Printer Friendly

Clinical gynecology and Aristotle's biology: the composition of HA X.

Although Aristotle was an avid researcher into the processes of sexual reproduction, many of his statements show that he had limited access to the bodies of women. For example, he failed to note that in women, unlike other female mammals, the urethra and vagina have separate orifices on the exterior of the body, (1) and he believed that menstrual bleeding was akin to estrus and took place at the same time of the month in all women. (2) It might seem that Aristotle simply did not avail himself of the knowledge available from physicians who attended women. However, the gathering of endoxa (professional opinions and empirical observations) before proceeding with his own theorizing on any subject was central to Aristotle's methodology and it would be inconceivable that he would have failed to do this on the topic of women too. In the present paper, I wish to argue that the Aristotelian corpus, as it has been transmitted to us, contains in the first five chapters of Historia Animalium X (HA X) a treatise, On Failure to Reproduce (OFR), authored by a doctor, whom I shall call Ps-Aristotle, which formed part of Aristotle's endoxa when developing his reproductive theories. I will argue that the final two chapters have been added as comments on OFR either by Aristotle himself or a later Peripatetic, and that it is the presence of these two chapters that has led to the work being included in the Aristotelian Corpus. Without these, nobody would have taken OFR for an Aristotelian composition.

Among the works in the Aristotelian corpus are 10 books known collectively as HA or Researches into Animals. These record Aristotle's observations of various types of animals, organized by body system. That is to say, he describes the different types of, e.g., dentition, lungs, legs, and eyebrows in the zoological realm rather than treating each group or species of animal as a whole. Book X, however, stands apart from the rest of the work and deals exclusively with sterility in humans--almost exclusively women. Of the earliest catalogues of Aristotle's works, those of Diogenes Laertius and the Vita Menagiana (which probably derive from a list made by Ariston of Ceos c. 200 BC) list HA as comprising only 9books and also list a treatise entitled On Failure to Reproduce (peri tou me gennan). A later catalogue deriving from the 1st c. BC recension of Andronicus, that of Ptolemy, makes no reference to OFR but does cite HA as containing 10 books. It is generally agreed that the OFR of the Ariston list and the HA X of the Andronican recension are one and the same treatise, but it is disputed as to whether Aristotle authored these. Doubts about the authenticity of the work seem to have arisen early. Ten of the nineteen manuscripts of HA contain only Books I-IX and in those that do contain X, it has often been added by a later hand. All manuscripts of HA X ultimately derive from one 14th c. manuscript, Vaticanus 262. (3)

Until recently, it has been widely accepted by modern scholars that HA X is not part of HA and Aristotle is not the author of this work. (4) The main argument against Aristotelian authorship is that the author describes a woman as contributing seed to conception in the same way a man does, while Aristotle argues vigorously in Generation of Animals (GA) and elsewhere that among animals that reproduce sexually, the roles of the mother and father are not parallel, and in particular that the female contribution to conception cannot involve the equivalent of the male seed.

The non-Aristotelian status of the work was challenged in an article by David Balme, the major initiator of the revival of the study of Aristotle's biology in the latter part of the 20th century. (5) He argued that HA X had been correctly identified in the list of Ariston, and reflected in the catalogues of Diogenes Laertius and the Vita Menagiana, as an independent treatise on the causes of human sterility written by Aristotle. Allan Gotthelf who prepared Balme's edition of HA for posthumous publication, tends to share Balme's views on the authenticity of HA X. (6) Sabine Follinger rehearses the arguments for and against the Aristotelian authorship of HA X and draws attention to some of the weaknesses in Balme's position; ultimately, however, she is unable to declare for or against Aristotelian authenticity and hence makes relatively little use of the treatise in her book, in which she compares the various theories of gender relationship in the classical period and demonstrates the sophistication of Aristotle's arguments compared with earlier theorists. (7) In response to Follinger's work, Philip van der Eijk defended the authenticity of HA X, arguing that it could originally have been a medical work by Aristotle. (8)

Before these publications appeared, I had argued briefly against Balme's views and for the position that HA X is a work written by an anonymous Greek doctor influenced by Aristotle. (9) In light of the recent claims for Aristotelian authenticity, at a time when the study of the biological works is occupying an increasingly central position in the study of Aristotelian philosophy, this position needs to be argued for in more detail. As stated above, I have also come to see HA X as the result of a different interaction between Aristotle and the author than I did initially. I shall, therefore, refer to the first five chapters of HA X throughout this paper as OFR and its author as Ps-Aristotle to emphasize that not only is Book X not part of HA nor written by Aristotle, but that it is not, and was never intended to be viewed as a unified work.

In this paper, I will not enter into any stylistic issues, and I do not regard them as pivotal to my argument. There are, to be sure, grammatical features that immediately strike a reader as un-Aristotelian, such as the comparatively frequent use of neuter plural verbs with neuter plural subjects. (10) Like most classical authors, Aristotle almost always uses a singular verb with neuter plurals. There is also a general grammatical carelessness of sequence that is uncharacteristic even of Aristotle's admittedly crabbed and terse style. However, there are also some similarities to Aristotelian vocabulary and phrasing, especially in the last two chapters, and van der Eijk argues that the apparent differences of style and vocabulary between OFR and other Aristotelian biological works can be explained by the fact that, as a medical work, it is of a different genre from the rest of the Aristotelian corpus, and hence, such divergences do not provide conclusive evidence for anon-Aristotelian provenance of the text. However, this argument acknowledges that the stylistics of the work do not provide compelling grounds for Aristotelian authorship either.

