Concerning Nature, by Plutarch

Book V

Chapter I.

Of Divination.

Plato and the Stoics introduce divination as a godlike enthusiasm, the soul itself being of a divine constitution, and this prophetic faculty being inspiration, or an illapse of the divine knowledge into man; and so likewise they account for interpretation by dreams. And these same allow many divisions of the art of divination. Xenophanes and Epicurus utterly refuse any such art of foretelling future contingencies. Pythagoras rejects all manner of divination which is by sacrifices. Aristotle and Dicaearchus admit only these two kinds of it, a fury by a divine inspiration, and dreams; they deny the immortality of the soul, yet they affirm that the mind of man hath a participation of something that is divine.

Chapter II.

Whence Dreams do Arise.

Democritus says that dreams are formed by the illapse of adventitious representations. Strato, that the irrational part of the soul in sleep becoming more sensible is moved by the rational part of it. Herophilus, that dreams which are caused by divine instinct have a necessary cause; but dreams which have their origin from a natural cause arise from the soul’s forming within itself the images of those things which are convenient for it, and which will happen; those dreams which are of a constitution mixed of both these have their origin from the fortuitous appulse of images, as when we see those things which please us; thus it happens many times to those persons who in their sleep imagine they embrace their mistresses.

Chapter III.

Of the Nature of Generative Seed.

Aristotle says, that seed is that thing which contains in itself a power of moving, whereby it is enabled to produce a being like unto that from whence it was emitted. Pythagoras, that seed is the sediment of that which nourisheth us, the froth of the purest blood, of the same nature of the blood and marrow of our bodies. Alcmaeon, that it is part of the brain. Plato, that it is the deflux of the spinal marrow. Epicurus, that it is a fragment torn from the body and soul. Democritus, that it proceeds from all the parts of the body, and chiefly from the principal parts, as the tissues and muscles.

Chapter IV.

Whether the Sperm be a Body.

Leucippus and Zeno say, that it is a body and a fragment of the soul. Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, that the spermatic faculty is incorporeal, as the mind is which moves the body; but the effused matter is corporeal. Strato and Democritus, that the essential power is a body; for it is like spirit.

Chapter V.

Whether Women do Give a Spermatic Emission As Men Do.

Pythagoras, Epicurus, and Democritus say, that women have a seminal projection, but their spermatic vessels are inverted; and it is this that makes them have a venereal appetite. Aristotle and Plato, that they emit a material moisture, as sweat we see produced by exercise and labor; but that moisture has no spermatic power. Hippo, that women have a seminal emission, but not after the mode of men; it contributes nothing to generation, for it falls outside of the matrix; and therefore some women without coition, especially widows, give the seed. They also assert that from men the bones, from women the flesh proceed.

Chapter VI.

How it is that Conceptions are Made.

Aristotle says, that conception takes place when the womb is drawn down by the natural purgation, and the monthly terms attract from the whole mass part of the purest blood, and this is met by the seed of man. On the contrary, there is a failure by the impurity and inflation of the womb, by fear and grief, by the weakness of women, or the decline of strength in men.

Chapter VII.

After what Manner Males and Females are Generated.

Empedocles affirms, that heat and cold give the difference in the generation of males and females. Hence is it, as histories acquaint us, that the first men originated from the earth in the eastern and southern parts, and the first females in the northern parts. Parmenides is of opinion perfectly contrariant. He affirms that men first sprouted out of the northern earth, for their bodies are more dense; women out of the southern, for theirs are more rare and fine. Hippo, that the more compacted and strong sperm, and the more fluid and weak, discriminate the sexes. Anaxagoras and Parmenides, that the seed of the man is naturally cast from his right side into the right side of the womb, or from the left side of the man into the left side of the womb; there is an alteration in this course of nature when females are generated. Cleophanes, whom Aristotle makes mention of, assigns the generation of men to the right testicle, of women to the left. Leucippus gives the reason of it to the alteration or diversity of parts, according to which the man hath a yard, the female the matrix; as to any other reason he is silent. Democritus, that the parts common to both sexes are engendered indifferently; but the peculiar parts by the one that is more powerful. Hippo, that if the spermatic faculty be more effectual, the male, if the nutritive aliment, the female is generated.

Chapter VIII.

By what Means it is that Monstrous Births are Effected.

Empedocles believes that monsters receive their origination from the abundance or defect of seed, or from its division into parts which are superabundant, or from some disturbance in the motion, or else that there is an error by a lapse into an unsuitable receptacle; and thus he presumes he hath given all the causes of monstrous conceptions. Strato, that it comes through addition, subtraction, or transposition of the seed, or the distension or inflation of the matrix. And some physicians say that the matrix suffers distortion, being distended with wind.

