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Aristotle
On the Parts of Animals

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13

Men, and Birds, and Quadrupeds, viviparous and oviparous alike, have their eyes protected by lids. In the Vivipara there are two of these; and both are used by these animals not only in closing the eyes, but also in the act of blinking; whereas the oviparous quadrupeds, and the heavy-bodied birds as well as some others, use only the lower lid to close the eye; while birds blink by means of a membrane that issues from the canthus. The reason for the eyes being thus protected is that nature has made them of fluid consistency, in order to ensure keenness of vision. For had they been covered with hard skin, they would, it is true, have been less liable to get injured by anything falling into them from without, but they would not have been sharp-sighted. It is then to ensure keenness of vision that the skin over the pupil is fine and delicate; while the lids are superadded as a protection from injury. It is as a still further safeguard that all these animals blink, and man most of all; this action (which is not performed from deliberate intention but from a natural instinct) serving to keep objects from falling into the eyes; and being more frequent in man than in the rest of these animals, because of the greater delicacy of his skin. These lids are made of a roll of skin; and it is because they are made of skin and contain no flesh that neither they, nor the similarly constructed prepuce, unite again when once cut.

As to the oviparous quadrupeds, and such birds as resemble them in closing the eye with the lower lid, it is the hardness of the skin of their heads which makes them do so. For such birds as have heavy bodies are not made for flight; and so the materials which would otherwise have gone to increase the growth of the feathers are diverted thence, and used to augment the thickness of the skin. Birds therefore of this kind close the eye with the lower lid; whereas pigeons and the like use both upper and lower lids for the purpose. As birds are covered with feathers, so oviparous quadrupeds are covered with scaly plates; and these in all their forms are harder than hairs, so that the skin also to which they belong is harder than the skin of hairy animals. In these animals, then, the skin on the head is hard, and so does not allow of the formation of an upper eyelid, whereas lower down the integument is of a flesh-like character, so that the lower lid can be thin and extensible.

The act of blinking is performed by the heavy-bodied birds by means of the membrane already mentioned, and not by this lower lid. For in blinking rapid motion is required, and such is the motion of this membrane, whereas that of the lower lid is slow. It is from the canthus that is nearest to the nostrils that the membrane comes. For it is better to have one starting-point for nictitation than two; and in these birds this starting-point is the junction of eye and nostrils, an anterior starting-point being preferable to a lateral one. Oviparous quadrupeds do not blink in like manner as the birds; for, living as they do on the ground, they are free from the necessity of having eyes of fluid consistency and of keen sight, whereas these are essential requisites for birds, inasmuch as they have to use their eyes at long distances. This too explains why birds with talons, that have to search for prey by eye from aloft, and therefore soar to greater heights than other birds, are sharpsighted; while common fowls and the like, that live on the ground and are not made for flight, have no such keenness of vision. For there is nothing in their mode of life which imperatively requires it.

Fishes and Insects and the hard-skinned Crustacea present certain differences in their eyes, but so far resemble each other as that none of them have eyelids. As for the hard-skinned Crustacea it is utterly out of the question that they should have any; for an eyelid, to be of use, requires the action of the skin to be rapid. These animals then have no eyelids and, in default of this protection, their eyes are hard, just as though the lid were attached to the surface of the eye, and the animal saw through it. Inasmuch, however, as such hardness must necessarily blunt the sharpness of vision, nature has endowed the eyes of Insects, and still more those of Crustacea, with mobility (just as she has given some quadrupeds movable ears), in order that they may be able to turn to the light and catch its rays, and so see more plainly. Fishes, however, have eyes of a fluid consistency. For animals that move much about have to use their vision at considerable distances. If now they live on land, the air in which they move is transparent enough. But the water in which fishes live is a hindrance to sharp sight, though it has this advantage over the air, that it does not contain so many objects to knock against the eyes. The risk of collision being thus small, nature, who makes nothing in vain, has given no eyelids to fishes, while to counterbalance the opacity of the water she has made their eyes of fluid consistency.




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