The Works of Aristotle - Of the Seed of Man or Beasts.

Of the Seed of Man or Beasts.

How, and of what cometh the seed of man?
There are diverse opinions of philosophers and physicians on this point. Some say it is a superfluous humour of the fourth digestion; others say, that the seed is pure blood flowing from the brain, concocted and whitened in the testicles, and some again say it is the superfluity of the second or third digestion; but because sweat, urine, spittle, phlegm, choler, and the like, Aristotle says, the seed is always the superfluity of the last nutriment, that is of blood dispersed throughout the body, and comes chiefly from the heart, liver, and brain: an argument of this is, because those parts are greatly weakened by casting seed, and therefore it appears that carnal copulation is not good. But some think this to be true by over-vehement practice in this act; but moderately used, it is very wholesome, as was said before.

Why is a man's seed white, and a woman's red?
It is white in men by reason of his great heat and quick digestion, because rarefied in the testicles; but a woman's is red, because it is the superfluity of the second digestion, which is done in the liver. Or else we may say, it is because the terms corrupt the undigested blood, and hath its colour.

Doth the seed of man come from the parts of the body, or from the humours?
Some say from the parts of the body, and that we prove, because we find a lame man begets a lame child; and if the father hath a scar, the child hath one also, as Aristotle alleges, Lib. de Animal, which could not be if the seed did not fall from the parts of the body. Some say it comes from the humours, by reason it is made of the last nutriment, and that is no part but a humour. As for lameness or scars, that proceeds from the imagination of the mother at the time of carnal copulation, as Aristotle saith, Lib. de Generat. Animal.

How comes the imagination of the mother to bring forth a blackamore, as Albertus Magnus reports of a queen, whoa in the act of carnal copulation, imagined a black being printed, and in her sight?
Avicen says, the imagination of a fall makes a man fall, and the imagination of a leprosy makes a man a leper. So in this the imagination is above the forming power and therefore the child born followeth the imagination, and not the power of forming and shaping, because it is weakest.

Doth the man's seed enter into the substance of the child?
The seed of both father and mother go into the substance of the child in the womb, as cream goeth to the substance of the cheese. Yet this opinion doth not seem to be of force, therefore, according to our author, and other philosophers we say the seed doth not go into the substance of the child; and it is proved thus, because that so the matter and the efficient cause should be all one, which is against the philosopher. The consequence is good, because seed is the efficient cause of the house, and therefore is not the material cause of the child. This is proved another way: As there is the self-same material cause of nourishment and generation, 2 de Anima, so we have our being and nourishment of the same matter; but the seed cannot be the material cause of nourishment, according to Averrois, therefore not of the being: and as both seeds are shut up in the womb, so that of the man disposeth and prepares the woman's to receive the form, perfection, or soul; which being done, it is converted into a humidity that is breathed out by the pores of the matrix.

How comes females to have monthly courses?
Because they are cold in respect of men, and because all their nourishment cannot be converted into blood, a great part whereof turns to menses, which are monthly expelled; I mean every woman in health, and of thirteen years old, seldom before; nay, some distempered women have them not at all.

For what reason do they not come down before thirteen?
Because young women are hot and digest all their nourishment, therefore have them not before that age.

For what reason do they leave off at fifty?
Some answer that old women be barren, and therefore they cease; but a better answer is that then nature is weaker in them, and therefore they cannot expel them by reason of weakness; there is great store of immundicities bred in them, which lies in a lump; this makes them troubled with coughs and other infirmities. Men should refrain their use at those times.

Why have not breeding women the menses?
Because that then they turn into milk, and into the nourishment of the child; for if a woman with child have them, it is a sign she will miscarry.

Why are they termed Menstrua, from the word mensis, a month?
Because it is a space of time which measures the moon as she ends her course in twenty-nine days and fourteen hours. Now the moon hath dominion over most things, and by reason the menses are humid, they are called menses profluvium; for moist things increase and decrease as the moon does.

Why do they continue longer with some than others, as with some six or seven, but commonly with all three days?
The first are colder, therefore they increase most in them, and consequently are longer in expelling; other women are more hot, and therefore they have fewer, and are soon expelled.

