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Who said: “Nature does nothing in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.”
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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index V > Vitruvius Quotes

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Vitruvius
(c. 70 B.C. - c. 25 B.C.)

Roman architect and engineer who wrote an architecture handbook, De architectura (On Architecture). It consists of 10 volumes dealing with a full range of topics, including city planning, building materials and construction methods down to smaller details such as stucco decoration and clocks.

Science Quotes by Vitruvius (27 quotes)

Drawing of man with outspread limbs within a square border. Fingers and toes reach to the corners. Square inscribed in circle.
Woodcut illustration of Vitruvian Man from 1521 edition of De Architectura (source)
Neque enim ingenium sine disciplina aut disciplina sine ingenio perfectum artificem potest efficere
For neither talent without instruction nor instruction without talent can produce the perfect craftsman.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 1, Sec. 3. As in Frank Granger (trans.), Vitruvius: De Architectura (1931), 8-9. Also translated as “Neither natural ability without instruction nor instruction without natural ability can make the perfect artist.” In Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 3.
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Archimedes [indicates] that there can be no true levelling by means of water, because he holds that water has not a level surface, but is of a spherical form, having its centre at the centre of the earth.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 8, Chap 5, Sec. 3. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 243.
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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 points, have the sooner attained their object and carried authority with them.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 1, Sec. 2. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 3.
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Copious springs are found where there are mines of gold, silver, iron, copper, lead, and the like, but they are very harmful.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 7, Chap 3, Sec. 5. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 234.
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Eratosthenes of Cyrene, employing mathematical theories and geometrical methods, discovered from the course of the sun, the shadows cast by an equinoctial gnomon, and the inclination of the heaven that the circumference of the earth is two hundred and fifty-two thousand stadia, that is, thirty-one million five hundred thousand paces.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 6, Sec. 9. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 27-28.
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For just as musical instruments are brought to perfection of clearness in the sound of their strings by means of bronze plates or horn sounding boards, so the ancients devised methods of increasing the power of the voice in theaters through the application of the science of harmony.
— Vitruvius
In Vitruvius Pollio and Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), 'Book V: Chapter III', Vitruvius, the Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 139. From the original Latin, “Ergo veteres Architecti, naturae vestigia persecuti, indagationibus vocis scandentes theatrorum perfecerunt gradationes: & quaesiuerunt per canonicam mathematicorum,& musicam rationem, ut quaecunq; vox effet in scena, clarior & suauior ad spectatorum perueniret aures. Uti enim organa in aeneis laminis, aut corneis, diesi ad chordarum sonituum claritatem perficiuntur: sic theatrorum, per harmonicen ad augendam vocem, ratiocinationes ab antiquis sunt constitutae.” In De Architectura libri decem (1552), 175.
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From astronomy we find the east, west, south, and north, as well as the theory of the heavens, the equinox, solstice, and courses of the stars. If one has no knowledge of these matters, he will not be able to have any comprehension of the theory of sundials.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 1, Sec. 10. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 10.
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Heat is a universal solvent, melting out of things their power of resistance, and sucking away and removing their natural strength with its fiery exhalations so that they grow soft, and hence weak, under its glow.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 4, Sec. 3. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 18.
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If one of these elements, heat, becomes predominant in any body whatsoever, it destroys and dissolves all the others with its violence. …Again if too much moisture enters the channels of a body, and thus introduces disproportion, the other elements, adulterated by the liquid, are impaired, and the virtues of the mixture dissolved. This defect, in turn, may arise from the cooling properties of moist winds and breezes blowing upon the body. In the same way, increase or diminution of the proportion of air or of the earthy which is natural to the body may enfeeble the other elements.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 4, Sec. 6. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 18-19.
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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.
— Vitruvius
Leonardo da Vinci’s depiction of a man with outstretched limbs inscribed in a circle is thus called the Vitruvian Man (c. 1490). In De Architectura, Book 3, Chap 1, Sec. 3. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 73.
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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
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 9, Chap 2, Sec.3. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 263.
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It is related of the Socratic philosopher Aristippus that, being shipwrecked and cast ashore on the coast of the Rhodians, he observed geometrical figures drawn thereon, and cried out to his companions:"Let us be of good cheer, for I see the traces of man."
— Vitruvius
In Vitruvius Pollio and Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), 'Book VI: Introduction', Vitruvius, the Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 167. From the original Latin, “Aristippus philosophus Socraticus, naufragio cum ejectus ad Rhodiensium litus animaduertisset Geometrica schemata descripta, exclama uisse ad comites ita dicitur, Bene speremus, hominum enim vestigia video.” In De Architectura libri decem (1552), 218.
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Our ancestors, when about to build a town or an army post, sacrificed some of the cattle that were wont to feed on the site proposed and examined their livers. If the livers of the first victims were dark-coloured or abnormal, they sacrificed others, to see whether the fault was due to disease or their food. They never began to build defensive works in a place until after they had made many such trials and satisfied themselves that good water and food had made the liver sound and firm. …healthfulness being their chief object.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 4, Sec. 9. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 20.
