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  • Introduction
  • Marco Formisano and Serafina Cuomo

The idea of organizing the conference which led to the present volume occurred to us while at another conference, at Yale, whose theme was marginality and canonicity.1 There is a conceptual continuity between the two events. Vitruvius’s de Architectura has been seen as both marginal (in the context, until very recently, of studies of Latin literature) and canonical (in the context of the history of architecture). Yet the Yale conference made it very clear that neither category is straightforward and that the cultural construction of the categories of marginal and canonical ought to be a classicist’s subject of study on a par with the marginalized or canonical texts themselves.

It seemed like the right moment to look at Vitruvius with fresh eyes. First of all, the scholarship on de Architectura has been growing steadily for the last ten years. There are now several English translations, and recent Italian and French editions with commentary have drawn renewed attention to the complexity and richness of the text.2 In other words, after the groundbreaking work produced mostly by French, Italian, and German scholars in the 1980s and 90s, we are experiencing a new wave of Vitruvian studies. Vitruvius is now firmly recognized by some as an Augustan author, providing his own, somewhat different, perspective on the most [End Page 121] “canonical” era of Roman culture and literature. At the same time, some scholars, particularly Elisa Romano in this volume, emphasize that Vitruvius is also an author of the transition between republic and empire and thus not simply “another” Augustan author.

Vitruvius is no longer just “the Roman architectural writer,” and it is no longer necessary to assert his literariness. Indeed, the historiography on Vitruvius begs a reconsideration and a literary appreciation of other ancient, supposedly technical, writings.

Secondly, precisely because they are overtly aimed at the making of something other than themselves, texts such as de Architectura (what we persist in labeling “technical” writings), pose ever more urgently questions which are of interest both to literary scholars and to historians and archaeologists. How does Vitruvius construct his authority as both a writer and an architect? How does he communicate knowledge through words? How does he organize a topic which is at least as vast as Augustus’s empire into a seemingly ordered form? To put it in Vitruvius’s own terms, how does he gather the scattered limbs of architecture into a body? Does his work constitute a corpus, or is de Architectura better grasped through its moments of rupture, as a dismembered text? How does Vitruvius characterize the relationship between man’s work and nature? How can making things in the real world be turned into a text at all?

To truly reflect the many facets of de Architectura, we decided to invite as our contributors both a multi-generational group of Vitruvius experts and scholars who do not have Vitruvius at the centre of their interests. We tried to incorporate approaches from a variety of disciplines. As a result, the papers in this special issue of Arethusa differ in outlook, focus, methodology, and, of course, opinions. Some common threads can be identified that put the current contributions into a dialogue with previous scholarship: for instance, several of the papers address the issue of de Architectura’s macrotext or macrostructure (Formisano, König, Reitz–Joosse) and, more specifically, its stylistical features (Oksanish). There are discussions of Vitruvius’s natural philosophy and idea of nature (Courrént, Habinek) and of his cultural identity as a man of the transition between republic and empire (Romano). Other papers take their exploration of de Architectura in the direction of (but not exclusively) the history of material culture (Nichols), the history of science (Cuomo, Riggsby), gender studies (Williams), and reception studies (Bleijenberg and Delbeke, Verbaal).

The sequence of articles within a collective volume represents an invitation by the editors to follow a certain path through the individual [End Page 122] contributions. Our suggestion is to see the articles essentially as grouped within three categories. In the first, containing the chapters by Serafina Cuomo, Marco Formisano, Alice König, Bettina Reitz–Joosse, Linda Bleijenberg and Maarten Delbeke, and...


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