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On The Natural Faculties   


For this reason some of the Erasistrateans seem to me to have done very foolishly in reducing the simple vessels to elements such as these. Yet it makes no difference to me, since the theory of both parties regarding nutrition will be shown to be absurd. For in these minute simple vessels constituting the large perceptible nerves, it is impossible, according to the theory of those who would keep the former continuous, that any "refilling of a vacuum" should take place, since no vacuum can occur in a continuum even if anything does run away; for the parts left come together (as is seen in the case of water) and again become one, taking up the whole space of that which previously separated them. Nor will any "refilling" occur if we accept the argument of the other Erasistrateans, since none of their elements need it. For this principle only holds of things which are perceptible, and not of those which exist merely in theory; this Erasistratus expressly acknowledges, for he states that it is not a vacuum such as this, interspersed in small portions among the corpuscles, that his various treatises deal with, but a vacuum which is clear, perceptible, complete in itself, large in size, evident, or however else one cares to term it (for, what Erasistratus himself says is, that "there cannot be a perceptible space which is entirely empty"; while I, for my part, being abundantly equipped with terms which are equally elucidatory, at least in relation to the present topic of discussion, have added them as well).

Thus it seems to me better that we also should help the Erasistrateans with some contribution, since we are on the subject, and should advise those who reduce the vessel called primary and simple by Erasistratus into other elementary bodies to give up their opinion; for not only do they gain nothing by it, but they are also at variance with Erasistratus in this matter. That they gain nothing by it has been clearly demonstrated; for this hypothesis could not escape the difficulty regarding nutrition. And it also seems perfectly evident to me that this hypothesis is not in consonance with the view of Erasistratus, when it declares that what he calls simple and primary is composite, and when it destroys the principle of Nature's artistic skill. For, if we do not grant a certain unity of substance to these simple structures as well, and if we arrive eventually at inharmonious and indivisible elements, we shall most assuredly deprive Nature of her artistic skill, as do all the physicians and philosophers who start from this hypothesis. For, according to such a hypothesis, Nature does not precede, but is secondary to the parts of the animal. Now, it is not the province of what comes secondarily, but of what pre-exists, to shape and to construct. Thus we must necessarily suppose that the faculties of Nature, by which she shapes the animal, and makes it grow and receive nourishment, are present from the seed onwards; whereas none of these inharmonious and non-partite corpuscles contains within itself any formative, incremental, nutritive, or, in a word, any artistic power; it is, by hypothesis, unimpressionable and untransformable, whereas, as we have previously shown, none of the processes mentioned takes place without transformation, alteration, and complete intermixture. And, owing to this necessity, those who belong to these sects are unable to follow out the consequences of their supposed elements, and they are all therefore forced to declare Nature devoid of art. It is not from us, however, that the Erasistrateans should have learnt this, but from those very philosophers who lay most stress on a preliminary investigation into the elements of all existing things.

Now, one can hardly be right in supposing that Erasistratus could reach such a pitch of foolishness as to be recognizing the logical consequences of this theory, and that, while assuming Nature to be artistically creative, he would at the same time break up substance into insensible, inharmonious, and untransformable elements. If, however, he will grant that there occurs in the elements a process of alteration and transformation, and that there exists in them unity and continuity, then that simple vessel of his (as he himself names it) will turn out to be single and uncompounded. And the simple vein will receive nourishment from itself, and the nerve and artery from the vein. How, and in what way? For, when we were at this point before, we drew attention to the disagreement among the Erasistrateans, and we showed that the nutrition of these simple vessels was impraticable according to the teachings of both parties, although we did not hesitate to adjudicate in their quarrel and to do Erasistratus the honour of placing him in the better sect.

Let our argument, then, be transferred again to the doctrine which assumes this elementary nerve to be a single, simple, and entirely unified structure, and let us consider how it is to be nourished; for what is discovered here will at once be found to be common also to the school of Hippocrates.

It seems to me that our enquiry can be most rigorously pursued in subjects who are suffering from illness and have become very emaciated, since in these people all parts of the body are obviously atrophied and thin, and in need of additional substance and feeding-up; for the same reason the ordinary perceptible nerve, regarding which we originally began this discussion, has become thin, and requires nourishment. Now, this contains within itself various parts, namely, a great many of these primary, invisible, minute nerves, a few simple arteries, and similarly also veins. Thus, all its elementary nerves have themselves also obviously become emaciated; for, if they had not, neither would the nerve as a whole; and of course, in such a case, the whole nerve cannot require nourishment without each of these requiring it too. Now, if on the one hand they stand in need of feeding-up, and if on the other the principle of the refilling of a vacuum can give them no help- both by reason of the difficulties previously mentioned and the actual thinness, as I shall show- we must then seek another cause for nutrition.

