Friday, September 3, 2010

Vitruvius; Musical Training to Tune Catapults


In this image from an edition of his book published in 1684, the Roman engineer Vitruvuis (c.80 BC-c.15 BC) presents his book "De Architectura" to Augustus. The image imagines the very moment in which Vitruvius became a legend, author of a book widely read for more than 700 years.

In the opening of "De Architectura" Vitruvuis indicates which subjects and skills should be acquired by architects. Among them is the study of music.

Musical training has a very practical application:

"Music, also, the architect ought to understand so that he may have knowledge of the canonical and mathematical theory, and besides be able to tune ballistae, catapultae, and scorpiones to the proper key. For to the right and left in the beams are the holes in the frames through which the strings of twisted sinew are stretched by means of windlasses and bars, and these strings must not be clamped and made fast until they give the same correct note to the ear of the skilled workman. For the arms thrust through those stretched strings must, on being let go, strike their blow together at the same moment; but if they are not in unison, they will prevent the course of projectiles from being straight."

Tuning perfect unisons requires that one can hear the absence of beats. This is a skill that becomes much easier after having musical training. One also imagines that the specific pitch of the strings was also important as a gauge of the correct tension of those massive strings. People are going to hurt if the strings are stretched to the point of breaking!

For the concept of using musical skills as a means of destruction one must thank a Roman.

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