Last autumn I was assigned to the book “di Lucio Vitruvio Pollione de Architectura” by Cesare Cesariano. Like most of the other students, I was not particularly enthusiastic about this task. Old books have never particularly interested me. Those I knew from school I found difficult to understand even in German and now I got an Italian book. I hoped that there would be at least an online edition to translate and thus understand it a little better. Also I hoped that the tasks were not too complicated and time-consuming because we had so much to do otherwise.
My research began and if I am honest, it took me an astonishingly long time to even find out what the title of the book is and who wrote it. I have heard a lot about “de architectura by Vitruv”, but what version of it is my book? Does it contain the whole work of “de archtectura” or only an excerpt of it? Or is it only a commentary on it?
After the second task I finally understood that it is the first translation from Latin into Italian with commentary and glossary by Cesare Cesariano. This aroused my interest; I was really lucky to be assigned a version of this famous book!
A bit more motivated I ordered the book at the Eth Library and I experience another highlight. The librarian disappeared briefly and came back with a huge cover. I dragged it into the drawing-room and started to leaf through it. The old book impressed me, who would have thought that? I liked the size, the weight, the old writing, and the beautiful engravings. But once again I regretted never having learned Italian. Now I would have liked to understand what is written under the pictures and what kind of thoughts Vitruvius had about architecture.
The third task was quite challenging. Since my book is already a version of another work, I was not sure whether to list translations and plagiarisms of Cesarianos, or the original “de architectura”. But after some research, I found a very interesting text about how books in the 16th century – including Cesariano’s – were often plagiarized and published as their own after minimal changes. This is how the knowledge spread quickly to France and Spain and was translated again there and thus made accessible to more master builders. It’s that kind of history that does interest me and where I’m glad of what I learned in this task.
I am sure that I will meet “de architectura” again soon and I look forward to being able to understand more in terms of content next time and thus deepen this friendship. In the meantime, there has been a German translation for a long time, with which it is certainly also easier for me to get closer to the book.