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On The Natural Faculties   


Now in reference to the genesis of the humours, I do not know that any one could add anything wiser than what has been said by Hippocrates, Aristotle, Praxagoras, Philotimus and many other among the Ancients. These men demonstrated that when the nutriment becomes altered in the veins by the innate heat, blood is produced when it is in moderation, and the other humours when it is not in proper proportion. And all the observed facts agree with this argument. Thus, those articles of food, which are by nature warmer are more productive of bile, while those which are colder produce more phlegm. Similarly of the periods of life, those which are naturally warmer tend more to bile, and the colder more to phlegm. Of occupations also, localities and seasons, and, above all, of natures themselves, the colder are more phlegmatic, and the warmer more bilious. Also cold diseases result from and warmer ones from yellow bile. There is not a single thing to be found which does not bear witness to the truth of this account. How could it be otherwise? For, seeing that every part functions in its own special way because of the manner in which the four qualities are compounded, it is absolutely necessary that the function [activity] should be either completely destroyed, or, at least hampered, by any damage to the qualities, and that thus the animal should fall ill, either as a whole, or in certain of its parts.

Also the diseases which are primary and most generic are four in number, and differ from each other in warmth, cold, dryness and moisture. Now, Erasistratus himself confesses this, albeit unintentionally; for when he says that the digestion of food becomes worse in fever, not because the innate heat has ceased to be in due proportion, as people previously supposed, but because the stomach, with its activity impaired, cannot contract and triturate as before- then, I say, one may justly ask him what it is that has impaired the activity of the stomach.

Thus, for example, when a bubo develops following an accidental wound gastric digestion does not become impaired until the patient has become fevered; neither the bubo nor the sore of itself impedes in any way or damages the activity of the stomach. But if fever occurs, the digestion at once deteriorates, and we are also right in saying that the activity of the stomach at once becomes impaired. We must add, however, by what it has been impaired. For the wound was not capable of impairing it, nor yet the bubo, for, if they had been, then they would have caused this damage before the fever as well. If it was not these that caused it, then it was the excess of heat (for these two symptoms occurred besides the bubo- an alteration in the arterial and cardiac movements and an excessive development of natural heat). Now the alteration of these movements will not merely not impair the function of the stomach in any way: it will actually prove an additional help among those animals in which, according to Erasistratus, the pneuma, which is propelled through the arteries and into the alimentary canal, is of great service in digestion; there is only left, then, the disproportionate heat to account for the damage to the gastric activity. For the pneuma is driven in more vigorously and continuously, and in greater quantity now than before; thus in this case, the animal whose digestion is promoted by pneuma will digest more, whereas the remaining factor- abnormal heat- will give them indigestion. For to say, on the one hand, that the pneuma has a certain property by virtue of which it promotes digestion, and then to say that this property disappears in cases of fever, is simply to admit the absurdity. For when they are again asked what it is that has altered the pneuma, they will only be able to reply, "the abnormal heat," and particularly if it be the pneuma in the food canal which is in question (since this does not come in any way near the bubo).

Yet why do I mention those animals in which the property of the pneuma plays an important part, when it is possible to base one's argument upon human beings, in whom it is either of no importance at all, or acts quite faintly and feebly? But Erasistratus himself agrees that human beings digest badly in fevers, adding as the cause that the activity of the stomach has been impaired. He cannot, however, advance any other cause of this impairment than abnormal heat. But if it is not by accident that the abnormal heat impairs this activity, but by virtue of its own essence and power, then this abnormal heat must belong to the primary diseases. But, indeed, if disproportion of heat belongs to the primary diseases, it cannot but be that a proportionate blending [eucrasia] of the qualities produces the normal activity. For a disproportionate blend [dyscrasia] can only become a cause of the primary diseases through derangement of the eucrasia. That is to say, it is because the [normal] activities arise from the eucrasia that the primary impairments of these activities necessarily arise the from derangement.

I think, then, it has been proved to the satisfaction of those who are capable of seeing logical consequences, that, even according to Erasistratus' own argument, the cause of the normal functions is eucrasia of the Warm. Now, this being so, there is nothing further to prevent us from saying that, in the case of each function, eucrasia is followed by the more, and dyscrasia by the less favourable alternative. And, therefore, if this be the case, we must suppose blood to be the outcome of proportionate, and yellow bile of disproportionate heat. So we naturally find yellow bile appearing in greatest quantity in ourselves at the warm periods of life, in warm countries, at warm seasons of the year, and when we are in a warm condition; similarly in people of warm temperaments, and in connection with warm occupations, modes of life, or diseases.