Chapter IX.

How it Comes to Pass that a Woman’s Too Frequent Conversation with a Man Hinders Conception.

Diocles the physician says that either no genital sperm is projected, or, if there be, it is in a less quantity than nature requires, or there is no prolific faculty in it; or there is a deficiency of a due proportion of heat, cold, moisture, and dryness; or there is a resolution of the generative parts. The Stoics attribute sterility to the obliquity of the yard, by which means it is not able to ejaculate in a due manner, or to the unproportionable magnitude of the parts, the matrix being so contracted as not to have a capacity to receive. Erasistratus assigns it to the womb’s being more callous or more carneous, thinner or smaller, than nature does require.

Chapter X.

Whence it is that One Birth Gives Two or Three Children.

Empedocles affirms, that the superabundance of sperm and the division of it causes the bringing forth of two or three infants. Asclepiades, that it is performed from the excellent quality of the sperm, after the manner that from the root of one barleycorn two or three stalks do grow; sperm that is of this quality is the most prolific. Erasistratus, that superfetation may happen to women as to irrational creatures; for, if the womb be well purged and very clean, then there can be divers births. The Stoics, that it ariseth from the various receptacles that are in the womb: when the seed illapses into the first and second of them at once, then there are conceptions upon conception; and so two or three infants are born.

Chapter XI.

Whence it is that Children Represent Their Parents and Progenitors.

Empedocles says, that the similitude of children to their parents proceeds from the vigorous prevalency of the generating sperm; the dissimilitude from the evaporation of the natural heat it contains. Parmenides, that when the sperm falls on the right side of the womb, then the infant gives the resemblance of the father; if from the left, it is stamped with the similitude of the mother. The Stoics, that the whole body and soul give the sperm; and hence arise the likenesses in the characters and faces of the children, as a painter in his copy imitates the colors in a picture before him. Women have a concurrent emission of seed; if the feminine seed have the predominancy, the child resembles the mother; if the masculine, the father.

Chapter XII.

How it Comes to Pass that Children Have a Greater Similitude with Strangers Than with Their Parents.

The greatest part of physicians affirm, that this happens casually and fortuitously; for, when the sperm of the man and woman is too much refrigerated, then children carry a dissimilitude to their parents. Empedocles, that a woman’s imagination in conception impresses a shape upon the infant; for women have been enamoured with images and statues, and the children which were born of them gave their similitudes. The Stoics, that the resemblances flow from the sympathy and consent of minds, through the insertion of effluvias and rays, not of images or pictures.

Chapter XIII.

Whence Ariseth Barrenness in Women, and Impotency in Men?

The physicians maintain, that sterility in women can arise from the womb; for if it be after any ways thus affected, there will be a barrenness — if it be more condensed, or more thin, or more hardened, or more callous, or more carneous; or it may be from languor, or from an atrophy or vicious condition of body; or, lastly, it may arise from a twisted or distorted position. Diocles holds that the sterility in men ariseth from some of these causes — either that they cannot at all ejaculate any sperm, or if they do, it is less than nature doth require, or else there is no generative faculty in the sperm, or the genital members are flagging; or from the obliquity of the yard. The Stoics attribute the cause of sterility to the contrariant qualities and dispositions of those who lie with one another; but if it chance that these persons are separated, and there happen a conjunction of those who are of a suitable temperament, then there is a commixture according to nature, and by this means an infant is formed.

Chapter XIV.

How it Arises that Mules are Barren.

Alcmaeon says, that the barrenness of the male mules ariseth from the thinness of the genital sperm, that is, the seed is too chill; the female mules are barren, because the womb does not open its mouth (as he expresses it). Empedocles, the matrix of the mule is so small, so depressed, so narrow, so invertedly growing to the belly, that the sperm cannot be regularly ejaculated into it, and if it could, there would be no capacity to receive it. Diocles concurs in this opinion with him; for, saith he, in our anatomical dissection of mules we have seen that their matrices are of such configurations; and it is possible that there may be the same reason why some women are barren.

Chapter XV.

Whether the Infant in the Mother’s Womb be an Animal.

