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On The Natural Faculties   


Is it, then, these facts only which are plainly irreconcilable with the views of Asclepiades? Is not also the fact that in summer yellow bile is evacuated in greater quantity by the same drugs, and in winter phlegm, and that in a young man more bile is evacuated, and in an old man more phlegm? Obviously each drug attracts something which already exists, and does not generate something previously non-existent. Thus if you give in the summer season a drug which attracts phlegm to a young man of a lean and warm habit, who has lived neither idly nor too luxuriously, you will with great difficulty evacuate a very small quantity of this humour, and you will do the man the utmost harm. On the other hand, if you give him a cholagogue, you will produce an abundant evacuation and not injure him at all.

Do we still, then, disbelieve that each drug attracts that humour which is proper to it? Possibly the adherents of Asclepiades will assent to this- or rather, they will- not possibly, but certainly- declare that they disbelieve it, lest they should betray their darling prejudices.

14. Let us pass on, then, again to another piece of nonsense; for the sophists do not allow one to engage in enquiries that are of any worth, albeit there are many such; they compel one to spend one's time in dissipating the fallacious arguments which they bring forward.

What, then, is this piece of nonsense? It has to do with the famous and far-renowned stone which draws iron [the lodestone]. It might be thought that this would draw their minds to a belief that there are in all bodies certain faculties by which they attract their own proper qualities.

Now Epicurus, despite the fact that he employs in his "Physics" elements similar to those of Asclepiades, yet allows that iron is attracted by the lodestone, and chaff by amber. He even tries to give the cause of the phenomenon. His view is that the atoms which flow from the stone are related in shape to those flowing from the iron, and so they become easily interlocked with one another; thus it is that, after colliding with each of the two compact masses (the stone and the iron) they then rebound into the middle and so become entangled with each other, and draw the iron after them. So far, then, as his hypotheses regarding causation go, he is perfectly unconvincing; nevertheless, he does grant that there is an attraction. Further, he says that it is on similar principles that there occur in the bodies of animals the dispersal of nutriment and the discharge of waste matters, as also the actions of cathartic drugs.

Asclepiades, however, who viewed with suspicion the incredible character of the cause mentioned, and who saw no other credible cause on the basis of his supposed elements, shamelessly had recourse to the statement that nothing is in any way attracted by anything else. Now, if he was dissatisfied with what Epicurus said, and had nothing better to say himself, he ought to have refrained from making hypotheses, and should have said that Nature is a constructive artist and that the substance of things is always tending towards unity and also towards alteration because its own parts act upon and are acted upon by one another. For, if he had assumed this, it would not have been difficult to allow that this constructive Nature has powers which attract appropriate and expel alien matter. For in no other way could she be constructive, preservative of the animal, and eliminative of its diseases, unless it be allowed that she conserves what is appropriate and discharges what is foreign.

But in this matter, too, Asclepiades realized the logical sequence of the principles he had assumed; he showed no scruples, however, in opposing plain fact; he joins issue in this matter also, not merely with all physicians, but with everyone else, and maintains that there is no such thing as a crisis, or critical day, and that Nature does absolutely nothing for the preservation of the animal. For his constant aim is to follow out logical consequences and to upset obvious fact, in this respect being opposed to Epicurus; for the latter always stated the observed fact, although he gives an ineffective explanation of it. For, that these small corpuscles belonging to the lodestone rebound, and become entangled with other similar particles of the iron, and that then, by means of this entanglement (which cannot be seen anywhere) such a heavy substance as iron is attracted- I fail to understand how anybody could believe this. Even if we admit this, the same principle will not explain the fact that, when the iron has another piece brought in contact with it, this becomes attached to it.

For what are we to say? That, forsooth, some of the particles that flow from the lodestone collide with the iron and then rebound back, and that it is by these that the iron becomes suspended? that others penetrate into it, and rapidly pass through it by way of its empty channels? that these then collide with the second piece of iron and are not able to penetrate it although they penetrated the first piece? and that they then course back to the first piece, and produce entanglements like the former ones?

The hypothesis here becomes clearly refuted by its absurdity. As a matter of fact, I have seen five writing-stylets of iron attached to one another in a line, only the first one being in contact with the lodestone, and the power being transmitted through it to the others. Moreover, it cannot be said that if you bring a second stylet into contact with the lower end of the first, it becomes held, attached, and suspended, whereas, if you apply it to any other part of the side it does not become attached. For the power of the lodestone is distributed in all directions; it merely needs to be in contact with the first stylet at any point; from this stylet again the power flows, as quick as a thought, all through the second, and from that again to the third. Now, if you imagine a small lodestone hanging in a house, and in contact with it all round a large number of pieces of iron, from them again others, from these others, and so on,- all these pieces of iron must surely become filled with the corpuscles which emanate from the stone; therefore, this first little stone is likely to become dissipated by disintegrating into these emanations. Further, even if there be no iron in contact with it, it still disperses into the air, particularly if this be also warm.

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