Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Technical and scientific texts from antiquity are notoriously difficult to translate. Portions of Vitruvius’s de architectura are a case in point. Book 8 on water supply contains particularly confusing passages that have prompted some modern scholars to suggest that Vitruvius had no idea what he was writing about. While the Latin of de architectura is by no means the most elegant prose, such judgment appears inaccurate. Vitruvius adopted much of his information in relation to water pipes from the Greek sources and models he was using, and a good part of the technical terminology is derived from parts of the body and their function. A multi-layered problem emerges as we try to understand Vitruvius’s explanation of the function of ancient aqueducts: Vitruvius’s translation from Greek into Latin describes unknown devices performing an unknown function, sometimes using untranslatable words, such as the ominous colluviaria, and other terms with a vaguely anatomical origin One thing in our favour is the mechanical behaviour of water, which has not changed since ancient Roman times. By investigating the surviving remains of aqueducts and observing the function of analogous parts of the human body, we may be able to explain the meaning of the more obscure passages.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:
Nikolic. “An Investigation of Vitruvius’ Technical Vocabulary Relating to Water Conduits and Pipelines in De arch. 8.6.6-9: geniculus and libramentum (re)examined.” Hermes 139 (4) (2011) 443-53.
Nikolic. “An Investigation of Vitruvius’ Technical Vocabulary Relating to Water Conduits and Pipelines in De arch. 8.6.6-9: vis spiritus and colluviaria (re)examined.” Mnemosyne 64 (2011) 424-46.
M Schwarz. “Neue Forschungsergebnisse zu Vitruvs colliviaria.” in C. Ohlig (ed.), Cura Aquarum in Jordanien. Siegburg: DWhG, 2008, 353-8.