Ten Books on Architecture/Book II/Introduction

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Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius, translated by Morris Hicky Morgan
Book II - Introduction

Introduction[edit]

1. Dinocrates, an architect who was full of confidence in his own ideas and skill, set out from Macedonia, in the reign of Alexander, to go to the army, being eager to win the approbation of the king. He took with him from his country letters from relatives and friends to the principal military men and officers of the court, in order to gain access to them more readily. Being politely received by them, he asked to be presented to Alexander as soon as possible. They promised, but were rather slow, waiting for a suitable opportunity. So Dinocrates, thinking that they were playing with him, had recourse to his own efforts. He was of very lofty stature and pleasing countenance, finely formed, and extremely dignified. Trusting, therefore, to these natural gifts, he undressed himself in his inn, anointed his body with oil, set a chaplet of poplar leaves on his head, draped his left shoulder with a lion's skin, and holding a club in his right hand stalked forth to a place in front of the tribunal where the king was administering justice.

2. His strange appearance made the people turn round, and this led Alexander to look at him. In astonishment he gave orders to make way for him to draw near, and asked who he was. "Dinocrates," quoth he, "a Macedonian architect, who brings thee ideas and designs worthy of thy renown. I have made a design for the shaping of Mount Athos into the statue of a man, in whose left hand I have represented a very spacious fortified city, and in his right a bowl to receive the water of all the streams which are in that mountain, so that it may pour from the bowl into the sea."

3. Alexander, delighted with the idea of his design, immediately inquired whether there were any fields in the neighbourhood that could maintain the city in corn. On finding that this was impossible without transport from beyond the sea, "Dinocrates," quoth he, "I appreciate your design as excellent in composition, and I am delighted with it, but I apprehend that anybody who should found a city in that spot would be censured for bad judgement. For as a newborn babe cannot be nourished without the nurse's milk, nor conducted to the approaches that lead to growth in life, so a city cannot thrive without fields and the fruits thereof pouring into its walls, nor have a large population without plenty of food, nor maintain its population without a supply of it. Therefore, while thinking that your design is commendable, I consider the site as not commendable; but I would have you stay with me, because I mean to make use of your services."

4. From that time, Dinocrates did not leave the king, but followed him into Egypt. There Alexander, observing a harbour rendered safe by nature, an excellent centre for trade, cornfields throughout all Egypt, and the great usefulness of the mighty river Nile, ordered him to build the city of Alexandria, named after the king. This was how Dinocrates, recommended only by his good looks and dignified carriage, came to be so famous. 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.

5. In my first book, I have said what I had to say about the functions of architecture and the scope of the art, as well as about fortified towns and the apportionment of building sites within the fortifications. Although it would next be in order to explain the proper proportions and symmetry of temples and public buildings, as well as of private houses, I thought best to postpone this until after I had treated the practical merits of the materials out of which, when they are brought together, buildings are constructed with due regard to the proper kind of material for each part, and until I had shown of what natural elements those materials are composed. But before beginning to explain their natural properties, I will prefix the motives which originally gave rise to buildings and the development of inventions in this field, following in the steps of early nature and of those writers who have devoted treatises to the origins of civilization and the investigation of inventions. My exposition will, therefore, follow the instruction which I have received from them.