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On The Natural Faculties   

Now Nature has made no organ for clearing away phlegm, this being cold and moist, and, as it were, half-digested nutriment; such a substance, therefore, does not need to be evacuated, but remains in the body and undergoes alteration there. And perhaps one cannot properly give the name of phlegm to the surplus-substance which runs down from the brain, but one should call it mucus [blenna] or coryza- as, in fact, it is actually termed; in any case it will be pointed out, in the treatise "On the Use of Parts," how Nature has provided for the evacuation of this substance. Further, the device provided by Nature which ensures that the phlegm which forms in the stomach and intestines may be evacuated in the most rapid and effective way possible- this also will be described in that commentary. As to that portion of the phlegm which is carried in the veins, seeing that this is of service to the animal, it requires no evacuation. Here too, then, we must pay attention and recognise that, just as in the case of each of the two kinds of bile, there is one part which is useful to the animal and in accordance with its nature, while the other part is useless and contrary to nature, so also is it with the phlegm; such of it as is sweet is useful to the animal and according to nature, while, as to such of it as has become bitter or salt, that part which is bitter is completely undigested, while that part which is salt has undergone putrefaction. And the term "complete indigestion" refers of course to the second digestion- that which takes place in the veins; it is not a failure of the first digestion- that in the alimentary canal- for it would not have become a humour at the outset if it had escaped this digestion also.

It seems to me that I have made enough reference to what has been said regarding the genesis and destruction of humours by Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Praxagoras, and Diocles, and many others among the Ancients; I did not deem it right to transport the whole of their final pronouncements into this treatise. I have said only so much regarding each of the humours as will stir up the reader, unless he be absolutely inept, to make himself familiar with the writings of the Ancients, and will help him to gain more easy access to them. In another treatise I have written on the humours according to Praxagoras, to Praxagoras, son of authority Nicarchus; although this authority makes as many as ten humours, not including the blood (the blood itself being an eleventh), this is not a departure from the teaching of Hippocrates; for Praxagoras divides into species and varieties the humours which Hippocrates first mentioned, with the demonstration proper to each.

Those, then, are to be praised who explain the points which have been duly mentioned, as also those who add what has been left out; for it is not possible for the same man to make both a beginning and an end. Those, on the other hand, deserve censure who are so impatient that they will not wait to learn any of the things which have been duly mentioned, as do also those who are so ambitious that, in their lust after novel doctrines, they are always attempting some fraudulent sophistry, either purposely neglecting certain subjects, as Erasistratus does in the case of the humours, or unscrupulously attacking other people, as does this same writer, as well as many of the more recent authorities.

But let this discussion come to an end here, and I shall add in the third book all that remains.


1. It has been made clear in the preceding discussion that nutrition occurs by an alteration or assimilation of that which nourishes to that which receives nourishment, and that there exists in every part of the animal a faculty which in view of its activity we call, in general terms, alterative, or, more specifically, assimilative and nutritive. It was also shown that a sufficient supply of the matter which the part being nourished makes into nutriment for itself is ensured by virtue of another faculty which naturally attracts its proper juice [humour] that juice is proper to each part which is adapted for assimilation, and that the faculty which attracts the juice is called, by reason of its activity, attractive or epispastic. It has also been shown that assimilation is preceded by adhesion, and this, again, by presentation, the latter stage being, as one might say, the end or goal of the activity corresponding to the attractive faculty. For the actual bringing up of nutriment from the veins into each of the parts takes place through the activation of the attractive faculty, whilst to have been finally brought up and presented to the part is the actual end for which we desired such an activity; it is attracted in order that it may be presented. After this, considerable time is needed for the nutrition of the animal; whilst a thing may be even rapidly attracted, on the other hand to become adherent, altered, and entirely assimilated to the part which is being nourished and to become a part of it, cannot take place suddenly, but requires a considerable amount of time. But if the nutritive juice, so presented, does not remain in the part, but withdraws to another one, and keeps flowing away, and constantly changing and shifting its position, neither adhesion nor complete assimilation will take place in any of them. Here too, then, the [animal's] nature has need of some other faculty for ensuring a prolonged stay of the presented juice at the part, and this not a faculty which comes in from somewhere outside but one which is resident in the part which is to be nourished. This faculty, again, in view of its activity our predecessors were obliged to call retentive.

Thus our argument has clearly shown the necessity for the genesis of such a faculty, and whoever has an appreciation of logical sequence must be firmly persuaded from what we have said that, if it be laid down and proved by previous demonstration that Nature is artistic and solicitous for the animal's welfare, it necessarily follows that she must also possess a faculty of this kind.

2. Since, however, it is not our habit to employ this kind of demonstration alone, but to add thereto cogent and compelling proofs drawn from obvious facts, we will also proceed to the latter kind in the present instance: we will demonstrate that in certain parts of the body the retentive faculty is so obvious that its operation can be actually recognised by the senses, whilst in other parts it is less obvious to the senses, but is capable even here of being detected by the argument.

Let us begin our exposition, then, by first dealing systematically for a while with certain definite parts of the body, in reference to which we may accurately test and enquire what sort of thing the retentive faculty is.

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