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Reflexion 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.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 2, Sec. 2. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 14.
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Thales thought that water was the primordial substance of all things. Heraclitus of Ephesus… thought that it was fire. Democritus and his follower Epicurus thought that it was the atoms, termed by our writers “bodies that cannot be cut up” or, by some “indivisibles.” The school of the Pythagoreans added air and the earthy to the water and fire. Hence, although Democritus did not in a strict sense name them, but spoke only of indivisible bodies, yet he seems to have meant these same elements, because when taken by themselves they cannot be harmed, nor are they susceptible of dissolution, nor can they be cut up into parts, but throughout time eternal they forever retain an infinite solidity.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 2, Chap 2, Sec. 1. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 42.
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The architect does not demand things which cannot be found or made ready without great expense. For example: it is not everywhere that there is plenty of pitsand, rubble, fir, clear fir, and marble… Where there is no pitsand, we must use the kinds washed up by rivers or by the sea… and other problems we must solve in similar ways.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 2, Sec. 8. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 16.
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The architect should be equipped with knowledge of many branches of study and varied kinds of learning, for it is by his judgement that all work done by the other arts is put to test. This knowledge is the child of practice and theory.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 1, Sec. 1. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 3.
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The diseases which are hard to cure in neighborhoods… are catarrh, hoarseness, coughs, pleurisy, consumption, spitting of blood, and all others that are cured not by lowering the system but by building it up. They are hard to cure, first, because they are originally due to chills; secondly, because the patient's system being already exhausted by disease, the air there, which is in constant agitation owing to winds and therefore deteriorated, takes all the sap of life out of their diseased bodies and leaves them more meager every day. On the other hand, a mild, thick air, without drafts and not constantly blowing back and forth, builds up their frames by its unwavering steadiness, and so strengthens and restores people who are afflicted with these diseases.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 6, Sec. 3. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 25.
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The moon makes her circuit of the heaven in twenty-eight days plus about an hour, and with her return to the sign from which she set forth, completes a lunar month.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 9, Chap 1, Sec. 5. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 258.
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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.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 9, Chap 1, Sec. 2. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 257.
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There are three departments of architecture: the art of building, the making of time-pieces, and the construction of machinery.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 3, Sec. 3. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 16.
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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.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 2, Chap 1, Sec. 9. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 41.
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Voice is a flowing breath of air, perceptible to the hearing by contact. It moves in an endless number of circular rounds, like the innumerably increasing circular waves which appear when a stone is thrown into smooth water, and which keep on spreading indefinitely from the centre.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 5, Chap 1, Sec. 6. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 138.
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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.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 8, Chap 6, Sec. 10. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 246.
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When the morning breezes blow toward the town at sunrise, if they bring with them mists from marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of the creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 4, Sec. 1. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 16.
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While all bodies are composed of the four elements, that is, of heat, moisture, the earthy, and air, yet there are mixtures according to natural temperament which make up the natures of all the different animals of the world, each after its kind.
— Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 4, Sec. 5. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 16.
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[King Hiero II] requested Archimedes to consider [whether a crown was pure gold or alloyed with silver]. The latter, while the case was still on his mind, happened to go to the bath, and on getting into a tub observed that the more his body sank into it the more water ran out over the tub. As this pointed out the way to explain the case in question, without a moment’s delay, and transported with joy, he jumped out of the tub and rushed home naked, crying with a loud voice that he had found what he was seeking; for as he ran he shouted repeatedly in Greek, “Eὕρηκα, εὕρηκα.”
— Vitruvius
This famous anecdote, being written about two centuries after Archimedes, is of questionable authenticity, but Vitruvius provided the origin of the story as we know it. In De Architectura, Book 9, Introduction, Sec. 10. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 254. Also seen translated as “While Archimedes was turning the problem over, he chanced to come to the place of bathing, and there, as he was sitting down in the tub, he noticed that the amount of water which flowed over the tub was equal to the amount by which his body was immersed. This showed him a means of solving the problem. … In his joy, he leapt out of the tub and, rushing naked towards his home, he cried out with a loud voice that he had found what he sought.” In Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, Selections Illustrating the History of Greek Mathematics (1939), 37.
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Quotes by others about Vitruvius (1)

Why is it that the self-aggrandizements of Cicero, the lecheries and whining of Ovid and the blatherings of that debauched old goose Seneca made it onto the Net before the works that give us solid technical information about what Rome was really good at, viz. the construction of her great buildings and works of engineering?
From headnotes written by Bill Thayer to his online transcription of Vitruvius: On Architecture.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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