Where are the terms retained before they run?
Some say in the matrix or womb; but Averrois says, the matrix is the place for the generation, and that those terms further not generation at all. Therefore he asserts, that there are certain veins about the back-bone which retain them; a sign of which is, those women at that time have great pains in their back.

Whether are the menses which are expelled, and those which the child is engendered of, all one?
No, because the one are unclean, and unfit for that purpose, but the other very pure and clean, therefore fittest for generation.

Why doth those got with child when they have the terms upon them bring forth weak and leprous children?
Because they are venomous; so the cause appears in the effect, as philosophers say the effect carrieth the likeness or the cause; therefore such a child must needs be ill disposed of body.

Why hath not women these at one and the same time, but some in the new moon, some in the full, and others at the wane?
By reason of their several complexions; and though all women (in respect of men) are phlegmatic, yet some are more sanguine than others, some more choleric; and as months have their quarters, so have women their complexions, the first sanguine, the second choleric. One of a sanguine complexion hath her terms in the first quarter, a choleric in the second, a melancholy in the third, and so in the rest.

Why have the sanguine theirs in the first quarter?
Because, saith Galen, every such thing added to such a thing doth make it more such: therefore the first quarter of the moon increaseth blood in a sanguine complexion, and then she expels it.

How do they come in the end of the month?
Because most women then are phlegmatic, and the last quarter is phlegm. Or else it proceeds from defect, and therefore cold works do then multiply the matter, and so multiplied, is then expelled.

How happens pain and grief at that time?
Because it is like the pain of the stranguary, in making water drop by drop: for the stranguary, by reason of the drink undigested, offends the subtile passage of the urine, as happens after bathing; so the menses, undigested and of an earthly substance, hurt the passage by which they go.

Why do women easily conceive after their menses?
Because the womb being cleaned, they are better prepared for conception.

Why do women look pale when they are upon them?
Because then the heat goes from the outward parts of the body to the inward, to help nature and expel their terms, which depravation of heat doth cause a paleness in the face. Or else it is because that flux is caused of raw humours which when they run they make the face colourless.

Why do they at that time abhor their meat?
Because nature labours more to expel their terms than digest, and therefore if they should eat, it would remain raw in the stomach.

Why are some women barren and cannot conceive?
According to physicians, for divers reasons; first, because it proceeds sometimes of the man, who may be of a cold nature, so his seed is unfit for generation; secondly, because it is waterish, and so doth not stay in the womb; thirdly, by reason the seed in them both has not a like proportion, as if the man be melancholy and the woman phlegmatic; for it is evident in philosophy, that the agent and the patient ought to have the same proportion, else the action is hindered.

Why do fat women seldom conceive with child?
Because they have a slippery womb, and the seed will not stay in; or else because the mouth of the matrix is very straight, and the seed cannot enter in, or if it does, it is so very slowly that it grows cold in the mean time, so is unfit for generation, and is dissolved into a fleshy substance.

Why do those of very hot constitutions seldom conceive with child?
Because the seed in them is extinguished or put out as water cast into fire; wherefore we find, that women who vehemently desire the flesh seldom conceive with child.

Why are whores never with child?
By reason of diverse seeds, which corrupt and spoil the instruments of conception, for it makes them so slippery that they cannot retain seed. Or else it is because one man's seed destroys another, so neither is good for generation. Albertus says, the best thing to help conception is to take the matrix of a hare beat to powder, and so put in drink.

Why have some women long and slender children, and others short and thick?
Because, as Galen and Averrois say, the child is formed according to the dimensions of the womb: wherefore, because some women have a long and narrow womb, their children are long and slender, others, on the contrary, short and large, therefore their children be short and thick.

For why doth a woman conceive twins?
According to Galen, because there are several cells or receptacles in the womb, wherefore they may naturally have so many children at once; as there falls seed in those cells: there are three in the right side and three in the left: in the right side boys are engendered; in the left girls; and in the midst of these cells or chambers there is another where the ancients assert hermaphrodites to be engendered: if a woman should have more than two children at once, it should be rather miraculous than natural.

Why are twins but half men, and not so strong as other men?
By reason the seed which should have been for one is divided into two, and therefore they are weakly, and in truth do not often live long.

 

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