- Origin of Humans: Wild Beasts
- Origin of Life: Chance
- Genetic Mutation, Variance of Species
- Racial supremacy
- Modern Theories of Evolution
Origin of Humans: Wild Beasts
"The men of old were born like the wild beasts, in woods, caves, and groves, and lived on savage fare." (I, 1, 1)Vitruvius described our ancestors as no different than wild animals. Though he never explicitly states that humans developed from wild animals, he outlines a process of discoveries and anatomical changes that made humans "gifted beyond the other animals."
"As time went on, the thickly crowded trees in a certain place, tossed by storms and winds, and rubbing their branches against one another, caught fire, and so the inhabitants of the place were put to flight, being terrified by the furious flame. After it subsided, they drew near, and observing that they were very comfortable standing before the warm fire, they put on logs and, while thus keeping it alive, brought up other people to it, showing them by signs how much comfort they got from it. In that gathering of men, at a time when utterance of sound was purely individual, from daily habits they fixed upon articulate words just as these had happened to come; then, from indicating by name things in common use, the result was that in this chance way they began to talk, and thus originated conversation with one another." (II, 1, 1)We have seen this acted out National Geographic TV specials... though in today's version of events the trees didn't catch fire due to friction; lightening struck the African plains, and man domesticated the flame so they could warm themselves, cook food, and socialize. Social intercourse led to upright walking, which led to our ability to work with tools.
"...as they kept coming together in greater numbers into one place, finding themselves naturally gifted beyond the other animals in not being obliged to walk with faces to the ground, but upright and gazing upon the splendour of the starry firmament, and also in being able to do with ease whatever they chose with their hands and fingers, they began in that first assembly to construct shelters." (II, 1, 2)Humans imitated nature in their constructions, each according to the context of their locations, for example people in rainy climates built sloped roofs while people in hot climates built thick walls of dried mud.
With these early beginnings accomplished, humans could take a dominant role over all the earth and develop a modern civilization.
"Furthermore, as men made progress by becoming daily more expert in building, and as their ingenuity was increased by their dexterity so that from habit they attained to considerable skill, their intelligence was enlarged by their industry until the more proficient adopted the trade of carpenters. From these early beginnings, and from the fact that nature had not only endowed the human race with senses like the rest of the animals, but had also equipped their minds with the powers of thought and understanding, thus putting all other animals under their sway, they next gradually advanced from the construction of buildings to the other arts and sciences, and so passed from a rude and barbarous mode of life to civilization and refinement." (II, 1, 6)
Notice that Vitruvius groups humans with "the rest of the animals." But it is the "higher ideas born of the multiplication of the arts" that leads them to take on the role of Nature themselves, by "developing the refinements of life" that "nature had been lavish in the bestowal of," and so they "embellished them with luxuries. (v. 7)"
"Africa was the mother and nurse of wild animals..." (VIII, 3, 24)Africa is considered the origin of human life today.
Origin of Life: Chance
"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." (II, 6, 5)At first glance it would seem that the Vitrivian life's origins was ironically similar to today's proponents of intelligent design. He praises "divine intelligence" for bestowing the materials necessary for life and for designing the universe (see IX, 5, 4). He also describes nature as an "architect" which human architects follow in the footseps (see V, 4, 8).
But the universe came by chance. Divine intelligence is our ability to understand the mechanics of the universe (see IX, 1, 1), that we can "find out the operation of the sun in the universe," the "general assemblage of nature." Atlas holds up the firmament, assigned to that task because he gave humans knowledge of the universe. We can attain perfection, said Vitruvius, by simply learning those divine truths and follow them.
