On the Parts of Animals

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


We have now to treat of horns; for these also, when present, are appendages of the head. They exist in none but viviparous animals; though in some ovipara certain parts are metaphorically spoken of as horns, in virtue of a certain resemblance. To none of such parts, however, does the proper office of a horn belong; for they are never used, as are the horns of vivipara, for purposes which require strength, whether it be in self-protection or in offensive strife. So also no polydactylous animal is furnished with horns. For horns are defensive weapons, and these polydactylous animals possess other means of security. For to some of them nature has given claws, to others teeth suited for combat, and to the rest some other adequate defensive appliance. There are horns, however, in most of the cloven-hoofed animals, and in some of those that have a solid hoof, serving them as an offensive weapon, and in some cases also as a defensive one. There are horns also in all animals that have not been provided by nature with some other means of security; such means, for instance, as speed, which has been given to horses; or great size, as in camels; for excessive bulk, such as has been given to these animals, and in a still greater measure to elephants, is sufficient in itself to protect an animal from being destroyed by others. Other animals again are protected by the possession of tusks; and among these are the swine, though they have a cloven hoof.

All animals again, whose horns are but useless appendages, have been provided by nature with some additional means of security. Thus deer are endowed with speed; for the large size and great branching of their horns makes these a source of detriment rather than of profit to their possessors. Similarly endowed are the Bubalus and gazelle; for though these animals will stand up against some enemies and defend themselves with their horns, yet they run away from such as are fierce and pugnacious. The Bonasus again, whoe horns curve inwards towards each other, is provided with a means of protection in the discharge of its excrement; and of this it avails itself when frightened. There are some other animals besides the Bonasus that have a similar mode of defence. In no case, however, does nature ever give more than one adequate means of protection to one and the same animal.

Most of the animals that have horns are cloven-hoofed; but the Indian ass, as they call it, is also reported to be horned, though its hoof is solid.

Again as the body, so far as regards its organs of motion, consists of two distinct parts, the right and the left, so also and for like reasons the horns of animals are, in the great majority of cases, two in number. Still there are some that have but a single horn; the Oryx, for instance, and the so-called Indian ass; in the former of which the hoof is cloven, while in the latter it is solid. In such animals the horn is set in the centre of the head; for as the middle belongs equally to both extremes, this arrangement is the one that comes nearest to each side having its own horn.

Again, it would appear consistent with reason that the single horn should go with the solid rather than with the cloven hoof. For hoof, whether solid or cloven, is of the same nature as horn; so that the two naturally undergo division simultaneously and in the same animals. Again, since the division of the cloven hoof depends on deficiency of material, it is but rationally consistent, that nature, when she gave an animal an excess of material for the hoofs, which thus became solid, should have taken away something from the upper parts and so made the animal to have but one horn. Rightly too did she act when she chose the head whereon to set the horns; and AEsop’s Momus is beside the mark, when he finds fault with the bull for not having its horns upon its shoulders. For from this position, says he, they would have delivered their blow with the greatest force, whereas on the head they occupy the weakest part of the whole body. Momus was but dull-sighted in making this hostile criticism. For had the horns been set on the shoulders, or had they been set on any other part than they are, the encumbrance of their weight would have been increased, not only without any compensating gain whatso::ver, but with the disadvantage of impeding many bodily operations. For the point whence the blows could be delivered with the greatest force was not the only matter to be considered, but the point also whence they could be delivered with the widest range. But as the bull has no hands and cannot possibly have its horns on its feet or on its knees, where they would prevent flexion, there remains no other site for them but the head; and this therefore they necessarily occupy. In this position, moreover, they are much less in the way of the movements of the body than they would be elsewhere.

Deer are the only animals in which the horns are solid throughout, and are also the only animals that cast them. This casting is not simply advantageous to the deer from the increased lightness which it produces, but, seeing how heavy the horns are, is a matter of actual necessity.

In all other animals the horns are hollow for a certain distance, and the end alone is solid, this being the part of use in a blow. At the same time, to prevent even the hollow part from being weak, the horn, though it grows out of the skin, has a solid piece from the bones fitted into its cavity. For this arrangement is not only that which makes the horns of the greatest service in fighting, but that which causes them to be as little of an impediment as possible in the other actions of life.

Such then are the reasons for which horns exist; and such the reasons why they are present in some animals, absent from others.

Let us now consider the character of the material nature whose necessary results have been made available by rational nature for a final cause.

In the first place, then, the larger the bulk of animals, the greater is the proportion of corporeal and earthy matter which they contain. Thus no very small animal is known to have horns, the smallest horned animal that we are acquainted with being the gazelle. But in all our speculations concerning nature, what we have to consider is the general rule; for that is natural which applies either universally or generally. And thus when we say that the largest animals have most earthy matter, we say so because such is the general rule. Now this earthy matter is used in the animal body to form bone. But in the larger animals there is an excess of it, and this excess is turned by nature to useful account, being converted into weapons of defence. Part of it necessarily flows to the upper portion of the body, and this is allotted by her in some cases to the formation of tusks and teeth, in others to the formation of horns. Thus it is that no animal that has horns has also front teeth in both jaws, those in the upper jaw being deficient. For nature by subtracting from the teeth adds to the horns; the nutriment which in most animals goes to the former being here spent on the augmentation of the latter. Does, it is true, have no horns and yet are equally deficient with the males as regards the teeth. The reason, however, for this is that they, as much as the males, are naturally horn-bearing animals; but they have been stripped of their horns, because these would not only be useless to them but actually baneful; whereas the greater strength of the males causes these organs, though equally useless, to be less of an impediment. In other animals, where this material is not secreted from the body in the shape of horns, it is used to increase the size of the teeth; in some cases of all the teeth, in others merely of the tusks, which thus become so long as to resemble horns projecting from the jaws.

So much, then, of the parts which appertain to the head.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "2," On the Parts of Animals, trans. William Ogle Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D1W3USDRT3L69V4.

MLA: Aristotle. "2." On the Parts of Animals, translted by William Ogle, Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D1W3USDRT3L69V4.

Harvard: Aristotle, '2' in On the Parts of Animals, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D1W3USDRT3L69V4.