Vitruvius on the Liberal Arts

Sometimes when you’re revisiting the Ten Books On Architecture by Vitruvius, and you come across a quote from “Book 6: Private Buildings,” and the quote induces you to think about the philosophy of education in today’s universities, then sometimes you will feel compelled to blog the short thought.

In the introductory remarks to Book 6, Vitruvius paraphrased Theophrastus, who in turn “urged that people be well educated rather than relying on money.” He said this, education, or what he called encyclios disciplina, this today known as the Liberal Arts, was essential to an individual’s character. Theophrastus (through the lens of Vitruvius) said it was essential, because,

…an educated person is the only one who is never a stranger in a foreign land, nor at a loss for friends even when bereft of household and intimates. Rather, he is a citizen in every country, and may look down without fear on the difficult turns of fortune. He, whoever, who thinks that he is fortified by the defenses of good fortune rather than learning will find himself a wanderer on shifting pathways, beleaguered by a life that is never stable, but always wavering.

It seems reasonable to think that the Roman Republic and Empire held together for as long as it did in part because enough of its citizens took the above ethos seriously, at least that which emphasized a lifetime of education in the liberal arts, both for good times and for bad.


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