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Aristotle
On the Parts of Animals

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10

We have now dealt with the heart and the lung, as also with the liver, spleen, and kidneys. The latter are separated from the former by the midriff or, as some call it, the Phrenes. This divides off the heart and lung, and, as already said, is called Phrenes in sanguineous animals, all of which have a midriff, just as they all have a heart and a liver. For they require a midriff to divide the region of the heart from the region of the stomach, so that the centre wherein abides the sensory soul may be undisturbed, and not be overwhelmed, directly food is taken, by its up-steaming vapour and by the abundance of heat then superinduced. For it was to guard against this that nature made a division, constructing the midriff as a kind of partition-wall and fence, and so separated the nobler from the less noble parts, in all cases where a separation of upper from lower is possible. For the upper part is the more honourable, and is that for the sake of which the rest exists; while the lower part exists for the sake of the upper and constitutes the necessary element in the body, inasmuch as it is the recipient of the food.

That portion of the midriff which is near the ribs is fleshier and stronger than the rest, but the central part has more of a membranous character; for this structure conduces best to its strength and its extensibility. Now that the midriff, which is a kind of outgrowth from the sides of the thorax, acts as a screen to prevent heat mounting up from below, is shown by what happens, should it, owing to its proximity to the stomach, attract thence the hot and residual fluid. For when this occurs there ensues forthwith a marked disturbance of intellect and of sensation. It is indeed because of this that the midriff is called Phrenes, as though it had some share in the process of thinking (Phronein). in reality, however, it has no part whatsoever itself in the matter, but, lying in close proximity to organs that have, it brings about the manifest changes of intelligence in question by acting upon them. This too explains why its central part is thin. For though this is in some measure the result of necessity, inasmuch as those portions of the fleshy whole which lie nearest to the ribs must necessarily be fleshier than the rest, yet besides this there is a final cause, namely to give it as small a proportion of humour as possible; for, had it been made of flesh throughout, it would have been more likely to attract and hold a large amount of this. That heating of it affects sensation rapidly and in a notable manner is shown by the phenomena of laughing. For when men are tickled they are quickly set a-laughing, because the motion quickly reaches this part, and heating it though but slightly nevertheless manifestly so disturbs the mental action as to occasion movements that are independent of the will. That man alone is affected by tickling is due firstly to the delicacy of his skin, and secondly to his being the only animal that laughs. For to be tickled is to be set in laughter, the laughter being produced such a motion as mentioned of the region of the armpit.

It is said also that when men in battle are wounded anywhere near the midriff, they are seen to laugh, owing to the heat produced by the wound. This may possibly be the case. At any rate it is a statement made by much more credible persons than those who tell the story of the human head, how it speaks after it is cut off. For so some assert, and even call in Homer to support them, representing him as alluding to this when he wrote, "His head still speaking rolled into the dust," instead of "The head of the speaker". So fully was the possibility of such an occurrence accepted in Caria, that one of that country was actually brought to trial under the following circumstances. The priest of Zeus Hoplosmios had been murdered; but as yet it had not been ascertained who was the assassin; when certain persons asserted that they had heard the murdered man’s head, which had been severed from the body, repeat several times the words, "Cercidas slew man on mam."" Search was thereupon made and a man of those parts who bore the name of Cercidas hunted out and put upon his trial. But it is impossible that any one should utter a word when the windpipe is severed and no motion any longer derived from the lung. Moreover, among the Barbarians, where heads are chopped off with great rapidity, nothing of the kind has ever yet occurred. Why, again, does not the like occur in the case of other animals than man? For that none of them should laugh, when their midriff is wounded, is but what one would expect; for no animal but man ever laughs. So, too, there is nothing irrational in supposing that the trunk may run forwards to a certain distance after the head has been cut seeing that bloodless animals at any rate can live, and that for a considerable time, after decapitation, as has been set forth and explained in other passages.

The purposes, then, for which the viscera severally exist have now been stated. It is of necessity upon the inner terminations of the vessels that they are developed; for humour, and that of a bloody character, cannot but exude at these points, and it is of this, solidified and coagulated, that the substance of the viscera is formed. Thus they are of a bloody character, and in substance resemble each other while they differ from other parts.




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