"For in all their works they proceeded on definite principles of fitness and in ways derived from the truth of Nature. Thus they reached perfection, approving only those things which, if challenged, can be explained on grounds of the truth." (IV, 2, 6)The four elements are not atoms. Vitruvius differentiates what he calls elements and what we define elements today. He relates Democritus' "atoms, termed by our writers bodies that cannot be cut up or by some indivisibles." (II,2,1) But the "primordial elements are four in number: air, fire, earth, and water; and that it is from their coherence to one another under the moulding power of nature that the qualities of things are produced according to different classes." (VIII, intro)
Before Newton wrote his laws of thermodynamics or Karl Marx wrote "all the is solid melts into air," Vitruvius observed:
"...whatever is born of the air returns in the same way to the regions of the sky; nothing suffers annihilation, but at dissolution there is a change, and things fall back to the essential element in which they were before." (VIII, intro)
It is the chance distribution, the "moulding power of nature" that created the human body: "...nature has designed the human body so that its members are duly proportioned to the frame as a whole..." (III, 1, 4)
Furthermore, the first humans evolved by learning the mechanics of the universe:
"Thus, when our ancestors had seen that this was so, they took their models from nature, and by imitating them they were led on by divine facts, until they were perfected in their contrivances which are so servicable in our life." (X, 1, 4)
Genetic mutation, variance of species
"Euripides... Earth, he held, was impregnated by the rains of heaven and, thus conceiving, brought forth the young of mankind and of all the living creatures in the world." (VIII, intro)The molding influences of nature that mashed together, as it were, the atoms of the universe created all animals, including humans. But they aren't all created the same, says Vitruvius, because different places have different contexts:
"Euripides seems to have remarked; for he says that places at a greater distance from the sun are in a violent heat, and that those which are nearer he keeps temperate." (XI, 1, 13)Animals develop differently under different conditions. "This great variety in different things is a distribution due to nature..." (VIII,3,26) Vitruvius goes on to surpass Darwin in his explanation for how exactly this work; Vitruvius describes genetics. Everything has a module that maps out the design of the greater object. Design is "the selection of modules from the members of the work itself and, starting from these individual parts of members, constructing the whole work to correspond." (I, 2, 2)
"...Nature designed the human body..." (II, 1, 4) The design of the temple likewise depends on a module, the gene:
"The design of a temple depends on symmetry, the principles of which must be most carefully observed by the architect... a correspondence among the measures of the members of an entire work, and of the whole to a certain part selected as standard. From this result the principles of symmetry. Without symmetry and proportion there can be no principles in the design of any temple; that is, if there is no precise relation between its members, as in the case of those of a well shaped man... It was from the members of the body that they derived the fundamental ideas of the measures which are obviously necessary in all works..." (III, 1, 1 & 5)The assemblage of an architectural edifice imitates the distribution of the species, each of which has a "a place, origin, and order of its own." (IV, 2, 2)
"These diversities would not exist if the different properties of soils and their juices were not qualified by the power of the sun... For instance, there are in Boeotia the rivers... they are driven every day during that season to those rivers to drink, and the result is that, however white they may be, they beget in some places whity-brown lambs, in other places gray, and in others black as a raven." (VIII, 3, 13 & 14Food and water alters genetic material, causing the skin becomes dark. And in humans?
"These variations in heat and the subsequent cooling off are harmful to the people living on such sites. The same conclusion may be reached in the case of inanimate things." (I, 4, 2)It is hard to deny that these theories of evolution led to the worst of today's racist tenants. For evidence for his theory of human evolution Vitruvius points to "primitive" civilizations, much like how European conquistadors justified their genocidal invasions. Italy is superior because of its temperate climate and even receiving of sunlight, says Vitruvius. It's not too cold and not too warm and therefore produces superior life.
It is obvious that entire races of people are effected by the region's general climate, says Vitruvius, but the extreme influences of nature can be mitigated by architects. We can "amend by art what nature, if left to herself, would mar."(VI, 1, 2)
People in the south are weak but smart, while people north are manly but stupid, says Vitruvius. Naturally the Romans are the superior race.
"These effects are noticeable and discernible not only in things in nature, but they also are observable in the limbs and bodies of entire races. In places on which the sun throws out its heat in moderation, it keeps human bodies in their proper condition, and where its path is very close at hand, it parches them up, and burns out and takes away the proportion of moisture which they ought to possess. But, on the other hand, in the cold regions that are far away from the south, the moisture is not drawn out by hot weather, but the atmosphere is full of dampness which diffuses moisture into the system, and makes the frame larger and the pitch of the voice deeper. This is also the reason why the races that are bred in the north are of vast height, and have fair complexions, straight red hair, grey eyes, and a great deal of blood, owing to the abundance of moisture and the coolness of the atmosphere.
On the contrary, those that are nearest to the southern half of the axis, and that lie directly under the sun's course, are of lower stature, with a swarthy complexion, hair curling, black eyes, strong legs, and but little blood on account of the force of the sun. Hence, too, this poverty of blood makes them over-timid to stand up against the sword, but great heat and fevers they can endure without timidity, because their frames are bred up in the raging heat. 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...
Further, it is owing to the rarity of the atmosphere that southern nations, with their keen intelligence due to the heat, are very free and swift in the devising of schemes, while northern nations, being enveloped in a dense atmosphere, and chilled by moisture from the obstructing air, have but a sluggish intelligence. That this is so, we may see from the case of snakes. Their movements are most active in hot weather, when they have got rid of the chill due to moisture, whereas at the winter solstice, and in winter weather, they are chilled by the change of temperature, and rendered torpid and motionless. It is therefore no wonder that man's intelligence is made keener by warm air and duller by cold.
