It may simply be a stroke of luck, or a sign of veneration, but Vitruvius’s De Architectura is the only architectural treatise to survive from antiquity.

The earliest manuscripts we have date from about 1000 A.D. This was a time when medieval interest in Roman architecture was beginning to be expressed in the Romanesque style. So perhaps Vitruvius was recovered as part of this fascination with ancient Rome, or perhaps he helped spur the revival.

The editio princeps, or first printed edition, was put together by the philologist Giovanni Sulpizio in Rome in 1486. Since then, every generation has produced at least one version of Vitruvius. In 1567 the architect Andrea Palladio created drawings to illustrate an edition published by his patron Daniele Barbaro, Vitruvius, the Ten Books on Architecture, which contained both the Latin text and an Italian translation. Palladio correctly interpreted Vitruvius’s descriptions of architectural proportions for Doric, Ionic, Tuscan and Corinthian architecture.

No fewer than 50 editions of Vitruvius appeared between the time of Barbaro’s publication and 1915. During the following 60 years, however, Vitruvius was virtually ignored. This was especially true of practical architects, whose modernist ideas did not permit them to look to the past for models.

Since the mid-1970s, the mood has changed dramatically. French scholars have published a revised standard edition of Vitruvius’s Latin text and produced the first French translation of De Architectura since Claude Perrault’s magnificent editions of 1673 and 1684. Vitruvius has now been translated into Hungarian, Danish, Turkish, Hebrew and modern Greek—the latter a particularly welcome event, since Vitruvius’s primary sources were treatises in ancient Greek.

There are also two new English editions of Vitruvius. In Ten Books on Architecture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), Ingrid Rowland (translator) and Thomas Noble Howe (illustrator) have produced a complete edition of Vitruvius’s ten books. This new translation is indispensable for understanding Vitruvius in relation to his own time. In Vitruvius on Architecture (New York: Monacelli Press, forthcoming), I have selected five of Vitruvius’s books (Books I, III, IV, V, VI) and, through illustrations and commentary, suggested how Vitruvius’s principles pertain to the theory and practice of contemporary architecture.