And to be in doubt as to whether this humour has the genesis in the human body or is contained in the food is what you would expect from one who has- I will not say failed to see that, when those who are perfectly healthy have, under the compulsion of circumstances, to fast contrary to custom, their mouths become bitter and their urine bile-coloured, while they suffer from gnawing pains in the stomach- but has, as it were, just made a sudden entrance into the world, and is not yet familiar with the phenomena which occur there. Who, in fact, does not know that anything which is overcooked grows at first salt and afterwards bitter? And if you will boil honey itself, far the sweetest of all things, you can demonstrate that even this becomes quite bitter. For what may occur as a result of boiling in the case of other articles which are not warm by nature, exists naturally in honey; for this reason it does not become sweeter on being boiled, since exactly the same quantity of heat as is needed for the production of sweetness exists from beforehand in the honey. Therefore the external heat, which would be useful for insufficiently warm substances, becomes in the honey a source of damage, in fact an excess; and it is for this reason that honey, when boiled, can be demonstrated to become bitter sooner than the others. For the same reason it is easily transmuted into bile in those people who are naturally warm, or in their prime, since warm when associated with warm becomes readily changed into a disproportionate combination and turns into bile sooner than into blood. Thus we need a cold temperament and a cold period of life if we would have honey brought to the nature of blood. Therefore Hippocrates not improperly advised those who were naturally bilious not to take honey, since they were obviously of too warm a temperament. So also, not only Hippocrates, but all physicians say that honey is bad in bilious diseases but good in old age; some of them having discovered this through the indications afforded by its nature, and others simply through experiment, for the Empiricist physicians too have made precisely the same observation, namely, that honey is good for an old man and not for a young one, that it is harmful for those who are naturally bilious, and serviceable for those who are phlegmatic. In a word, in bodies which are warm either through nature, disease, time of life, season of the year, locality, or occupation, honey is productive of bile, whereas in opposite circumstances it produces blood.

But surely it is impossible that the same article of diet can produce in certain persons bile and in others blood, if it be not that the genesis of these humours is accomplished in the body. For if all articles of food contained bile from the beginning and of themselves, and did not produce it by undergoing change in the animal body, then they would produce it similarly in all bodies; the food which was bitter to the taste would, I take it, be productive of bile, while that which tasted good and sweet would not generate even the smallest quantity of bile. Moreover, not only honey but all other sweet substances are readily converted into bile in the aforesaid bodies which are warm for any of the reasons mentioned.

Well, I have somehow or other been led into this discussion,- not in accordance with my plan, but compelled by the course of the argument. This subject has been treated at great length by Aristotle and Praxagoras, who have correctly expounded the view of Hippocrates and Plato.

9. For this reason the things that we have said are not to be looked upon as proofs but rather as indications of the dulness of those who think differently, and who do not even recognise what is agreed on by everyone and is a matter of daily observation. As for the scientific proofs of all this, they are to be drawn from these principles of which I have already spoken- namely, that bodies act upon and are acted upon by each other in virtue of the Warm, Cold, Moist and Dry. And if one is speaking of any activity, whether it be exercised by vein, liver, arteries, heart, alimentary canal, or any part, one will be inevitably compelled to acknowledge that this activity depends upon the way in which the four qualities are blended. Thus I should like to ask the Erasistrateans why it is that the stomach contracts upon the food, and why the veins generate blood. There is no use in recognizing the mere fact of contraction, without also knowing the cause; if we know this, we shall also be able to rectify the failures of function. "This is no concern of ours," they say; "we do not occupy ourselves with such causes as these; they are outside the sphere of the practitioner, and belong to that of the scientific investigator." Are you, then, going to oppose those who maintain that the cause of the function of every organ is a natural eucrasia, that the dyscrasia is itself known as a disease, and that it is certainly by this that the activity becomes impaired? Or, on the other hand, will you be convinced by the proofs which the ancient writers furnished? Or will you take a midway course between these two, neither perforce accepting these arguments as true nor contradicting them as false, but suddenly becoming sceptics- Pyrrhonists, in fact? But if you do this you will have to shelter yourselves behind the Empiricist teaching. For how are you going to be successful in treatment, if you do not understand the real essence of each disease? Why, then, did you not call yourselves Empiricists from the beginning? Why do you confuse us by announcing that you are investigating natural activities with a view to treatment? If the stomach is, in a particular case, unable to exercise its peristaltic and grinding functions, how are we going to bring it back to the normal if we do not know the cause of its disability? What I say is that we must cool the over-heated stomach and warm the warm the chilled one; so also we must moisten the one which has become dried up, and conversely; so, too, in combinations of these conditions; if the stomach becomes at the same time warmer and drier than normally, the first principle of treatment is at once to chill and moisten it; and if it become colder and moister, it must be warmed and dried; so also in other cases. But how on earth are the followers of Erasistratus going to act, confessing as they do that they make no sort of investigation into the cause of disease? For the fruit of the enquiry into activities is that by knowing the causes of the dyscrasiae one may bring them back to the normal, since it is of no use for the purposes of treatment merely to know what the activity of each organ is.

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