Arguments for and against authenticity center on the content of OFR, primarily on the claim therein that a woman contributes seed (gone or sperma (11)) to conception in the same way a man does. In all his other discussions on the topic, Aristotle argues that the only fluid women contribute to conception is menses (katamenia), and though he sometimes refers to menses with the terms he uses for male semen (gone and sperma), he is insistent that unlike male semen, menses cannot carry 'form' or eidos. (12) Balme and van der Eijk believe that in OFR too the terms gone and sperma, as well as katamenia, refer to the menses and that with some refinement the account of conception in OFR can be reconciled with the theory of conception put forward in Aristotle's other biological works. However, I argue that in OFR, Ps-Aristotle clearly differentiates female seed from menses as well as from a third sexual fluid, the vaginal lubricant. I shall begin with an overview of Aristotle's theory of sexual reproduction to which the theory of OFR may be compared.

In Aristotle's philosophy, generally anew entity comes into being whenever form, eidos, is put into matter that previously took a less organized form. Thus, clay (here viewed as matter though it is known through its form 'clay')can be formed into bricks. These bricks, in turn, can be seen as matter that can be formed into a house. Houses could perhaps even be viewed as matter for a village. Eidos itself is completely immaterial; it is a principle of organization introduced into matter by an 'efficient cause' (in the case of a house, this would be the builder).

In a human, the eidos is implanted at conception in the menses as the body's principle or arche, and from within directs the elaboration of the individual to maturity, beginning with the production of a rudimentary heart. (13) When we ingest food, the heat in our arche cooks or 'concocts' the nourishment into blood. (14) This is then organized into human organs and tissues specific to the sex of the individual by the eidos in the arche while simultaneously reproducing the traits that make the individual different from all other humans of the same sex. Aristotle describes these levels of organization as human/sexual and individual 'movements'. (15)

After the slowing down and cessation of growth at puberty, any leftover nourishment which is not needed to maintain the individual's own body--but is the sort of material which could have been used in any part of it--is further concocted by the arche from blood into the generative fluids of semen and menses. This further concoction is necessary in order to prepare the material to take on anew independent arche, rather than simply be deployed in one part of an already instantiated eidos. A woman lacks sufficient heat in her arche to concoct her menses to the point of being able to infuse them with an entire new and separate eidos. Beyond maintaining her own eidos, she can concoct her blood only to the penultimate point of being ready to receive an entirely independent form: menstrual blood is to ordinary blood as bricks are to clay, but the mother's arche does not possess the heat needed to organize them into an individual separate from herself. (16) The menses are stored in her uterus to await the infusion of heat that can establish this independent organizational principle. This is provided by the man who concocts his seminal residue to the penultimate point then stores it in blood-like form in the tubes around his testicles. The heat caused by the rush of pneuma (extremely hot air (17)) from the heart to the testicles during intercourse performs the ultimate concoction of the semen; at this point, it becomes white hot and can take on the father's human, male and individual 'movements' in their entirety. Once brought into contact with the menses, semen acts as a tool by which to transfer the father's heat and eidos and establish an independent arche in the menses that directs the development of anew individual. Having performed its function of transferring the father's heat and eidos, the semen itself evaporates. Its matter does not blend with the menses. If all goes well, according to Aristotle, anew male individual in the image of the father is formed. If the male's semen lacks heat vis-a-vis the amount of menses to be informed, for instance if his penis is too long or the female menses are particularly abundant, the arche that is established will itself lack the heat to concoct semen when the time comes (after puberty) and the new individual will 'relapse' from the male sex to the female. Aristotle justifies this by saying that it is natural for a thing to lapse into its opposite. To this extent, a woman is a teras (monster or deformity), because it is the male form which is the proper instantiation of the species, but she is a necessary monster because without her any reproduction of the species would be impossible. (18)

In terms of formal and material causation, this theory of sexual reproduction fits with the rest of Aristotle's philosophy. However, in limiting the mother's contribution to providing matter, the theory appears to entail that all children--both sons and daughters--would resemble their fathers. Aristotle addresses this by saying simply that should the father's individual movements fail to gain the mastery required, they will lapse into the mother's because the individual mother is opposite to the individual father just as a female is opposite to a male. (19) This has led at least one scholar to claim that, somehow, the male semen carried every possible mother's individual traits, (20) but this position is difficult to maintain. Some critics claim that no meaning can be given to Aristotle's statement on relapse, because it is simply a stop-gap argument he uses to acknowledge the possibility of maternal resemblance without giving up his claim that there is no form in the menses. (21) Most scholars on Aristotle's reproductive theories try to explain how the mother's individual movements can be present in the menses when the human/sexual movements are not. (22) OFR could supply support for this view if it reflects an earlier stage in Aristotle's thinking, in which menses are analogous in every way to the male seed, thereby fully qualifying as gone/sperma. His later claim that the menses do not contain eidos can then be taken merely as a refinement of this position, i.e., that they do not carry the human eidos. This theory argues that he continues to use the terms gone and sperma to refer to the menses, because they carry the mother's individual movements even though they are not fully 'seed' in the sense of male semen.

However, this position is untenable. For instance, the mother's chin could be prominent, receding, pointed or cleft, but it could not be any of these if it were not first a human chin, and if it is to be her individual chin it will also have to be a female chin because, unless she is extremely unfortunate, the mother is beardless. Allowing all these movements to be in the menses would be akin to granting the mother the ability to carry the full human eidos in her menses, which Aristotle expressly denies. I shall argue at another time that it is not, in fact, difficult to account for resemblance to the mother on Aristotle's theory. However, I want to consider first why Aristotle, in contrast to almost every other reproductive theorist in ancient Greece, should be so wedded to the belief that women do not contribute seed as a father does to the conception of a child. (23)