Plato says, that the embryo is an animal; for, being contained in the mother’s womb, motion and aliment are imparted to it. The Stoics say that it is not an animal, but to be accounted part of the mother’s belly; like as we see the fruit of trees is esteemed part of the trees, until it be full ripe; then it falls and ceaseth to belong to the tree; thus it is with the embryo. Empedocles, that the embryo is not an animal, yet whilst it remains in the belly it breathes. The first breath that it draws as an animal is when the infant is newly born; then the child having its moisture separated, the extraneous air making an entrance into the empty places, a respiration is caused in the infant by the empty vessels receiving of it. Diogenes, that infants are nurtured in the matrix inanimate, yet they have a natural heat; but presently, when the infant is cast into the open air, its heat brings air into the lungs, and so it becomes an animal. Herophilus acknowledgeth that a natural, but not an animal motion, and that the nerves are the cause of that motion; that then they become animals, when being first born they suck in something of the air.

Chapter XVI.

How Embryos are Nourished, or How the Infant in the Belly Receives its Aliment.

Democritus and Epicurus say, that the embryos in the womb receive their aliment by the mouth, for we perceive, as soon as ever the infant is born, it applies its mouth to the breast; in the wombs of women (our understanding concludes) there are little dugs, and the embryos have small mouths by which they receive their nutriment. The Stoics, that by the secundines and navel they partake of aliment, and therefore the midwife instantly after their birth ties the navel, and opens the infant’s mouth, that it may receive another sort of aliment. Alcmaeon, that they receive their nourishment from every part of the body; as a sponge sucks in water.

Chapter XVII.

What Part of the Body is First Formed in the Womb.

The Stoics believe that the whole is formed at the same time. Aristotle, as the keel of a ship is first made, so the first part that is formed is the loins. Alcmaeon, the head, for that is the commanding and the principal part of the body. The physicians, the heart, in which are the veins and arteries. Some think the great toe is first formed; others affirm the navel.

Chapter XVIII

Whence is it that Infants Born in the Seventh Month are Born Alive.

Empedocles says, that when the human race took first its original from the earth, the sun was so slow in its motion that then one day in its length was equal to ten months, as now they are; in process of time one day became as long as seven months are; and there is the reason that those infants which are born at the end of seven months or ten months are born alive, the course of nature so disposing that the infant shall be brought to maturity in one day after that night in which it is begotten. Timaeus says, that we count not ten months but nine, by reason that we reckon the first conception from the stoppage of the menstruas; and so it may generally pass for seven months when really there are not seven; for it sometimes occurs that even after conception a woman is purged to some extent. Polybus, Diocles, and the Empirics, acknowledge that the eighth month gives a vital birth to the infant, though the life of it is more faint and languid; many therefore we see born in that month die out of mere weakness. Though we see many born in that month arrive at the state of man, yet (they affirm) if children be born in that month, none wish to rear them.

Aristotle and Hippocrates, that if the womb is full in seven months, then the child falls from the mother and is born alive, but if it falls from her but is not nourished, the navel being weak on account of the weight of the infant, then it doth not thrive; but if the infant continues nine months in the womb, and then comes forth from the woman, it is entire and perfect. Polybus, that a hundred and eighty-two days and a half suffice for the bringing forth of a living child; that is, six months, in which space of time the sun moves from one tropic to the other; and this is called seven months, for the days which are over plus in the sixth are accounted to give the seventh month. Those children which are born in the eighth month cannot live, for, the infant then falling from the womb, the navel, which is the cause of nourishment, is thereby too much wrenched; and is the reason that the infant languishes and hath an atrophy. The astrologers, that eight months are enemies to every birth, seven are friends and kind to it. The signs of the zodiac are then enemies, when they fall upon those stars which are lords of houses; whatever infant is then born will have a life short and unfortunate. Those signs of the zodiac which are malevolent and injurious to generation are those pairs of which the final is reckoned the eighth from the first, as the first and the eighth, the second and the ninth, etc; so is the Ram unsociable with Scorpio, the Bull with Sagittarius, the Twins with the Goat, the Crab with Aquarius, the Lion with Pisces, the Virgin with the Ram. Upon this reason those infants that are born in the seventh or tenth months are like to live, but those in the eighth month will die.

Chapter XIX.

Of the Generation of Animals, How Animals are Begotten, and Whether They are Obnoxious to Corruption.

Those philosophers who entertain the opinion that the world had an original do likewise assert that all animals are generated and corruptible. The followers of Epicurus, who gives an eternity to the world, affirm the generation of animals ariseth from the various permutation of parts mutually among themselves, for they are parts of this world. With them Anaxagoras and Euripides concur:

Nothing dies,
Different changes give their various forms.

