On the Parts of Animals

Author: Aristotle  | Date: 350 BC


What has been said of the bladder is equally true of the kidneys. For these also are wanting in all animals that are clad with feathers or with scales or with scale-like plates; the sea and land tortoises forming the only exception. In some of the birds, however, there are flattened kidney like bodies, as though the flesh allotted to the formation of the kidneys, unable to find one single place of sufficient size, had been scattered over several.

The Emys has neither bladder nor kidneys. For the softness of its shell allows of the ready transpiration of fluid; and for this reason neither of the organs mentioned exists in this animal. All other animals, however, whose lung contains blood are, as before said, provided with kidneys. For nature uses these organs for two separate purposes, namely for the excretion of the residual fluid, and to subserve the blood-vessels, a channel leading to them from the great vessel.

In the centre of the kidney is a cavity of variable size. This is the case in all animals, excepting the seal. The kidneys of this animal are more solid than those of any other, and in form resemble the kidneys of the ox. The human kidneys are of similar shape; being as it were made up of numerous small kidneys, and not presenting one unbroken surface like the kidneys of sheep and other quadrupeds. For this reason, should the kidneys of a man be once attacked by disease, the malady is not easily expelled. For it is as though many kidneys were diseased and not merely one; which naturally enhances the difficulties of a cure.

The duct which runs to the kidney from the great vessel does not terminate in the central cavity, but is expended on the substance of the organ, so that there is no blood in the cavity, nor is any coagulum found there after death. A pair of stout ducts, void of blood, run, one from the cavity of each kidney, to the bladder; and other ducts, strong and continuous, lead into the kidneys from the aorta. The purpose of this arrangement is to allow the superfluous fluid to pass from the blood-vessel into the kidney, and the resulting renal excretion to collect by the percolation of the fluid through the solid substance of the organ, in its centre, where as a general rule there is a cavity. (This by the way explains why the kidney is the most ill-savoured of all the viscera.) From the central cavity the fluid is discharged into the bladder by the ducts that have been mentioned, having already assumed in great degree the character of excremental residue. The bladder is as it were moored to the kidneys; for, as already has been stated, it is attached to them by strong ducts. These then are the purposes for which the kidneys exist, and such the functions of these organs.

In all animals that have kidneys, that on the right is placed higher than that on the left. For inasmuch as motion commences from the right, and the organs on this side are in consequence stronger than those on the left, they must all push upwards in advance of their opposite fellows; as may be seen in the fact that men even raise the right eyebrow more than the left, and that the former is more arched than the latter. The right kidney being thus drawn upwards is in all animals brought into contact with the liver; for the liver lies on the right side.

Of all the viscera the kidneys are those that have the most fat. This is in the first place the result of necessity, because the kidneys are the parts through which the residual matters percolate. For the blood which is left behind after this excretion, being of pure quality, is of easy concoction, and the final result of thorough blood-concoction is lard and suet. For just as a certain amount of fire is left in the ashes of solid substances after combustion, so also does a remnant of the heat that has been developed remain in fluids after concoction; and this is the reason why oily matter is light, and floats on the surface of other fluids. The fat is not formed in the kidneys themselves, the density of their substance forbidding this, but is deposited about their external surface. It consists of lard or of suet, according as the animal’s fat is of the former or latter character. The difference between these two kinds of fat has already been set forth in other passages. The formation, then, of fat in the kidneys is the result of necessity; being, as explained, a consequence of the necessary conditions which accompany the possession of such organs. But at the same time the fat has a final cause, namely to ensure the safety of the kidneys, and to maintain their natural heat. For placed, as these organs are, close to the surface, they require a greater supply of heat than other parts. For while the back is thickly covered with flesh, so as to form a shield for the heart and neighbouring viscera, the loins, in accordance with a rule that applies to all bendings, are destitute of flesh; and fat is therefore formed as a substitute for it, so that the kidneys may not be without protection. The kidneys, moreover, by being fat are the better enabled to secrete and concoct their fluid; for fat is hot, and it is heat that effects concoction.

Such, then, are the reasons why the kidneys are fat. But in all animals the right kidney is less fat than its fellow. The reason for this is, that the parts on the right side are naturally more solid and more suited for motion than those on the left. But motion is antagonistic to fat, for it tends to melt it.

Animals then, as a general rule, derive advantage from their kidneys being fat; and the fat is often very abundant and extends over the whole of these organs. But, should the like occur in the sheep, death ensues. Be its kidneys, however, as fat as they may, they are never so fat but that some part, if not in both at any rate in the right one, is left free. The reason why sheep are the only animals that suffer in this manner, or suffer more than others, is that in animals whose fat is composed of lard this is of fluid consistency, so that there is not the same chance in their case of wind getting shut in and causing mischief. But it is to such an enclosure of wind that rot is due. And thus even in men, though it is beneficial to them to have fat kidneys, yet should these organs become over-fat and diseased, deadly pains ensue. As to those animals whose fat consists of suet, in none is the suet so dense as in the sheep, neither is it nearly so abundant; for of all animals there is none in which the kidneys become so soon gorged with fat as in the sheep. Rot, then, is produced by the moisture and the wind getting shut up in the kidneys, and is a malady that carries off sheep with great rapidity. For the disease forthwith reaches the heart, passing thither by the aorta and the great vessel, the ducts which connect these with the kidneys being of unbroken continuity.


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Chicago: Aristotle, "9," On the Parts of Animals, trans. William Ogle Original Sources, accessed January 26, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q86763VZSZY8S2T.

MLA: Aristotle. "9." On the Parts of Animals, translted by William Ogle, Original Sources. 26 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q86763VZSZY8S2T.

Harvard: Aristotle, '9' in On the Parts of Animals, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 26 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q86763VZSZY8S2T.