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On The Natural Faculties   


But even as regards this doctrine their agreement is only verbal; in practice Erasistratus makes havoc of it a thousand times over. For, according to him, the spleen was made for no purpose, as also the omentum; similarly, too, the arteries which are inserted into kidneys- although these are practically the largest of all those that spring from the great artery [aorta]! And to judge by the Erasistratean argument, there must be countless other useless structures; for, if he knows nothing at all about these structures, he has little more anatomical knowledge than a butcher, while, if he is acquainted with them and yet does not state their use, he clearly imagines that they were made for no purpose, like the spleen. Why, however, should I discuss these structures fully, belonging as they do to the treatise "On the Use of Parts," which I am personally about to complete?

Let us, then, sum up again this same argument, and, having said a few words more in answer to the Erasistrateans, proceed to our next topic. The fact is, these people seem to me to have read none of Aristotle's writings, but to have heard from others how great an authority he was on "Nature," and that those of the Porch follow in the steps of his Nature-lore; apparently they then discovered a single one of the current ideas which is common to Aristotle and Erasistratus, and made up some story of a connection between Erasistratus and these people. That Erasistratus, however, has no share in the Nature-lore of Aristotle is shown by an enumeration of the aforesaid doctrines, which emanated first from Hippocrates, secondly from Aristotle, thirdly from the Stoics (with a single modification, namely, that for them the qualities are bodies). Perhaps, however, they will maintain that it was in the matter of logic that Erasistratus associated himself with the Peripatetic philosophers? Here they show ignorance of the fact that these philosophers never brought forward false or inconclusive arguments, while the Erasistratean books are full of them.

So perhaps somebody may already be asking, in some surprise, what possessed Erasistratus that he turned so completely from the doctrines of Hippocrates, and why it is that he takes away the attractive faculty from the biliary passages in the liver- for we have sufficiently discussed the kidneys- alleging [as the cause of bile-secretion] a favourable situation, the narrowness of vessels, and a common space into which the veins from the gateway [of the liver] conduct the unpurified blood, and from which, in the first place, the [biliary] passages take over the bile, and secondly, the [branches] of the vena cava take over the purified blood. For it would not only have done him no harm to have mentioned the idea of attraction, but he would thereby have been able to get rid of countless other disputed questions.

5. At the actual moment, however, the Erasistrateans are engaged in a considerable battle, not only with others but also amongst themselves, and so they cannot explain the passage from the first book of the "General Principles," in which Erasistratus says, "Since there are two kinds of vessels opening at the same place, the one kind extending to the gall-bladder and the other to the vena cava, the result is that, of the nutriment carried up from the alimentary canal, that part which fits both kinds of stomata is received into both kinds of vessels, some being carried into the gall-bladder, and the rest passing over into the vena cava." For it is difficult to say what we are to understand by the words "opening at the same place" which are written at the beginning of this passage. Either they mean there is a junction between the termination of the vein which is on the concave surface of the liver and two other vascular terminations (that of the vessel on the convex surface of the liver and that of the bile-duct), or, if not, then we must suppose that there is, as it were, a common space for all three vessels, which becomes filled from the lower vein,* and empties itself both into the bile-duct and into the branches of the vena cava. Now, there are many difficulties in both of these explanations, but if I were to state them all, I should find myself inadvertently writing an exposition of the teaching of Erasistratus, instead of carrying out my original undertaking. There is, however, one difficulty common to both these explanations, namely, that the whole of the blood does not become purified. For it ought to fall into the bile-duct as into a kind of sieve, instead of going (running, in fact, rapidly) past it, into the larger stoma, by virtue of the impulse of anadosis.

*The portal vein.

Are these, then, the only inevitable difficulties in which the argument of Erasistratus becomes involved through his disinclination to make any use of the attractive faculty, or is it that the difficulty is greatest here, and also so obvious that even a child could not avoid seeing it?

6. And if one looks carefully into the matter one will find that even Erasistratus' reasoning on the subject of nutrition, which he takes up in the second book of his "General Principles," fails to escape this same difficulty. For, having conceded one premise to the principle that matter tends to fill a vacuum, as we previously showed, he was only able to draw a conclusion in the case of the veins and their contained blood. That is to say, when blood is running away through the stomata of the veins, and is being dispersed, then, since an absolutely empty space cannot result, and the veins cannot collapse (for this was what he overlooked), it was therefore shown to be necessary that the that the adjoining quantum of fluid should flow in and fill the place of the fluid evacuated. It is in this way that we may suppose the veins to be nourished; they get the benefit of the blood which they contain. But how about the nerves? For they do not also contain blood. One might obviously say that they draw their supply from the veins. But Erasistratus will not have it so. What further contrivance, then, does he suppose? He says that a nerve has within itself veins and arteries, like a rope woven by Nature out of three different strands. By means of this hypothesis he imagined that his theory would escape from the idea of attraction. For if the nerve contain within itself a blood-vessel it will no longer need the adventitious flow of other blood from the real vein lying adjacent; this fictitious vessel, perceptible only in theory, will suffice it for nourishment.

But this, again, is succeeded by another similar difficulty. For this small vessel will nourish itself, but it will not be able to nourish this adjacent simple nerve or artery, unless these possess some innate proclivity for attracting nutriment. For how could the nerve, being simple, attract its nourishment, as do the composite veins, by virtue of the tendency of a vacuum to become refilled? For, although according to Erasistratus, it contains within itself a cavity of sorts, this is not occupied with blood, but with psychic pneuma, and we are required to imagine the nutriment introduced, not into this cavity, but into the vessel containing it, whether it needs merely to be nourished, or to grow as well. How, then, are we to imagine it introduced? For this simple vessel [i.e. nerve] is so small- as are also the other two- that if you prick it at any part with the finest needle you will tear the whole three of them at once. Thus there could never be in it a perceptible space entirely empty. And an emptied space which merely existed in theory could not compel the adjacent fluid to come and fill it.

At this point, again, I should like Erasistratus himself to answer regarding this small elementary nerve, whether it is actually one and definitely continuous, or whether it consists of many small bodies, such as those assumed by Epicurus, Leucippus, and Democritus. For I see that the Erasistrateans are at variance on this subject. Some of them consider it one and continuous, for otherwise, as they say, he would not have called it simple; and some venture to resolve it into yet other elementary bodies. But if it be one and continuous, then what is evacuated from it in the so-called insensible transpiration of the physicians will leave no empty space in it; otherwise it would not be one body but many, separated by empty spaces. But if it consists of many bodies, then we have "escaped by the back door," as the saying is, to Asclepiades, seeing that we have postulated certain inharmonious elements. Once again, then, we must call Nature "inartistic"; for this necessarily follows the assumption of such elements.

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