Anaximander’s opinion is, that the first animals were generated in moisture, and were enclosed in bark on which thorns grew; but in process of time they came upon dry land, and this thorny bark with which they were covered being broken, they lived only for a short space of time. Empedocles says, that the first generation of animals and plants was by no means completed, for the parts were disjoined and would not admit of a union; the second preparation and for their being generated was when their parts were united and appeared in the form of images; the third preparation for generation was when their parts mutually amongst themselves gave a being to one another; the fourth, when there was no longer a mixture of like elements (as earth and water), but a union of animals among themselves — in some the nourishment being made dense, in others female beauty provoking a desire of spermatic motion. All sorts of animals are discriminated by their proper temperament and constitution; some are carried by a proper appetite and inclination to water, some, which partake of a more fiery quality, to live in the air those that are heavier incline to the earth; but those animals whose parts are of a just temperament are fitted equally for all places.

Chapter XX.

How Many Species of Animals There are, and Whether All Animals Have the Endowments of Sense and Reason.

There is a certain treatise of Aristotle, in which animals are distributed into four kinds, terrestrial, aqueous, fowl, and heavenly; and he calls the stars and the world too animals, yea, and God himself he posits to be an animal gifted with reason and immortal. Democritus and Epicurus consider all animals rational which have their residence in the heavens. Anaxagoras says that animals have only that reason which is operative, but not that which is passive, which is justly styled the interpreter of the mind, and is like the mind itself. Pythagoras and Plato, that the souls of all those who are styled brutes are rational; but by the evil constitution of their bodies, and because they have a want of a discoursive faculty, they do not conduct themselves rationally. This is manifested in apes and dogs, which have inarticulate voice but not speech. Diogenes, that this sort of animals are partakers of intelligence and air, but by reason of the density in some parts of them, and by the superfluity of moisture in others, they neither enjoy understanding nor sense; but they are affected as madmen are, the commanding rational part being defectuous and injured.

Chapter XXI.

What Time is Required to Shape the Parts of Animals in the Womb.

Empedocles believes, that the joints of men begin to be formed from the thirty-sixth day, and their shape is completed in the nine and fortieth. Asclepiades, that male embryos, by reason of a greater natural heat, have their joints begun to be formed in the twenty-sixth day — many even sooner — and that they are completed in all their parts on the fiftieth day; the parts of the females are articulated in two months, but by the defect of heat are not consummated till the fourth; but the members of brutes are completed at various times, according to the commixture of the elements of which they consist.

Chapter XXII.

Of what Elements Each of the Members of Us Men is Composed.

Empedocles says, that the fleshy parts of us are constituted by the contemperation of the four elements in us; earth and fire mixed with a double proportion of water make nerves; but when it happens that the nerves are refrigerated where they come in contact with the air, then the nails are made; the bones are produced by two parts of water and the same of air, with four parts of fire and the same of earth, mixed together; sweat and tears flow from liquefaction of bodies.

Chapter XXIII.

What are the Causes of Sleep and Death?

Alcmaeon says, that sleep is caused when the blood retreats to the concourse of the veins, but when the blood diffuses itself then we awake and when there is a total retirement of the blood, then men die. Empedocles, that a moderate cooling of the blood causeth sleep, but a total remotion of heat from blood causeth death. Diogenes, that when all the blood is so diffused as that it fills all the veins, and forces the air contained in them to the back and to the belly that is below it, the breast being thereby more heated, thence sleep arises, but if everything that is airy in the breast forsakes the veins, then death succeeds. Plato and the Stoics, that sleep ariseth from the relaxation of the sensitive spirit, it not receiving such total relaxing as if it fell to the earth, but so that that spirit is carried about the intestine, parts of the eyebrows, in which the principal part has its residence; but when there is a total relaxing of the sensitive spirit, death ensues.

Chapter XXIV.

When and from Whence the Perfection of a Man Commences.

Heraclitus and the Stoics say, that men begin their completeness when the second septenary of years begins, about which time the seminal serum is emitted. Trees first begin their perfection when they give their seeds; till then they are immature, imperfect, and unfruitful. After the same manner a man is completed in the second septenary of years, and is capable of learning what is good and evil, and of discipline therein.

Chapter XXV.

Whether Sleep or Death Appertains to the Soul or Body.

