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Vitruvius Pollio

Marcus. A celebrated Roman writer on architecture, of whom nothing is known except a few facts contained in scattered passages of his own work. He appears to have served as a military engineer under Iulius Caesar, in the African War (B.C. 46), and he was broken down with age when he composed his work, which is dedicated to the emperor Augustus. Though he usually speaks of the emperor as “Imperator” or “Caesar,” he employs also the title Augustus, which was adopted in B.C. 27, and he mentions (iii. 2, 7) the Temple of Quirinus, which was built B.C. 16; but he knows only one stone theatre at Rome (iii. 2, 2): whence it is inferred that the work was completed between B.C. 16 and B.C. 13, in which year two more stone theatres were built. He professes his intention to furnish the emperor with a standard by which to judge of the buildings he had already erected, as well as those which he might afterwards erect; which can have no meaning, unless he wished to protest against the style of architecture which prevailed in the buildings already erected. That this was really his intention appears from several other arguments, and especially from his frequent references to the unworthy means by which architects obtained wealth and favour, with which he contrasts his own moderation and contentment in his more obscure position. In a word, having apparently few great buildings of his own to point to as embodying his views (the basilica at Fanum is the only work of his which is mentioned), he desired to lay before the world in writing his principles of architecture. His work is a valuable compendium of those written by numerous Greek architects, whom he mentions chiefly in the preface to his seventh book, and by some Roman writers on architecture. Its chief defects are its brevity, of which Vitruvius himself boasts, and which he often carries so far as to be unintelligible, and the obscurity of the style, arising in part from the natural difficulty of technical language, but in part also from the author's want of skill in writing, and sometimes from his imperfect comprehension of his Greek authorities. His work is entitled De Architectura Libri X. In the first book, after the dedication to the emperor and a general description of the science of architecture and an account of the proper education of an architect, he treats of a choice of a proper site for a city, the disposition of its plan, its fortifications, and the several buildings within it. The second book is on the materials used in building. The third and fourth books are devoted to temples and the four orders of architecture employed in them, namely: the Ionic, Corinthian, Doric, and Tuscan. The fifth book relates to public buildings, the sixth to private houses, and the seventh to interior decorations. The eighth is on the subject of water: the mode of finding it; its different kinds; and the various modes for conveying it for the supply of cities. The ninth book treats of various kinds of sundials and other instruments for measuring time; and the tenth of the machines used in building, and of military engines. Each book has a preface, upon some matter more or less connected with the subject; and these prefaces are the source of most of our information about the author. The best editions of Vitruvius are those of Schneider, 3 vols. (Leipzig, 1807-8); Stratico, 4 vols. (Udine, 1825-30), with plates and a lexicon; Marini, 4 vols. (Rome, 1836), recently revised by Lorentzen; and of Rose and Müller-Strübing (Leipzig, 1867). There is a German translation with a commentary by Reber (Stuttgart, 1864), and an English version by Gwilt (revised ed. London, 1874). There is an index by Nohl (1876). The language of Vitruvius belongs in a way to the sermo plebeius, being that of a professional engineer with no pretensions to general culture. See Sermo Plebeius.

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