But although southern nations have the keenest wits, and are infinitely clever in forming schemes, yet the moment it comes to displaying valour, they succumb because all manliness of spirit is sucked out of them by the sun. On the other hand, men born in cold countries are indeed readier to meet the shock of arms with great courage and without timidity, but their wits are so slow that they will rush to the charge inconsiderately and inexpertly, thus defeating their own devices. Such being nature's arrangement of the universe, and all these nations being allotted temperaments which are lacking in due moderation, the truly perfect territory, situated under the middle of the heaven, and having on each side the entire extent of the world and its countries, is that which is occupied by the Roman people. In fact, the races of Italy are the most perfectly constituted in both respects—in bodily form and in mental activity to correspond to their valour." (VI, 1, 3-11)
Vitruvius' Ten Books On Architecture" was written shortly after the death of Christ and rediscovered in 1414. It took Europe out of the Dark Age along with the invention of the printing press . It advanced the studies of science, philosophy, and architecture. Virtually every important book written on architecture for the next thousands years was based on Vitruvius. It is no stretch to say the Aryan white supremacy that led to the Nazi extermination of primitive races, the destruction of large civilizations in the Americas, and the white power that persists today found its roots in the racism of this work.
Darwin changed this in the theory of evolution. He said there was no "perfect" species or race. Circumstances change and advanced species evolve according to the powers of chance.
But didn't Vitruvius also allow for progress? There could be continued innovation and refinement in architecture, he said. Modern architects took out rows of columns around the cella of the temple to make procession easier for the patrons. A statist would have abhored this but Vitrius cheered. The ability to innovate is the reason classes of architecture continue to multiply as society evolves.
"It is true that posterity, having made progress in refinement and delicacy of feeling, and finding pleasure in more slender proportions, has established seven diameters of the thickness as the height of the Doric column, and nine as that of the Ionic." (IV, 1, 8)
Modern Theories of Evolution
The Vitrivian theory of evolution changed as the works of Vitruvius spread through Europe. In 1548, Walther Rivius repeated the racist ideas in Vitruvius Teutsch:
"...they began to have human dwellings because the necessary uses of water and fire supposedly united and came together into a livable house... Because of inherent stupidity, these helpful human dwellings were not prevalent, as men have sought to climb up and to better themselves."Until very recently, scientists pointed to "primitive" civilizations in Africa and Asia as scientific evidence of mankind's evolution, just as Vitruvius had done:
"That houses originated as I have written above, we can see for ourselves from the buildings that are to this day constructed of like materials by foreign tribes: for instance, in Gaul, Spain, Portugal, and Aquitaine... From such specimens we can draw our inferences with regard to the devices used in the buildings of antiquity, and conclude that they were similar."(II, 1, 4 & 6)
Modern art was not allowed to progress because artists were obsessed with imitating nature in a strict search for truth of realism, as Vitruvius instructed, and abhored nonrealistic art. Vitruvius scorned "fresco paintings of monstrosities, rather than truthful representations of definite things... Such things do not exist and cannot exist and never have existed. Hence, it is the new taste that has caused bad judges of poor art to prevail over true artistic excellence." (VII, 5, 3)
"The fact is that pictures which are unlike reality ought not to be approved... Therefore, if we give our approval to pictures of things which can have no reason for existence in actual fact, we shall be voluntarily associating ourselves with those communities which are believed to be unintelligent on account of just such defects." (VII, 5, 4-5)Sounds much like Nazi talking points about "degenerate art."
Henry Wotton brought Vitruvius to England in 1624 with The Elements of Architecture. Coincidentally the British Empire immediately blossomed. He likewise urged caution about how we imitated "the great pattern of Nature" and specifically the human body as the ideal design.
"I must confess confess indeed there may be a lascivious and there may be a superstitious use, both of picture and of sculpture: To which possibility of misapplication, not only these semi-liberal arts are subject; but even the highest perfections and endowments of nature... what art can be more pernicious than even religion itself, if it self be converted to an instrument of art?Wotton threw out aesthetics from the list of architectural values, searching for innovation from strict function and utility in architecture. But he still seeks a "moral architecture" that produces the "repairing of nature." He admits variation among living things and remarks, "we see that diversity doth destroy unity." Nature is "the simplest mother of Art."
Modern scientists took a religious interest in human evolution. Ernest Haeckl drew the famous "tree of life" model of humans and animal, derived from the ancient religious idea of the tree of life. He placed humans on the very top. Russell Wallace developed the theory of evolution concurrently with Darwin, but claimed a nontemporal origin for our designs. Charles Darwin ridiculed the ancient civilizations he studied, the "sacred books of the Hindoos or the beliefs of any barbarian." link.
Hopefully racial supremacy has diminished in popular culture today. But the idea that we become our own instruments of nature lives on. Global warming scientists today believe we are destroying our entire environment and are able to reverse that course, as nurses of our environment. Architecture is still the product of chance that distinguishes us as the "divine intelligence" over all other raw matter.
© Copyright 2010 Benjamin Blankenbehler, reproduction strictly prohibited