Aristotle’s opinion is, that both the soul and body sleep; and this proceeds from the evaporation in the breast, which doth steam and arise into the head, and from the aliment in the stomach, whose proper heat is cooled in the heart. Death is the perfect refrigeration of all heat in body; but death is only of the body, and not of the soul, for the soul is immortal. Anaxagoras thinks, that sleep makes the operations of the body to cease; it is a corporeal passion and affects not the soul. Death is the separation of the soul from the body. Leucippus, that sleep is only of the body; but when the smaller particles cause excessive evaporation from the soul’s heat, this makes death; but these affections of death and sleep are of the body, not of the soul. Empedocles, that death is nothing else but separation of those fiery parts by which man is composed, and according to this sentiment both body and soul die; but sleep is only a smaller separation of the fiery qualities.

Chapter XXVI.

How Plants Increase.

Plato and Empedocles believe, that plants are animals, and are informed with a soul; of this there are clear arguments, for they have tossing and shaking, and their branches are extended; when the woodmen bend them they yield, but they return to their former straightness and strength again when they are let loose, and even carry up weights that are laid upon them. Aristotle doth grant that they live, but not that they are animals; for animals are affected with appetite, sense, and reason. The Stoics and Epicureans deny that they are informed with a soul; by reason that all sorts of animals have either sense, appetite, or reason; but plants act fortuitously, and not by means of any soul. Empedocles, that the first of all animals were trees, and they sprang from the earth before the sun in its motion enriched the world, and before day and night were distinguished; but by the harmony which is in their constitution they partake of a masculine and feminine nature; and they increase by that heat which is exalted out of the earth, so that they are parts belonging to it, as embryos in the womb are parts of the womb. Fruits in plants are excrescences proceeding from water and fire; but the plants which lack water, when this is dried up by the heat of summer, shed their leaves; whereas they that have plenty thereof keep their leaves on, as the olive, laurel, and palm. The differences of their moisture and juice arise from the difference of particles and various other causes, and they are discriminated by the various particles that feed them. And this is apparent in vines for the excellence of wine flows not from the difference in the vines, but from the soil from whence they receive their nutriment.

Chapter XXVII

Of Nutrition and Growth.

Empedocles believes, that animals are nourished by the remaining in them of that which is proper to their own nature; they are augmented by the application of heat; and the subtraction of either of these makes them to languish and decay. The stature of men in this present age, if compared with the magnitude of those men which were first produced, is only a mere infancy.

Chapter XXVIII.

Whence it is that in Animals There are Appetites and Pleasures.

Empedocles says that the want of those elements which compose animals gives to them appetite, and pleasures spring from humidity. As to the motions of dangers and such like things as perturbations, etc. . . .

Chapter XXIX

What is the Cause of a Fever, or Whether it is an Affection of the Body Annexed to a Primary Passion

Erasistratus gives this definition of a fever: A fever is a quick motion of blood, not produced by our consent, which enters into the vessels, the seat of the vital spirits. This we see in the sea; it is in a serene calm when nothing disturbs it, but is in motion when a violent preternatural wind blows upon it, and then it rageth and is circled with waves. After this manner it is in the body of man; when the blood is in a nimble agitation, then it falls upon those vessels in which the spirits are, and there being in an extraordinary heat, it fires the whole body. The opinion that a fever is an appendix to a preceding affection pleaseth him. Diocles proceeds after this manner: Those things which are internal and latent are manifested by those which externally break forth and appear; and it is clear to us that a fever is annexed to certain outward affections, for example, to wounds, inflaming tumors, inguinary abscesses.

Chapter XXX.

Of Health, Sickness, and Old Age.

Alcmaeon says that the preserver of health is an equal proportion of the qualities of heat, moisture, cold, dryness, bitterness, sweetness, and the other qualities; on the contrary, the prevailing empire of one above the rest is the cause of diseases and author of destruction. The direct cause of disease is the excess of heat or cold, the formal cause is excess or defect, the place is the blood or brain. But health is the harmonious commixture of the elements. Diocles, that sickness for the most part proceeds from the irregular disposition of the elements in the body, for that makes an ill habit or constitution of it. Erasistratus, that sickness is caused by the excess of nourishment, indigestion, and corruptions; on the contrary, health is the moderation of the diet, and the taking that which is convenient and sufficient for us. It is the unanimous opinion of the Stoics that the want of heat brings old age, for (they say) those persons in whom heat more abounds live the longer. Asclepiades, that the Ethiopians soon grow old, and at thirty years of age are ancient men, their bodies being excessively heated and scorched by the sun; in Britain persons live a hundred and twenty years, on account of the coldness of the country, and because the people keep the fiery element within their bodies; the bodies of the Ethiopians are more fine and thin, because they are relaxed by the sun’s heat, while they who live in northern countries are condensed and robust, and by consequence are more long lived.

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