How is it, then, that the tendency of a vacuum to become refilled is unable to afford nourishment to one in such a condition? Because its rule is that only so much of the contiguous matter should succeed as has flowed away. Now this is sufficient for nourishment in the case of those who are in good condition, for, in them, what is presented must be equal to what has flowed away. But in the case of those who are very emaciated and who need a great restoration of nutrition, unless what was presented were many times greater than what has been emptied out, they would never be able to regain their original habit. It is clear, therefore, that these parts will have to exert a greater amount of attraction, in so far as their requirements are greater. And I fail to understand how Erasistratus does not perceive that here again he is putting the cart before the horse. Because, in the case of the sick, there must be a large amount of presentation in order to feed them up, he argues that the factor of "refilling" must play an equally large part. And how could much presentation take place if it were not preceded by an abundant delivery of nutriment? And if he calls the conveyance of food through the veins delivery, and its assumption by each of these simple and visible nerves and arteries not delivery but distribution, as some people have thought fit to name it, and then ascribes conveyance through the veins to the principle of vacuum refilling alone, let him explain to us the assumption of food by the hypothetical elements. For it has been shown that at least in relation to these there is no question of the refilling of a vacuum being in operation, and especially where the parts are very attenuated. It is worth while listening to what Erasistratus says about these cases in the second book of his "General Principles": "In the ultimate simple [vessels], which are thin and narrow, presentation takes place from the adjacent vessels, the nutriment being attracted through the sides of the vessels and deposited in the empty spaces left by the matter which has been carried away." Now, in this statement firstly I admit and accept the words "through the sides." For, if the simple nerve were actually to take in the food through its mouth, it could not distribute it through its whole substance; for the mouth is dedicated to the psychic pneuma. It can, however, take it in through its sides from the adjacent simple vein. Secondly, I also accept in Erasistratus' statement the expression which precedes "through the sides." What does this say? "The nutriment being attracted through the sides of the vessels." Now I, too, agree that it is attracted, but it has been previously shown that this is not through the tendency of evacuated matter to be replaced.

7. Let us, then, consider together how it is attracted. How else than in the way that iron is attracted by the lodestone, the latter having a faculty attractive of this particular quality [existing in iron]? But if the beginning of anadosis depends on the squeezing action of the stomach, and the whole movement thereafter on the peristalsis and propulsive action of the veins, as well as on the traction exerted by each of the parts which are undergoing nourishment, then we can abandon the principle of replacement of evacuated matter, as not being suitable for a man who assumes Nature to be a skilled artist; thus we shall also have avoided the contradiction of Asclepiades though we cannot refute it: for the disjunctive argument used for the purposes of demonstration is, in reality, disjunctive not of two but of three alternatives; now, if we treat the disjunction as a disjunction of two alternatives, one of the two propositions assumed in constructing our proof must be false; and if as a disjunctive of three alternatives, no conclusion will be arrived at.

8. Now Erasistratus ought not to have been ignorant of this if he had ever had anything to do with the Peripatetics- even in a dream. Nor, similarly, should he have been unacquainted with the genesis of the humours, about which, not having even anything moderately plausible to say, he thinks to deceive us by the excuse that the consideration of such matters is not the least useful. Then, in Heaven's name, is it useful to know how food is digested in the stomach, but unnecessary to know how bile comes into existence in the veins? Are we to pay attention merely to the evacuation of this humour, and not to its genesis? As though it were not far better to prevent its excessive development from the beginning than to give ourselves all the trouble of expelling it! And it is a strange thing to be entirely unaware as to whether its genesis is to be looked on as taking place in the body, or whether it comes from without and is contained in the food. For, if it was right to raise this problem, why should we not make investigations concerning the blood as well- whether it takes its origin in the body, or is distributed through the food as is maintained by those who postulate homoeomeries? Assuredly it would be much more useful to investigate what kinds of food are suited, and what kinds unsuited, to the process of blood-production rather than to enquire into what articles of diet are easily mastered by the activity of the stomach, and what resist and contend with it. For the choice of the latter bears reference merely to digestion, while that of the former is of importance in regard to the generation of useful blood. For it is not equally important whether the aliment be imperfectly chylified in the stomach or whether it fail to be turned into useful blood. Why is Erasistratus not ashamed to distinguish all the various kinds of digestive failure and all the occasions which give rise to them, whilst in reference to the errors of blood-production he does not utter a single word- nay, not a syllable? Now, there is certainly to be found in the veins both thick and thin blood; in some people it is redder, in others yellower, in some blacker, in others more of the nature of phlegm. And one who realizes that it may smell offensively not in one way only, but in a great many different respects (which cannot be put into words, although perfectly appreciable to the senses), would, I imagine, condemn in no measured terms the carelessness of Erasistratus in omitting a consideration so essential to the practice of our art.

Thus it is clear what errors in regard to the subject of dropsies logically follow this carelessness. For, does it not show the most extreme carelessness to suppose that the blood is prevented from going forward into the liver owing to the narrowness of the passages, and that dropsy can never occur in any other way? For, to imagine that dropsy is never caused by the spleen or any other part, but always by induration of the liver,* is the standpoint of a man whose intelligence is perfectly torpid and who is quite out of touch with things that happen every day. For, not merely once or twice, but frequently, we have observed dropsy produced by chronic haemorrhoids which have been suppressed, or which, through immoderate bleeding, have given the patient a severe chill; similarly, in women, the complete disappearance of the monthly discharge, or an undue evacuation such as is caused by violent bleeding from the womb, often provoke dropsy; and in some of them the so-called female flux ends in this disorder. I leave out of account the dropsy which begins in the flanks or in any other susceptible part; this clearly confutes Erasistratus' assumption, although not so obviously as does that kind of dropsy which is brought about by an excessive chilling of the whole constitution; this, which is the primary reason for the occurrence of dropsy, results from a failure of blood-production, very much like the diarrhoea which follows imperfect digestion of food; certainly in this kind of dropsy neither the liver nor any other viscus becomes indurated.

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