Vitruvius, fully Marcus Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius, fully Marcus Vitruvius Pollio
c. 80 B.C.
c. 15 B.C.

Roman Writer, Architect and Engineer known for "The Ten Books on Architecture"

Author Quotes

But as for me, Emperor, nature has not given me stature, age has marred my face, and my strength is impaired by ill health. Therefore, since these advantages fail me, I shall win your approval, as I hope, by the help of my knowledge and my writings.

For the human body is so designed by nature that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the whole height; the open hand from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger is just the same; the head from the chin to the crown is an eighth, and with the neck and shoulder from the top of the breast to the lowest roots of the hair is a sixth; from the middle of the breast to the summit of the crown is a fourth. If we take the height of the face itself, the distance from the bottom of the chin to the under-side of the nostrils is one third of it; the nose from the under-side of the nostrils to a line between the eyebrows is the same; from there to the lowest roots of the hair is also a third, comprising the forehead. The length of the foot is one sixth of the height of the body; of the forearm, one fourth; and the breadth of the breast is also one fourth... Then again, in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are perfectly square.

In like fashion the members of temples ought to have dimensions of their several parts answering suitably to the general sum of their whole magnitude. Now the navel is naturally the exact center of the body. For if man lies on his back with hands and feet outspread, and the center of a circle is placed on his navel, his figure and toes will be touched by the circumference. Also a square will be found described within the figure, in the same way as a round figure is produced. For if we measure from the sole of the foot to the top of the head, and apply the measure to the outstretched hands, the breadth will be found equal to the height, just like sites which are squared by rule.

Owing to this favor I need to have no fear of want to the end of my life, and being thus laid under obligation I began to write this work for you, because I saw that you have built and are now building extensively, and that in future also you will take care that our public and private buildings shall be worthy to go down to posterity by the side of your other splendid achievements.

The thickness of the wall should, in my opinion, be such that armed men meeting on top of it may pass one another without interference.

To guard against this, we must proceed as follows. Let down a lighted lamp, and if it keeps burning, a man may make the descent without danger.

But basilicas of the greatest dignity and beauty may also be constructed in the style of that one which I erected, and the building of which I superintended at Fano.

For there is no kind of material, no body, and no thing that can be produced or conceived of, which is not made up of elementary particles; and nature does not admit of a truthful exploration in accordance with the doctrines of the physicists without an accurate demonstration of the primary causes of things, showing how and why they are as they are.

In order that the mortar in the joints may not suffer from frosts, drench it with oil-dregs every year before winter begins. Thus treated, it will not let the hoarfrost enter it.

Perhaps, to the uninformed, it may appear unaccountable that a man should be able to retain in his memory such a variety of learning; but the close alliance with each other, of the different branches of science, will explain the difficulty.

The third order, called Corinthian, is an imitation of the slenderness of a maiden; for the outlines and limbs of maidens, being more slender on account of their tender years, admit of prettier effects in the way of adornment.

Voice is a flowing breath of air, perceptible to the hearing by contact.

But I, Caesar, 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.

For things are produced in accordance with the will of nature; not to suit man's pleasure, but as it were by a chance distribution.

It is no secret that the moon has no light of her own, but is, as it were, a mirror, receiving brightness from the influence of the sun.

Pictures should not be given approbation which are not likenesses of reality; even if they are refined creations executed with artistic skill.

The word universe means the general assemblage of all nature, and it also means the heaven that is made up of the constellations and the courses of the stars.

Water from clay pipes is much more wholesome than that which is conducted through lead pipes, because lead is found to be harmful for the reason that white lead is derived from it, and this is said to be hurtful to the human system.

But mathematicians, disputing on the other side, have said that the number called six is perfect for the reason that this number has divisions which agree by their proportions with the number six. Thus a sixth is one; a third is two; a half is three; two-thirds, which they call dimoeros, four; five-sixths, which they call pentemoeros, five; the perfect number, six. When it grows to the double, a twelfth added above six makes ephectos; when eight is reached, because a third is added, there is a second third, which is called epitritos; when half is added and there are nine, there is half as much again, and it is called hemiolios; when two parts are added and a decad is made, we have the second two-thirds, which they call epidimoeros; in the number eleven, because five are added, we have five-sixths, which they call epipemptos; twelve, because it is produced from two simple numbers, they call diplasios.

For we must not build temples according to the same rules to all gods alike, since the performance of the sacred rites varies with the various gods.

It was a wise and useful provision of the ancients to transmit their thoughts to posterity by recording them in treatises, so that they should not be lost, but, being developed in succeeding generations through publications in books, should gradually attain in later times, to the highest refinement of learning.

Reflecton is careful and laborious thought, and watchful attention directed to the agreeable effect of one's plan. Invention, on the other hand, is the solving of intricate problems and the discovery of new principles by means of brilliancy and versatility.

Then again, in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom.

We, however, at first followed the ancient number, and in the denarius fixed ten bronze coins; whence to this day the derived name keeps the number ten (denarius). And also because the fourth part was made up of two asses and a half, they called it sestertius. But afterwards they perceived that both numbers were perfect, both the six and the ten; and they threw both together, and made the most perfect number sixteen. Now of this they found the origin in the foot. For when two palms are taken from the cubit, there is left a foot of four palms, and the palm has four fingers. So it comes that the foot has sixteen fingers and the bronze denarius as many asses.

But perhaps to the inexperienced it will seem a marvel that human nature can comprehend such a great number of studies and keep them in the memory. Still, the observation that all studies have a common bond of union and intercourse with one another, will lead to the belief that this can easily be realized. For a liberal education forms, as it were, a single body made up of these members. Those, therefore, who from tender years receive instruction in the various forms of learning, recognize the same stamp on all the arts, and an intercourse between all studies, and so they more readily comprehend.

Author Picture
First Name
Vitruvius, fully Marcus Vitruvius Pollio
Birth Date
c. 80 B.C.
Death Date
c. 15 B.C.

Roman Writer, Architect and Engineer known for "The Ten Books on Architecture"