From the purely empirical point of view, Aristotle is correct in asserting that women do not have to reach orgasm and ejaculate to conceive a child. Those who believe male and female contributions to conception are parallel could be led to the assertion that if a woman conceives as the result of a rape, she must have had an appetite for sex, even if, as Soranus puts it, she repressed the knowledge from herself. (24) The author of the Hippocratic treatise On Generation explains that because a woman emits her seed directly into her womb, there will not always be any external sign that a woman has ejaculated, although, if the womb is more widely open than usual, the female seed can fall out of the cervix and appear in the vagina. (25) What shows a woman must have ejaculated even in the absence of perceivable seed or any other sign of enjoyment is that she conceives. In contrast, Aristotle stated explicitly that one reason to deny that women produce seed is that they assert that whether or not they enjoy intercourse has no bearing on whether or not they conceive. (26) He acknowledges that a fluid usually appears in a woman's vagina when she reaches orgasm, and he believes this facilitates conception by affording 'a better passage for the semen', but the presence of this lubricant is not necessary for conception because it is not semen. (27)

There is a further objection that Aristotle could level against proponents of female 'seed' of whatever form: the scarcity of human hermaphrodites. Proponents of female seed argue that resemblance to parents is due to the child receiving material from the bodies of both its mother and father. This could either be drawn from all the different body parts at the time of orgasm, or it could be accumulated from all over the body and stored in the brain to be drawn down the body during intercourse. Although children would receive seed from the noses of both parents, they would be born with their father's nose if his nose seed was stronger or in greater abundance than that of the mother. However, in the same conception, the mother's eye seed could be stronger than the father's, so a child could be born with his mother's brown eyes and his father's snub nose. By the same token, if the transference of material accounts for resemblance, children should be appearing regularly with their father's penis and their mother's breasts, or their mother's vagina and their father's hairiness--but this hardly ever happens. Simple contiguity of the reproductive system cannot be used as an explanation for why it almost invariably goes together as a whole because it is less contiguous than the face. Aristotle's theory, on the other hand, explains sex as a systemic modification of the species form. To be human is to be either male or female, and in Aristotle's theory this can be traced to a single cause: heat. The mother affects this only so far as the amount of her menses stands in proportion to the heat of the man's semen. Those who argue that resemblance to the mother derives from her material contribution have to explain what material part of the body femaleness derives from when, for instance, a daughter could have her father's chin but remain beardless. In Aristotle's theory, this is explained by the daughter having an arche, which lacks the heat of the male sex but retains her father's individual movements in respect of the chin.

In insisting on alack of parallelism between the contributions of the mother and father to conception, Aristotle's theory also provides an explication as to why sexual reproduction requires two parents. If a woman supplies seed, a place for the fetus to develop and material for its nourishment, there would seem to be no need of a father. Proponents of female seed, such as Empedocles and the Hippocratic author of On Generation, address the problem by stating that each sex has only half the material needed to make anew individual, which must then be complemented by the contribution of the opposite sex before conception could take place. This might seem to be prescient of what we now know about chromosomes, but it really is nothing more than an acknowledgement that two opposite sexes are necessary for most animal reproduction. It is difficult for those who champion female seed to explain why a father has to contribute anything to the production of a daughter who appears to resemble her mother in all particularities, though they would have to admit that he plays a necessary role.

So then, with the apparent exception of explaining how a child could look like his mother, Aristotle's claim that conception is caused by the transfer of information carried in the male's seminal fluid into the material of the female's menses is an advancement on all earlier theories that conceive of parallel male and female roles in conception. Balme and others want to argue that Aristotle did explain a child's resemblance to its mother by assuming that the menses contained the mother's form--albeit in some adumbrated way--and that his later loose characterization of menses as gone or sperma was a holdover from an earlier stage of his theory, in which he held that menses were a closer parallel to male semen than he later believed. They cite OFR as evidence of this earlier stage. I argue that in OFR, menses and female semen two distinct fluids, which Aristotle flatty states is impossible at GA 727a26-30.

The opening words of OFR show that it has been written from a practical point of view unlike every Aristotelian biological treatise. When the author says, 'So then, first in the case of the female it is necessary to examine how things stand concerning the womb, so that if the cause <of sterility> lies there it can be treated ...' (28) he is imagining a physical examination of a female patient, not a theoretical investigation into the nature of the womb. (29) Balme tries to downplay the therapeutic nature of the text, an attempt which van der Eijk rightly says is doomed to failure. (30) Van der Eijk himself acknowledges the clinical nature of the text and argues that Aristotle would have been more practical and less theoretical in a medical work than in his general philosophical works. It is difficult to test this assumption because we have no example of Aristotle writing for a specialized professional audience. In his extant works, Aristotle views doctors and other professionals as specialists who can provide him with endoxa in the elaboration of his general philosophical theories, not as groups whom he can enlighten in their field of expertise.

Meanwhile, the author of OFR does speak as a professional giving advice to less experienced practitioners. For example, the first thing he directs a doctor to look for when considering a woman's uterus is its mobility; if it is in good condition, he says, it should remain in one position and not be first in one place then in another (634a1-2). Aristotle insisted that the womb is fixed in place and could not 'wander' as it is said to do in the Hippocratic works (GA 720a12); however, he did allow that the womb 'descended' during menstruation and conception and Balme claims that it is to these movements that OFR is referring here and uses the passage as evidence for Aristotle's authorship. (31) However, the passage seems to be arguing that being first in one place and then in another is a pathological sign and not the normative physiological movement involved in menstruation and conception that both Aristotle and the author of OFR claim are characteristic of a healthy womb. The implication is that Ps-Aristotle believes that wombs in bad condition could 'wander' in some fashion. Of course, Aristotle may have held this belief at an earlier stage of his theory, but the passage cannot be used as evidence of Aristotelian authorship.

