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The Man Behind DaVinci's Drawing - an Editorial Review of "The Vitruvian Man"

Book Blurb:

Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing Vitruvian Man comes from a description by the ancient Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, who wrote the only major work on architecture or engineering to survive from classical antiquity.

Vitruvius remains a mystery. We know he was not wellborn and that he was exceptionally well educated. Yet, he held the position of military engineer under Julius Caesar and took part in many of Caesar’s campaigns. He also counted Octavian as his patron later in life.

This novel imagines the early life of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio as he might have told it in his memoirs and as he might have lived it in the shadow of monumental events.

It begins as eighteen-year-old, Vitruvius’s comfortable world shatters when his father is murdered while in Rome, seeking money to repay loans on the family farm and land.

In his father’s possessions, Vitruvius finds a mysterious scroll which places he and his family in mortal danger.

Vitruvius travels to Rome with his tutor’s niece to secure money to keep his family’s land and to grapple with his father’s murder.

Those who sent the scroll pursue them, and he must somehow disentangle his family from Republic politics and avoid the executioner’s noose.

Author Bio:

I live with my wife in Seattle, Washington and now write after a long career as a research scientist and a US Naval Officer with a background in military history and theory.

Editorial Review:

To tell my tale will, in fact, forfeit my life, but I am old now, and my years have run their course. The gods would want an accounting before I pass, so I will write this memoir.

The legendary drawing of the 'Vitruvian Man' done by Leonardo da Vinci stands immemorial even to this day, yet many people do not know the history behind this famous work of art. During the 80 – 20 BCE in the Roman Empire lived a young man named Vitruvius, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, who rose from the status of farmer to the ranks of renowned and trusted architect and engineer. He later authored the book “De architectural” or the “Ten Books on Architecture”, which is the only surviving treatise on ancient times. And if on architecture, why did Da Vinci draw the figure of a man and mark the proportions? Well, within the treatise written by Vitruvius, he explained this way: “In a temple there ought to be harmony in the symmetrical relations of the different parts to the whole. In the human body, the central point is the navel. If a man is placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a compass centered at his navel, his fingers and toes will touch the circumference of a circle thereby described. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of a perfect square.”

Father would always say, “We do what we must.” He was a dedicated Stoic, a loyal follower of Zeno of Citium. At every opportunity, he would tell me that happiness was found by accepting the moment and not allowing the desire for pleasure or fear of pain to control oneself. Such was a state of mind I could never master.

While this book influenced Da Vinci's drawing when the treatise was discovered during Da Vinci's time period, the mystery behind the man who wrote the book remained. Very few facts are available about this legendary architect and engineer, thus leading to the development of this historical novel “The Vitruvian Man” by David Aucsmith as he attempts to delve into the early life of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.

The narrative unfolds as a memoir, told by Vitruvius who is now an old man relaying a tale which may or may not result in his death. We learn about his life in a village near Vesuvius, of his father's business dealings with some unsavory characters in Rome, and we learn of the dangers facing the family as crops fail and his father's debts are called to account. While his son, Vitruvius, is not well-born, his father makes sure of his education, and Vitruvius is tutored by Epiphanes, thus beginning his interest in engineering. When tragedy strikes the family, Vitruvius is thrust into adulthood and the need to seek help from some influential people in Rome, as well as discover the secret behind the tragedy of his father's murder.

The reader gets a sense of the time period, traveling along with Vitruvius and his new love interest, a young girl named Aemillia who is Epiphanes' neice and who is, herself, seeking to become a medica apprentice in Rome. Thrown together on this trip, they disguise themselves as husband and wife, and begin the journey, facing harsh weather, illness, thieves, and stalking thugs who are behind Vitruvius' father's death. Yet, Vitruvius has only a limited amount of time to find a way to save the family farm and to discover his father's murderer. With Aemillia by his side, they work together as a team to bring their hopes and dreams to fruition.... rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cicero and Julius Caesar. It is these connections which help Vitruvius rise to become a renowned engineer of his time period.

You see, you will never understand people like Crassus or Pompey, or even Caesar, unless you burn with ambition. And Caesar burns much hotter than most. I have seen it, and Cicero has seen it. Caesar wants it all. Beware, Vitruvius. The poor man who enters into partnership with a rich man makes a risky venture.” I laughed at the absurdity of the notion. “I doubt Caesar will remember my name after a few days. I'm hardly of any consequence to him or his plans, whatever they may be.” “Mark my words, son. He knows your name.”

While the story itself revolves around a mystery and the author immerses the reader in the scenery of ancient Rome, the development of the characters is not as three-dimensional as one would hope for the man who inspired Da Vinci's drawing. While the prose is easy to read and fluid, with the exception of a few typos scattered throughout, and some incidents which appear mildly anachronistic, for the most part the story is enjoyable and sets the stage for future adventures for Vitruvius and Aemillia. Feeling more like a young adult novel in the flow, this might be a good start for anyone interested in the Roman era or wanting to know about the man behind the drawing.

So, I sat alone for hours and waited. I memorized the placement of every tile on the floor and every flaw in the columns. I could see that one must have been hurried into place. It laced the detailed work of the others. Yet the column was there and had been long before any in its chamber had walked the earth. Even with the flaws, buildings endure long past the lives of the mortal men who built them. To construct a building is to grasp immortality.


The Vitruvian Man” by David Aucsmith receives 4 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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1 Comment

Apr 06, 2023

This sounds like a fun read! I shall check it out.

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