Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
116. Evolution of Animals 118. Perception

From Chapter V., Empedokles of Akragas

117. Physiology
The distinction of the sexes was a result of the differentiation brought about by Strife. Empedokles differed from the theory given by Parmenides in his Second Part (§ 95) in holding that the warm element preponderated in the male sex, and that males were conceived in the warmer part of the uterus (fr. 65). The foetus was formed partly from the male and partly from the female semen (fr. 63): and it was just the fact that the substance of a new being's body was divided between the male and the female that produced desire when the two were brought together by sight (fr. 64). A certain symmetry of the pores in the male and female semen is necessary for procreation, and from its absence Empedokles explained the sterility of mules. The children resemble that parent who contributed most to their formation. The influence of statues and pictures was also noted, however, as modifying the appearance of the offspring. Twins and triplets were due to a superabundance and division of the semen.126

Empedokles held that the foetus was enveloped in a membrane, and that its formation began on the thirty-sixth day and was complete on the forty-ninth. The heart was formed first, the nails and such things last. Respiration did not begin till the time of birth, when the fluids round the foetus were withdrawn. Birth took place in the ninth or seventh month, because the day had been originally nine months long, and afterwards seven. Milk arises on the tenth day of the eighth month (fr. 68).127

Death was the final separation by Strife of the fire and earth in the body, each of which had all along been striving to "reach its own kind." Sleep was a temporary separation to a certain extent of the fiery element.128 At death the animal is resolved into its elements, which either enter into fresh combinations, or are permanently united with "their own kind." There can be no question here of an immortal soul.

Even in life, we may see the attraction of like to like operating in animals just as it did in the upward and downward growth of plants. Hair is the same thing as foliage (fr. 82); and, generally speaking, the fiery part of animals tends upwards and the earthy downwards, though there are exceptions, as may be seen in the case of certain shellfish (fr. 76), where the earthy part is above. These exceptions are only possible because there is still a great deal of Love in the world. We also see the attraction of like for like in the habits of different species of animals. Those that have most fire in them fly up into the air; those in which earth preponderates take to the earth, as did the dog which always sat upon a tile.129 Aquatic animals are those in which water predominates. This does not, however, apply to fishes, which are very fiery, and take to the water to cool themselves.130

Empedokles paid great attention to respiration, and his explanation of it has been preserved in a continuous form (fr. 100). We breathe, he held, through all the pores of the skin, not merely through the organs of respiration. The cause of the alternate inspiration and expiration of breath was the movement of the blood from the heart to the surface of the body and back again, which was explained by the klepsydya.

The nutrition and growth of animals is, of course, to be explained from the attraction of like to like. Each part of the body has pores into which the appropriate food will fit. Pleasure and pain were derived from the absence or presence of like elements, that is, of nourishment which would fit the pores. Tears and sweat arose from a disturbance which curdled the blood; they were, so to say, the whey of the blood.131

Burnet's Notes


126. Aet. v. 10, 1; 11, 1; 12, 2; 14, 2. Cf. Fredrich, Hippokratische Untersuchungen, pp. 126 sqq.

127. Aet. v. 15, 3; 21, 1 (Dox. p. 190).

128. Aet. v. 25, 4 (Dox. p. 437).

129. Aet. v. 19, 5 (Dox. p. 431). Cf. Eth. Eud. H, 1. 1235 a 11.

130. Arist. De respir. 14. 477 a 32; Theophr. De causis plant. i. 21.

131. Nutrition, Aet. v. 27, 1; pleasure and pain, Aet. iv. 9, 15; v. 28, 1; tears and sweat, v. 22, 1.

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