After considering the position of the uterus, the author directs a doctor to proceed to consider the state of the menses in a woman who is having difficulty in becoming pregnant. Throughout this section, the author refers to menses as the 'fluid' (hygrotes or hygron), never as gone or sperma. Moreover, in discussing the menses per se, he gives no indication that they are necessary for conception. Menstruation is important because regular evacuation of fluid, which is not too scanty, excessive nor 'putrefied' (sesemmena mallon), shows that the womb and the body are functioning correctly.

Another sign that things are as they should be is the appropriate evacuation of 'whites'. Ps-Aristotle says all women discharge slightly putrefied 'whites' at the beginning and end of menstruation, but as long as they do not have an odor of pus they are a sign that there is heating (thermasia) present and 'matters concerning the uterus are as they should be for childbearing' (634b24-25). Balme has no note on this passage, but I suspect in the reference to heating he would find a suggestion that at an early stage in his writings Aristotle believed the menses could be concocted into a whiter seminal material akin to male semen by the heat of the womb before it is swamped by a greater of menstrual fluid. (32) In the GA Aristotle does discuss physiological leucorrhea and pathological leucorrhagia (738a23-34), but there he explains them as quantity residues. If OFR represented an earlier stage in his career when he had thought of them as more highly concocted residues, it is highly unlikely he would have referred to them as 'putrefied'. Elsewhere, Aristotle seems to confuse the 'whites' with the vaginal lubricant. (33) Neither discharge has a specific function in his reproductive theory so he has no real interest in them. For a Hippocratic doctor, however, every bodily evacuation has diagnostic value; thus, the normal appearance, smell, quantity, occasion and source of every discharge must be identified. Note also that Ps-Aristotle believes that the best time for conception is when the womb is empty (635a23-8) in contrast to Aristotle's theory, in which there has to be a certain amount of menses in the womb for conception to take place (GA 727b10-34), though it is true that they both believe that the most favorable time for conception is just after menstruation has finished.

But perhaps Balme would argue that OFR's statement, that the womb is most likely to conceive when it 'has no residues around the passageway', reflects Aristotle's belief that only a very small amount of menses is needed for conception, the amount that begins to gather further back in the womb just after menstruation has finished. Even so, there is still a further discrepancy between Aristotle's claims about menses and Ps-Aristotle's on female seed. Aristotle asserts that menstrual fluid flows naturally into the womb over the course of the month; (34) OFR claims that female seed is ejaculated in a similar way to that of the male's upon orgasm. (35) If, as Balme argues, the female gone/sperma of OFR is menses, the author must imagine it as initially being stored in the passages around the womb, just as blood-like semen is stored in passages around the testes in the male according to Aristotle's reproductive theory. The concoction to gone would be fully achieved only at orgasm, when the female would ejaculate the fully concocted seed into the womb. Presumably, if the woman does not reach orgasm, the menses would flow into the uterus and be evacuated in their bloody state during menstruation. The extra heat in the empty womb at the beginning and end of menstruation would, Balme might argue, begin the transformation of the menses to seed, producing the 'whites', but would not be sufficient to produce true gone. (36) Aristotle may, at some point, have held such a theory, but it is increasingly at odds with what he says about conception in the rest of his biology, and there is no objective evidence of any connection between menses and gone in OFR.

All the evidence points to Ps-Aristotle believing that menses and gone are completely independent fluids. OFR says that after a dream in which she appeared to have intercourse with her husband, a woman should generally awake weaker, but not ill, though occasionally she may even gain in vigour from the experience. This is said to be evidence that in ejaculation, the whole body is gathering and disposing of something, not just the uterus (636a3-4). Women are stronger after orgasm 'when the gone has accumulated in large quantities at the place from which they emit it,' (636b26-36), i.e., when there has been enough time since the last ejaculation for the gone to have built up to the point where it could distress the woman. It is the fact that she is relieved of this stored seed that makes a woman more vigorous. A woman is weakened when the seed 'comes out of the amount that the body needs', but the weakness does not last because the body easily replenishes the seed. If the seed is derived from the fabric of the body, as in pangenetic theories, this weakness makes sense, but if the gone is menses in some form it is difficult to see how the loss of it could weaken a woman. OFR does not explain the origin of menstrual fluid, (37) but in every ancient Greek theory on normal menstruation, the woman's own body has no need of menstrual fluid. She produces it precisely because when she is not pregnant, the nourishment she takes in is in excess of her body's requirements. This is true just as much in Aristotle's theory as anybody else's. At GA 725b7-9, however, Aristotle does attribute a man's weakness after ejaculation to the body's 'being deprived of the final product formed out of the nourishment'. This does not quite jibe with Aristotle's theory because, according to GA, the seminal residue is available to be emitted precisely because the man's body does not need it. Aristotle would have kept more in line with his own theories if to explain the lassitude following ejaculation he elaborated on the effects of concoction and violent stimulation, to which he alludes briefly at GA 723b35. The language of the body's deprivation of nourishment by ejaculation seems to have been misappropriated from pangenetic theories, such as that of OFR.

Nevertheless, let us grant to Balme that the author of OFR believes without stating it explicitly that, while the female 'seed' is usually drawn from the accumulation of menstrual fluid around the womb, it would be drawn directly from the fabric of the body if there are no accumulated menses (though presumably it would pass through a stage of being menstrual in nature). Still, there is another discrepancy that Balme would have to account for, which argues against the identification of gone with concocted menses: in OFR menses and gone have different points of discharge; gone is not ejaculated into or out of the womb.

This is implied when, in discussing the accumulation of gone, Ps-Aristotle refers to the site of the accumulation as 'the place from which they <women> emit it' (636b26-36); he does not identify it as the womb, though this would have been easier than the circumlocution. The fact that gone is emitted outside of the womb but not by the womb becomes even clearer in Ps-Aristotle's remarks on the cervix. If the position of the uterus or the nature of the menses do not account for a woman's sterility, OFR says that a doctor should next consider the cervix, and check whether or not it is in a straight line. If it is not, 'the uterus will not draw the seed into itself. For the woman's emission too is into the region in front of the uterus' (634b28-30). Ps-Aristotle explains that the woman has to emit, as the man does, in front of the uterus in order for the seeds to mingle. Pregnancy can then occur no matter what the position of coition. If women emitted directly into the womb they would never conceive no matter what position they assumed, because their seed would fail to mix with the man's.

