On the Generation of Animals

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


After this we must distinguish of what sort of nutriment it is a secretion, and must discuss the catamenia which occur in certain of the vivipara. For thus we shall make it clear (1) whether the female also produces semen like the male and the foetus is a single mixture of two semens, or whether no semen is secreted by the female, and, (2) if not, whether she contributes nothing else either to generation but only provides a receptacle, or whether she does contribute something, and, if so, how and in what manner she does so.

We have previously stated that the final nutriment is the blood in the sanguinea and the analogous fluid in the other animals. Since the semen is also a secretion of the nutriment, and that in its final stage, it follows that it will be either (1) blood or that which is analogous to blood, or (2) something formed from this. But since it is from the blood, when concocted and somehow divided up, that each part of the body is made, and since the semen if properly concocted is quite of a different character from the blood when it is separated from it, but if not properly concocted has been known in some cases to issue in a bloody condition if one forces oneself too often to coition, therefore it is plain that semen will be a secretion of the nutriment when reduced to blood, being that which is finally distributed to the parts of the body. And this is the reason why it has so great power, for the loss of the pure and healthy blood is an exhausting thing; for this reason also it is natural that the offspring should resemble the parents, for that which goes to all the parts of the body resembles that which is left over. So that the semen which is to form the hand or the face or the whole animal is already the hand or face or whole animal undifferentiated, and what each of them is actually such is the semen potentially, either in virtue of its own mass or because it has a certain power in itself. I mention these alternatives here because we have not yet made it clear from the distinctions drawn hitherto whether it is the matter of the semen that is the cause of generation, or whether it has in it some faculty and efficient cause thereof, for the hand also or any other bodily part is not hand or other part in a true sense if it be without soul or some other power, but is only called by the same name as the living hand.

On this subject, then, so much may be laid down. But since it is necessary (1) that the weaker animal also should have a secretion greater in quantity and less concocted, and (2) that being of such a nature it should be a mass of sanguineous liquid, and (3) since that which Nature endows with a smaller portion of heat is weaker, and (4) since it has already been stated that such is the character of the female- putting all these considerations together we see that the sanguineous matter discharged by the female is also a secretion. And such is the discharge of the so-called catamenia.

It is plain, then, that the catamenia are a secretion, and that they are analogous in females to the semen in males. The circumstances connected with them are evidence that this view is correct. For the semen begins to appear in males and to be emitted at the same time of life that the catamenia begin to flow in females, and that they change their voice and their breasts begin to develop. So, too, in the decline of life the generative power fails in the one sex and the catamenia in the other.

The following signs also indicate that this discharge in females is a secretion. Generally speaking women suffer neither from haemorrhoids nor bleeding at the nose nor anything else of the sort except when the catamenia are ceasing, and if anything of the kind occurs the flow is interfered with because the discharge is diverted to it.

Further, the blood-vessels of women stand out less than those of men, and women are rounder and smoother because the secretion which in men goes to these vessels is drained away with the catamenia. We must suppose, too, that the same cause accounts for the fact that the bulk of the body is smaller in females than in males among the vivipara, since this is the only class in which the catamenia are discharged from the body. And in this class the fact is clearest in women, for the discharge is greater in women than in the other animals. Wherefore her pallor and the absence of prominent blood-vessels is most conspicuous, and the deficient development of her body compared with a man’s is obvious.

Now since this is what corresponds in the female to the semen in the male, and since it is not possible that two such discharges should be found together, it is plain that the female does not contribute semen to the generation of the offspring. For if she had semen she would not have the catamenia; but, as it is, because she has the latter she has not the former.

It has been stated then that the catamenia are a secretion as the semen is, and confirmation of this view may be drawn from some of the phenomena of animals. For fat creatures produce less semen than lean ones, as observed before. The reason is that fat also, like semen, is a secretion, is in fact concocted blood, only not concocted in the same way as the semen. Thus, if the secretion is consumed to form fat the semen is naturally deficient. And so among the bloodless animals the cephalopoda and crustacea are in best condition about the time of producing eggs, for, because they are bloodless and no fat is formed in them, that which is analogous in them to fat is at that season drawn off to form the spermatic secretion.

And a proof that the female does not emit similar semen to the male, and that the offspring is not formed by a mixture of both, as some say, is that often the female conceives without the sensation of pleasure in intercourse, and if again the pleasure is experience by her no less than by the male and the two sexes reach their goal together, yet often no conception takes place unless the liquid of the so-called catamenia is present in a right proportion. Hence the female does not produce young if the catamenia are absent altogether, nor often when, they being present, the efflux still continues; but she does so after the purgation. For in the one case she has not the nutriment or material from which the foetus can be framed by the power coming from the male and inherent in the semen, and in the other it is washed away with the catamenia because of their abundance. But when after their occurrence the greater part has been evacuated, the remainder is formed into a foetus. Cases of conception when the catamenia do not occur at all, or of conception during their discharge instead of after it, are due to the fact that in the former instance there is only so much liquid to begin with as remains behind after the discharge in fertile women, and no greater quantity is secreted so as to come away from the body, while in the latter instance the mouth of the uterus closes after the discharge. When, therefore, the quantity already expelled from the body is great but the discharge still continues, only not on such a scale as to wash away the semen, then it is that conception accompanies coition. Nor is it at all strange that the catamenia should still continue after conception (for even after it they recur to some extent, but are scanty and do not last during all the period of gestation; this, however, is a morbid phenomenon, wherefore it is found only in a few cases and then seldom, whereas it is that which happens as a regular thing that is according to Nature).

It is clear then that the female contributes the material for generation, and that this is in the substance of the catamenia, and that they are a secretion.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "Chapter 19," On the Generation of Animals, trans. Arthur Platt in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0 (Irvine, CA: World Library, Inc., 1996), Original Sources, accessed January 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCMXCJZRI52R25E.

MLA: Aristotle. "Chapter 19." On the Generation of Animals, translted by Arthur Platt, in Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, Irvine, CA, World Library, Inc., 1996, Original Sources. 20 Jan. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCMXCJZRI52R25E.

Harvard: Aristotle, 'Chapter 19' in On the Generation of Animals, trans. . cited in 1996, Library of the Future ® 4th Edition Ver. 5.0, World Library, Inc., Irvine, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 20 January 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QCMXCJZRI52R25E.