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

Economy consists in a due and proper application of the means afforded according to the ability of the employer and the situation chosen; care being taken that the expenditure is prudently conducted.

Hence, water ought by no means to be conducted in lead pipes, if we want to have it wholesome. That the taste is better when it comes from clay pipes may be proved by everyday life, for though our tables are loaded with silver vessels, yet everybody uses earthenware for the sake of purity of taste.

Neither natural ability without instruction nor instruction without natural ability can make the perfect artist.

The architect should be equipped with knowledge of many branches of study and varied kinds of learning, for it is by his judgment that all work done by the other arts is put to test. This knowledge is the child of practice and theory. Practice is the continuous and regular exercise of employment where manual work is done with any necessary material according to the design of the drawing. Theory, on the other hand, is the ability to demonstrate and explain the productions of dexterity on the principles of proportion… It follows, therefore, that architects who have aimed at acquiring manual skill without scholarship have never been able to reach a position of authority to correspond to their pains, while those who relied only upon theories and scholarship were obviously hunting the shadow, not the substance. But those who have a thorough knowledge of both, like men armed at all point, have the sooner attained their object and carried authority with them.

Therefore if Nature has planned the human body so that the members correspond in their proportions to its complete configuration, the ancients seem to have had reason in determining that in the execution of their works they should observe an exact adjustment of the several members to the general pattern of the plan. Therefore, since in all their works they handed down orders, they did so especially in building temples, the excellences and the faults of which usually endure for ages.

Even peasants wholly without knowledge of the quarters of the sky believe that oxen ought to face only in the direction of the sunrise.

I have therefore thought that it would be a worthy and very useful thing to reduce the whole of this great art to a complete and orderly form of presentation, and then in different books to lay down and explain the required characteristics of different departments.

Next I must tell about the machine of Ctesibius, which raises water to a height.

The design of a temple depends on symmetry, the principles of which must be most carefully observed by the architect.

Therefore it was the discovery of fire that originally gave rise to the coming together of men, to the deliberate assembly, and to social intercourse.

Every hot spring has healing properties because it has been boiled with foreign substances, and thus acquires a new useful quality.

If nature has composed the human body so that in its proportions the separate individual elements answer to the total form, then the Ancients seem to have had reason to decide that bringing their creations to full completion likewise required a correspondence between the measure of individual elements and the appearance of the work as a whole.

Not less also because the foot has the sixth part of a man's height, and also because six times, that is the number six, in that it is completed by the number of feet, determined the height of the body, they fixed that number as perfect, observing that the cubit consists of six palms and twenty-four fingers. Hence also the cities of the Greeks seem to have made in a like fashion (just as the cubit is of six palms) six parts of the drachma, the coin which they use, stamped bronze coins like asses, which they call obols; and to have fixed twenty-four quarter obols, called by some dichalcha, by others trichalcha to correspond to the fingers.

The difference between machines and engines is obviously this, that machines need more workmen and greater power to make them take effect, as for instance ballistae and the beams of presses. Engines, on the other hand, accomplish their purpose at the intelligent touch of a single workman,...

Therefore, if it is agreed that number is found from the articulation of the body, and that there is a correspondence of the fixed ratio of the separate members to the general form of the body, it remains that we take up those writers who in planning the temples of the immortal gods so ordained the parts of the work that, by the help of proportion and symmetry, their several and general distribution is rendered congruous.

For it is not as a very great philosopher, nor as an eloquent rhetorician, nor as a grammarian trained in the highest principles of his heart, that I have striven to write this work, but as an architect who has had only a dip into those studies.

If our designs for private houses are to be correct, we must at the outset take note of the countries and climates in which they are built.

Nothing suffers annihilation, but at dissolution there is a change, and things fall back to the essential element in which they were before.

The fact is that pictures which are unlike reality ought not be approved, and even if they are technically fine, this is no reason why they should offhand be judged to be correct, if their subject is lacking in the principles of reality carried out with no violations.

These are, of course, some things which, for utility's sake, must be made of the same size in a small theatre, and a large one: such as the steps, curved cross-aisles, their parapets, the passages, stairways, stages, tribunals, and any other things which occur that make it necessary to give up symmetry so as not to interfere with utility.

For Nature has so planned the human body that the face from the chin to the top of the forehead and the roots of the hair is a tenth part; also the palm of the hand from the wrist to the top of the middle finger is as much; the head from the chin to the crown, an eighth part; from the top to the breast with the bottom of the neck to the roots of the hair, a sixth part; from the middle of the breast to the crown, a fourth part; a third part of the height of the face is from the bottom of the chin to the bottom of the nostrils; the nose from the bottom of the nostrils to the line between the brows, as much; from that line to the roots of the hair, the forehead is given as the third part. The foot is a sixth of the height of the body; the cubit a quarter, the breast also a quarter. The other limbs also have their own proportionate measurements. And by using these, ancient painters and famous sculptors have attained great and unbounded distinction.

If then, at this great distance, our human vision can discern that sight, why, pray, are we to think that the divine splendor of the stars can be cast into darkness?

Noting all these things with the great delight which learning gives, we cannot but be stirred by these discoveries when we reflect upon the influence of them one by one.

The gravity of a substance depends not on the amount of its weight, but on its nature.

These rules for symmetry were established by Hermogenes, who was also the first to devise the principal of the pseudodipteral octastyle.

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"