At first it may appear as if Ps-Aristotle, like the Hippocratic author of On Generation, is here mistaking the lubricant, which is frequently exuded in the vagina during intercourse, for female seed, and that Ps-Aristotle likewise conceived of this fluid as emanating from the uterus. However, at 635b18-25 he describes a fluid produced by the uterus through the exertion of intercourse as 'a local secretion, just as in the mouth there is often a local secretion of saliva both at the expectation of food, and whenever we are chattering and working hard ourselves ... Even uteri that are in particularly good condition suffer this affection'. Too much of this fluid can be a hindrance to conception; and although it is connected with sexual activity, it is not connected with orgasm per se, whereas the author states that the emission of seed is produced 'when they <women> have erotic dreams which reach completion' (634b30). Thus, Ps-Aristotle clearly distinguishes the vaginal lubricant from female gone in terms of function and time of emission.

In along note in the Loeb, Balme claims that beyond being differentiated from the vaginal lubricant, the nature of 'seed' is never further delineated in the text. Further, he draws attention to the fact that in the GA, Aristotle also 'says generally that the moisture secreted in coition is local only and is not seed'. (38) He seems to be arguing that eliminating the vaginal lubricant leaves menses as the only candidate for seed. He likewise acknowledges that in OFR, the woman is said to emit her seed 'into the region in front of the uterus'. However, since he takes the seed to be menses, he constantly refers to the woman's seed as being emitted by the uterus. This is not only an unsupported assumption, it is also contradicted by the text. The statement at 634b28-30 implies that the woman emits her seed into the same place as the man, even when the cervix is turned away from that place; this could be construed as evidence that the emission is not issuing from the womb.

More significantly, a passage at 637a22-35 describes an arrangement of a tube (kaulos)outside of the womb through which a discharge (ekptosis) is deposited in front of the womb. The kaulos is described as being analogous to a penis. A passage (poros) leads from the kaulos to the outside air near the opening of the urethra and allows air out during copulation. When women are sexually excited, this area 'is not in the same state as before the excitement. Now it is from this kaulos that the ekptosis takes place'. The natural assumption is that this ekptosis is analogous to the discharge from the penis in a state of sexual excitement and is, therefore, to be identified with female seed. Since he wants to identify the female seed with the menses and have it emanate from inside the womb, Balme has to explain this ekptosis, which undeniably comes from outside the womb, as a wind drawn in from outside the body to aid in the attraction of the seed into the womb; he then translates the term ekptosis as 'outflow'. However, the root pto- involves inescapable overtones of falling that seem inappropriate to the behavior of air. It is true that at 637b32 the text, as printed in the Loeb and Cambridge editions, reads 'The uterus does not emit into itself but outside, where the man too emits. However, it is a relatively minor emendation, and more in keeping with normal Greek word order, to read the nominative hai husterai as an object accusative in agreement with the intensifier autas, which is the reading of the manuscripts rather than the reflexive hautas, and take women to be the subject of the sentence. This would result in the translation, 'Women do not emit into the uterus itself, but outside, which would keep the passage in conformity with the description of the emission of seed stated in 637a22-35. Moreover, if the seminal emission were some form of concocted menses released by the uterus, the phrasing 'The uterus does not emit into itself, would be somewhat strange. We would rather expect phrasing, such as 'The seed does not remain inside the womb. We should also expect the author to describe the gone, which a woman emits in erotic dreams, as being drawn back into the womb rather than, as is the case, simply being drawn into. It seems clear that the female seed of OFR is a discharge that is to be differentiated from menses, 'the whites and vaginal lubricant, and is deposited in front of the womb by the woman's equivalent of a penis.

It is possible that Aristotle himself mistakes the author's meaning if his remarks at GA 739b14-20 are directed at this passage. These remarks follow a discussion on how the male semen enters the womb. Aristotle argues against the belief that the male semen is deposited directly into the womb; rather, he says that it is drawn into the womb by the heat present within it, in the same way warmed conical vessels draw material up into themselves when turned upside down. He continues:

'And in this way the suction takes place, and it does not occur in any way, as some claim, through the parts instrumental in copulation. And it happens in reverse (anapalin)for those who also claim that the woman too emits semen. For if the uterus emits semen outside <itself>, it will have to draw it back inside again if it is to be mixed with the seed of the male. To behave thus is superfluous, and Nature does nothing superfluous'.

From the cross reference that Peck gives to GA 728a31 ff., it is clear that he takes 'the parts instrumental in copulation to refer to the place in which Aristotle says the woman feels pleasure, during intercourse, which is 'the same place as the male by contact. I have argued elsewhere that this is to be identified with the clitoris and that it is also the clitoris that is referred to by the term poros in OFR. (39) There is no other author that I know of, medical or philosophical, who makes any reference to the role of the clitoris in stimulating a woman's pleasure in intercourse, so if Aristotle's reference to a theory which argues that semen is drawn into the womb 'by the parts instrumental in copulation is to be identified with any extant passage, then it would have to be OFR 637a22-35. The possibility of the identification is strengthened by the fact that Aristotle says that at least some of those who claim the parts instrumental in copulation have something to do with the taking up of semen by the womb also claim that the woman emits semen as well as the man, i.e., the position of OFR. Aristotle assumes that in this theory semen is first emitted by the womb and then drawn back in again; hence, before it draws in it has to act in reverse (anapalin)and push out, which is a superfluous action in Aristotle's estimation. As I have argued, this is not the argument in OFR, but neither is it the argument in any other medical or philosophical theory of reproduction. The Hippocratic treatise On Generation believes that a woman's semen can leak into her vagina if her cervix is open wider than usual; however, like other Hippocratics, the author believes a woman's seed is emitted into her womb and mingles with the male semen there. (40) To reiterate, OFR is the only extant treatise that repeatedly states that a woman's seed is deposited in front of the womb. The position that Aristotle is attacking here is consistent with the same misunderstanding of OFR as that of Balme.

