Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Vitruvius, fully Marcus Vitruvius Pollio NULL

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

"The architect must not only understand drawing, but music."

"A harmonious design requires that nothing be added or taken away."

"All the gifts which fortune bestows she can easily take away; but education, when combined with intelligence, never fails, but abides steadily on to the very end of life."

"Altars should face the east, and should always be placed on a lower level than are the statues in the temples, so that those who are praying and sacrificing may look upwards towards the divinity."

"Apollo at Delphi, through the oracular utterance of his priestess, pronounced Socrates the wisest of men. Of him it is related that he said with sagacity and great learning that the human breast should have been furnished with open windows, so that men might not keep their feelings concealed, but have them open to the view. Oh that nature, following his idea, had constructed them thus unfolded and obvious to the view."

"An architect ought to be an educated man so as to leave a more lasting remembrance in his treatises."

"Architecture is a science arising out of many other sciences, and adorned with much and varied learning; by the help of which a judgment is formed of those works which are the result of other arts."

"All machinery is derived from nature, and is founded on the teaching and instruction of the revolution of the firmament."

"As for philosophy, it makes an architect high-minded and not self-assuming, but rather renders him courteous, just, and honest without avariciousness. This is very important, for no work can be rightly done without honesty and incorruptibility."

"Architects should be educated, skillful with the pencil, instructed in geometry, know much history, have followed the philosophers with attention, understand music, have some knowledge of medicine, know the opinions of the jurists, and be acquainted with astronomy and the theory of the heavens."

"Architecture depends on Order, Arrangement, Eurythmy, Symmetry, Propriety, and Economy."

"Basilicas should be constructed on a site adjoining the forum and in the warmest possible quarter, so that in winter business men may gather in them without being troubled by the weather."

"Bodies which contain a greater proportion of water than is necessary to balance the other elements, are speedily corrupted, and lose their virtues and properties."

"Bedrooms and libraries ought to have an eastern exposure, because their purposes require the morning light and also because books in such libraries will not decay."

"Building well has three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight."

"Burn shavings and splinters of pitch pine, and when they turn to charcoal, put them out, and pound them into mortar with size. This will make a pretty black for fresco painting."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"Copious springs are found where there are mines of gold, silver, iron, copper, lead, and the like, but they are very harmful."

"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."

"Consequently, since this study is vast in extent, embellished and enriched as it is with many different kinds of learning, I think that men have no right to profess themselves architects hastily, without having climbed from boyhood the steps of these studies and thus, nursed by the knowledge of many arts and sciences, having reached the heights of the holy ground of architecture."

"Dimension stone, flint, rubble, burnt or unburnt brick, - use them as you find them."

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

"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."

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

"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."

"For not all things are practicable on identical principles."

"For siege works against bold and venturesome men should be constructed on one plan, on another against cautious men, and on still another against the cowardly."

"For the eye is always in search of beauty, and if we do not gratify its desire for pleasure by a proportionate enlargement in these measures, and thus make compensation for ocular deception, a clumsy and awkward appearance will be presented to the beholder."

"Furthermore philosophy treats of physics where a more careful knowledge is required because the problems which come under this head are numerous and of very different kinds; as, for example, in the case of the conducting of water. For at points of intake and at curves, and at places where it is raised to a level, currents of air naturally form in one way or another; and nobody who has not learned the fundamental principles of physics from philosophy will be able to provide against the damage which they do."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"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."

"Furthermore, since I have observed that our citizens are distracted with public affairs and private business, I have thought it best to write briefly, so that my readers, whose intervals of leisure are small, may be able to comprehend in a short time."

"Hence, as the line of sight to the upper part is the longer, it makes that part look as if it were leaning back. But when the members are inclined to the front, as described above, they will seem the beholder to be plumb and perpendicular."

"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."

"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."

"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?"

"Hence, men that are born in the north are rendered over-timid and weak by fever, but their wealth of blood enables them to stand up against the sword without timidity."

"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."

"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."

"In a word, the opinions of learned authors, though their bodily forms are absent, gain strength as time goes on, and, when taking part in councils and discussions, have greater weight than those of any living men."

"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."

"In fact, all kinds of men, and not merely architects, can recognize a good piece of work."

"In accordance with the foregoing investigations on mathematical principles, let bronze vessels be made, proportionate to the size of the theatre, and let them be so fashioned that, when touched, they may produce with one another the notes of the fourth, the fifth, and so on up the double octave."

"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."