a change, and things fall back to the essential element in which they were before. But Pythagoras, Empedocles, Epicharmus, and other physicists and philosophers have set forth that the primordial elements are four in number: air, fire, earth, and water; and that it is from their coherence to one another under the moulding power of nature that the qualities of things are produced according to different classes.

2And, in fact, we see not only that all which comes to birth is produced by them, but also that nothing can be nourished without their influence, nor grow, nor be preserved. The body, for example, can have no life without the flow of the breath to and fro, that is, unless an abundance of air flows in, causing dilations and contractions in regular succession. Without the right proportion of heat, the body will lack vitality, will not be well set up, and will not properly digest strong food. Again, without the fruits of the earth to nourish the bodily frame, it will be enfeebled, and so lose its admixture of the earthy element.

3Finally, without the influence of moisture, living creatures will be bloodless and, having the liquid element sucked out of them, will wither away. Accordingly the divine intelligence has not made what is really indispensable for man either hard to get or costly, like pearls, gold, silver, and so forth, the lack of which neither our body nor our nature feels, but has spread abroad, ready to hand through all the world, the things without which the life of mortals cannot be maintained. Thus, to take examples, suppose there is a deficiency of breath in the body, the air, to which is assigned the function of making up the deficiency, performs that service. To supply heat, the mighty sun is ready, and the invention of fire makes life more secure. Then again, the fruits of the earth, satisfying our desires with a more than sufficient store of food stuffs, support and maintain living beings with regular nourishment. Finally, water, not merely supplying drink but filling an infinite number of practical needs, does us services which make us grateful because it is gratis.

4Hence, too, those who are clothed in priesthoods of the Egyptian orders declare that all things depend upon the power of the liquid element. So, when the waterpot is brought back to precinct and temple with water, in accordance with the holy rite, they throw themselves upon the ground and, raising their hands to heaven, thank the divine benevolence for its invention.

Therefore, since it is held by physicists and philosophers and priests that all things depend upon the power of water, I have thought that, as in the former seven books the rules for buildings have been set forth, in this I ought to write on the methods of finding water, on those special merits which are due to the qualities of localities, on the ways of conducting it, and how it may be tested in advance. For it is the chief requisite for life, for happiness, and for everyday use.

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