On the theory of multiple births, Aristotle likewise takes a position opposed to that of OFR. (41) At 637a5-10, Ps-Aristotle uses the fact that twins can occur in humans to show that a conception does not have to use up all the material that the man and woman emit. If there is not enough for a second fetus (as there usually is not), the excess seed will be left over in the womb, or sometimes outside the womb, which can lead women into failing to recognize they have become pregnant. If there is enough seed for two fetuses, the material is divided up by being seized by different parts of the womb. At GA 771b 27-30 Aristotle states categorically that multiple births are not caused by semen being divided up into different parts of the womb; he then points to evidence from animal dissections to support this. Regarding this issue van der Eijk says that it is 'The only problem concerning a divergence of doctrine for which I fail to see an immediate solution. (42) However, Aristotle's opposition to OFR is even more specific than van der Eijk notes. At 637a10-15 Ps-Aristotle goes on to say:

'Moreover, if many young come to be from one coupling, which is clear in the case of pigs and sometimes in the case of twins in humans, it is clear that the semen comes (43) from the whole body but is parceled out in respect of each form. (44) For it is possible to separate off an individual from all the semen and for all the semen to separate into many individuals. So that it is impossible at the same time for semen to be separated off from the body part by part'.

In this passage, the author is arguing against the view that discrete parts of the seed come from different parts of the body as stated, for example, in the Hippocratic treatise Diseases IV 1. Ps-Aristotle is making a distinction between the semen being separated off 'from all the body' (apo pantos--which he believes is the case) and being separated off 'part by part (kata meros). He is arguing that since it is not necessary for all the semen to be used to form a fetus, any correctly sized portion of the semen must be capable of engendering an entire body. If there is a multiple conception, the total semen must have contained a multiple of the correct portion size to engender a whole fetus; we do not get half fetuses if the leftover is less than the correct portion for a complete fetus. Therefore, seed must be separated from the body as a unity not part by part. At GA 729a8-9, Aristotle agrees with Ps-Aristotle that the seed cannot be separated off from the body's parts because, he argues, if this is the case then there could be no mechanism to portion out the correct amount of each type of seed to the different fetations. This is a somewhat different objection from that of OFR. At GA 771b33-772a12 Aristotle also agrees with OFR that the entirety of the seminal emissions is not necessarily used up in forming anew individual. However, he attacks the theory of OFR in his first reference to multiple births at GA 723b9-15. This passage occurs toward the end of a lengthy argument against pangenesis, most of which has been directed against theories that posit the secretion of semen from the body kata meros. Here he addresses the possibility that the semen somehow comes away from the body as a unity:

'And yet, how is this possible if the semen is secreted from the whole body (apo pantos)? For it is necessary that one secretion arise from one act of copulation and one separating off. And it is impossible for it to be divided in the uterus, for by then it would already be the division as it were from anew plant or animal, not of semen'.

At this point, Aristotle's objection is not that the semen cannot be separated off from discrete body parts, nor that the womb cannot divide the semen correctly, but that if the separation of the semen from the body is a unity, it can itself constitute anew individual, not simply amass of semen. This objection is more apt when directed against OFR than against any other medical work of which I am aware.

The dissonance of OFR with Aristotle's reproductive theory does not preclude its being part of Aristotle's juvenalia which, for some reason, has been incorporated into the corpus completely unrevised; however, it seems far more likely that the author is someone other than Aristotle. Its inclusion in the Aristotelian corpus is, I think, explained by the final two chapters of HA X.

In OFR, Ps-Aristotle utilizes examples from animals in only a single passage, namely, the one which uses multiple births to illustrate the fact that the conception of a child does not necessarily utilize all the semen produced from a man and a woman. Recourse to the example is forced upon him because multiple births are not frequent in humans, probably even less so in antiquity than today. Moreover, in antiquity, superfetation --the conception of a second child after the woman is already pregnant from a previous act of intercourse--was considered to be a viable cause of twinning, the most common form of human multiple birth. Litter-bearing animals were the simplest way to illustrate his point.

Chapter five of OFR deals with these kinds of issues because by this point in the treatise, the author has dealt with all the sources of female infertility--and all his argumento assume that women produce seed. The immediately succeeding chapter (Chapter six of HA X), however, turns to the issue of whether or not females contribute to conception at all and uses birds and grasshoppers to illustrate that they do, citing the production of 'wind-eggs. This may seem, at first blush, strong evidence to support the position of OFR. However, from the several references in OFR to the possibility of the womb drawing in a woman's semen unmixed with a man's after erotic dreams, we might have expected the author to have argued that an analogous condition could develop in women, but this is not the case. (45) The last two chapters of HA X use wind-eggs to undercut rather than validate--the claims made about a woman's emissions in OFR.

After introducing the topic of wind-eggs, Chapter six of HA X continues with a rehearsal of observations cited in OFR that are in accordance with claims made in Aristotle's biological works: women emit fluid in dreams like men do and suffer the same debilitation after the emission. The author then reiterates OFR's conclusion from this evidence: that seed is emitted by both man and women. He proceeds to re-state OFR's argument that women emit into the area before the womb where the man also ejaculates, and that from there the woman draws the semen into her womb. He then states the problem he has been working towards: in some animals, such as birds, this results in wind-eggs, whereas in other animals, such as horses and sheep it results in nothing. On behalf of Ps-Aristotle, he then frames a possible answer to the objection that orgasmic emissions in female animals therefore cannot be seed. The authors first states that birds do not ejaculate into an area before the womb but into the womb itself. When a female quadruped ejaculates into the area before her womb outside of copulation, her seed mingles with other fluids and is not constituted in the womb itself because it does not enter it. Here, the author is clearly thinking of the fluid discharge of female mammals at estrus. The point of the comparison must be to suggest that in quadrupeds, the female emission is not drawn into the womb unless it is mixed with the male contribution. This would explain why, if the female ejaculate at orgasm is semen, unlike the case in birds, nothing is ever constituted from it in quadrupeds--or by extension women--and would shore up what might seem to be a serious weakness in OFR's theory.

Chapter seven begins with the phrase esti d'enstenai, 'But there is a possible objection'--a standard expression Aristotle uses when he is about to refute a premise. The author argues that emitting in front of the womb --rather than directly into it--would not be a sufficient explanation for why woman (and other quadrupeds) do not produce wind-eggs. If their wombs can draw in the mingled semen of male and female from this place, there is no reason why they should not draw in the woman's unmingled semen. The chapter considers the possibility that a uterine myle is a form of human wind-egg, but rejects this in favor of an explanation which attributes the myle to a mingling of male and female semen held in a condition of stasis resulting from insufficient heat or cold. (46) In the course of this discussion, the author also claims that the bird's desire to emit comes about from fullness, not asexual desire for the male, as he had allowed might be the case when he introduced the topic in Chapter six. The fact that women do not produce wind-eggs, therefore, does refute the claim of OFR that women ejaculate semen at orgasm.

The chapter ends by explaining that myle is a rare condition, and that most cases of false pregnancy have nothing to do with inert semen, but are rather the result of a confluence of body fluids in the area between the womb and the belly. This seems to be a denial that the condition 'wind-pregnancy', which OFR discussed at 636a9-28, should be attributed to the failure of mingled male and female semen to develop as Ps-Aristotle argued.

The two final chapters of HA X refute the main point made in OFR and do so in typical Aristotelian fashion. Chapter six opens with a reference to wind-eggs. Wind-eggs were of particular interest to Aristotle in establishing the differences in the male and female contributions to conception, and he referred to them often in his biological works, e.g., HA 539a30-b2, 559b20-560a20, GA 730a5-8, 737a30-33, 741a15-32, 750b3-751a25, 757b1-30. Aristotle was also clearly aware of the estrus cycle and its relation to mammalian fertility, e.g., HA 572b30-573a31 and GA 748b20-9, though he mistakenly assimilated it to the menstrual cycle. (47) At HA 541a25-26, he mentions that both male and female quadrupeds produce a secretion around their genitalia at breeding time. The passage in Chapter 7at638a10-18 is found virtually verbatim at GA 775b26-34, with the interesting variant that the passage in HA X emphasizes the size of the myle (it is 'humungous' eumegethe,17), perhaps in response to the discussion of 'wind-pregnancy in OFR, which claimed that the inert mingling of male and female semen is withered and small (kataskeleteuetai, smikron 636a15-16). GA 775b34 continues to 776a9 with language that is very similar to the section in OFR at 638b10-15, but including a rejection of heat as a cause of a myle; this causation is also rejected as an explanation between 638a19 and 638b9 in Chapter seven, but seems to be accepted again by the end of the chapter. The tentativeness of the explanation is underscored in the HA passage by the fact that the author poses a series of questions about the cause of the myle at 638b1-4very much in the style of the Peripatetic Problemata, a trope which we also see in the last two chapters of HA Xat637b36-7and 638a6-9but nowhere in OFR.

Unlike the theory espoused in the first five chapters of what has come down to us as HA X, which is in many places diametrically opposed to Aristotle's reproductive theory, the final two chapters share theories and very explicit language, from his biological works. The best explanation for how such an amalgam came to be included in the Aristotelian Corpus is that either Aristotle himself or a later follower of his teachings wrote the Aristotelian objections to the theory of OFR at the end of the papyrus roll in which he read it, the whole was mistakenly copied out as a single treatise, and because of the material in the last two chapters attributed to Aristotle. I believe the annotator was Aristotle himself, following his principle of giving the endoxa of an authority due weight before rejecting them, but to argue that here would extend the article into an unwieldy length for a journal.

Of course, it is clear that the extant works of Aristotle were not all written in the same period of his life and that his ideas did change. On occasion, he evidently attempted to revise earlier passages as his ideas developed in order to bring them in line with the more developed views. While such a process was haphazard and frequently left traces of the earlier unmodified opinions, to leave a whole treatise on generation that varied so much with the exposition of his reproductive theory elsewhere apparently unrevised in any way would be unprecedented. I cannot prove a negative, but there is little to be gained by insisting that Aristotle wrote this treatise. In addition, much is explained by accepting it as a treatise written by a doctor for use in the clinical practice of his fellow professionals to which Aristotelian objections have been appended.

DOI: 10.1515/apeiron-2011-0005


Balme, D. M. 'Aristotle Historia Animalium Book Ten,' in Aristoteles, Werk und Wirkung, vol. I, ed. J. Wiesner. Berlin: 1985.

--Aristotle: History of Animals Book VII-X, ed. & trans. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass: 1991.

--Aristotle: Historia Animalium Vol. I, Books I-X: Text. Cambridge: 2002.

Cooper, J. M. 'Metaphysics in Aristotle's Embryology,' Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 214(1988) 14-41.

Dean-Jones, L. 'The Politics of Pleasure: Female Sexual Appetite in the Hippocratic Corpus,' in Discourses of Sexuality: From Aristotle to Aids, ed. Domna Stanton. Ann Arbor: 1992, 48-77.

--Women's Bodies in Classical Greek Science. Oxford: 1994.

--'Aristotle's understanding of Plato's Receptacle and its significance for Aristotle's theory of familial resemblance,' in Reason and Necessity: Essays on Plato's Timaeus, ed. M.R. Wright. London: 2000, 101-12.

Follinger, S. Differenz und Gleichheit: das Geschlechterverhaltnis in der Sicht griechischer Philosophendes 4. bis 1. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. Stuttgart, F. Steiner: 1996.

Keuls, E. C. The Reign of the Phallus: Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens. New York: 1985.

Mayhew, R. The Female in Aristotle's Biology: Reason or Rationalization? Chicago: 2004.

Tricot, J. Aristotle: Histoire des Animaux vol. I. Paris: 1957. van der Eijk, P. J. 'On Sterility ("HA X"), A Medical Work by Aristotle?' Classical Quarterly 49 (1999) 490-502.

* This article outlines my findings developed during the preparation of a translation and commentary on HA X, which is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press. R. J. Hankinson was extremely supportive when I first approached him with my ideas and collaborated in the initial translation of the treatise. I am very grateful for his insights, suggestions, and support from the early stages of the project. The paper has also benefited from the remarks of the anonymous referees for Apeiron and the Cambridge University Press. Any shortcomings in the paper are entirely my own.

(1) PA 689a6-9; see Dean-Jones 1994, 80-3.

(2) GA 767a2-6; see Dean-Jones 1994, 97

(3) Balme 1991, 37-41

(4) Tricot 1957 argued for Aristotelian authorship, but agreed that he abandoned the views expressed in the treatise in his later works.

(5) Upon his death in 1989, Balme left unfinished anew edition of the text of all of the HA, a translation of Books VII-X, a commentary on the first seven books and divers notes on the last three. The text, translation and a few notes on Books VII-X appeared in 1991 in the Loeb series, and the Balme/Gotthelf edition of the text of Books I-X was published by the Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries series in 2002. A second volume of commentary and notes is forthcoming and may contain notes on Book X additional to those in the 1985 article and the Loeb that would clarify Balme's position on some of the issues Ideal with.

(6) Gotthelf is not adamant about this (personal communication) period. He may or may not agree with any point Balme makes in the editions he prepared for publication after Balme's death. The only comments he added in his own right appear in square brackets in the Introductions.

(7) Follinger 1996, 143-56.

(8) Van der Eijk 1999.

(9) Dean-Jones 1992, 73-74 and 1994, 14-15.

(10) Examples include 634b1, 634b19, 634b20, and 634b25. I will deal more fully with stylistic issues in my CUP commentary.

(11) There is no consistent differentiation between these terms. For evidence of their interchangeability, cf. HA 523a13-27, GA 727a26-30, and 739b9-10.

(12) This term will be explained in the following paragraph.

(13) See GA 15-26.

(14) The term translated as 'concoction' is pepsis, which signifies the modification of matter by heat, from ripening and cooking to the processes of digestion within the body.

(15) GA 767a36-8a22.

(16) GA 728a17-22.

(17) GA 736a2.

(18) See GA 767a36-8b37. For a fuller account and further references to the relevant Aristotelian passages. see Dean-Jones 1994, 184-93.

(19) GA 768a7-9.

(20) Cooper 1988.

(21) For example, Keuls 1985, 146.

(22) For example, Mayhew 2004, 28-53.

(23) An earlier version of my ideas can be read in Dean-Jones 2000.

(24) Gynecology I37.

(25) De Semine 4.

(26) GA 727b7-11.

(27) GA 739a29-36.

(28) All translations are my one.

(29) That the text itself does not describe any particular treatment is typical of Hippocratic treatises.

(30) Van der Eijk 1999,497.

(31) Balme 1985, 198 and 1991, note ad loc.

(32) In the interest of stating an argument, I am trying to anticipate how a supporter of Balme's theory would explain how the seed of OFR could be identified with menses when the author asserts it has to be ejaculated during intercourse and the womb has to be empty for conception to occur.

(33) GA 728a1-10.

(34) GA 737b28.

(35) 634b37 et passim.

(36) Again, I am trying to construct as strong an argument as possible here to explain how the seed of OFR could be identified with menses when the author asserts it has to be ejaculated during intercourse and the womb has to be empty for conception to occur.

(37) This is true at least in the five extant chapters; arguments that we have only a section of the treatise will be given in my CUP commentary.

(38) Balme 1991, 489.

(39) Dean-Jones 1992.

(40) De Semine 4.

(41) 636b40-637a15.

(42) Van der Eijk 1999, 501.

(43) We must seclude the negative ouk in l.12 for a balanced argument. It was surely added by a copyist who realized that the affirmative sentence was roundly rejected in Aristotle's genuine biological works. This solution obviates the need for the long note ad loc. in Balme's Loeb edition and his puzzlement over how the last sentence is supposed to follow logically from the one preceding it.

(44) It should be noted that Ps.-Aristotle's use of the term eidos is not the Aristotelian technical use of 'information', but the common Greek usage meaning 'shape' or 'form'.

(45) The condition OFR calls 'wind-pregnancy', which is discussed at 636a9-28, involves the mingled male and female semen.

(46) A myle, or hydatidiform mole, is an abnormal mass of tissue that very rarely forms in the womb after an ovum without a nucleus is fertilized and implants in the uterine wall.

(47) See Dean-Jones 1994, 91-2, 187, 229.


Department of Classics

The University of Texas

Austin, TX 78712, USA
COPYRIGHT 2012 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Dean-Jones, Lesley
Publication:APEIRON: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science
Date:Jun 1, 2012
Previous Article:Epicurus and the politics of fearing death.
Next Article:The Eleatic visitor's method of division.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |