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The Vital Heat, the Inborn Pneuma and the Aether

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2013

Friedrich Solmsen
Cornell University
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A short section of Aristotle's de generatione animalium embodies his final answer to the question how the faculties of soul are transmitted from parent to offspring. Aristotle here speaks in a tone which is dogmatic as well as enthusiastic; he is able to announce a new discovery. There is, he sets forth, in the sperma a peculiar substance (σῶμα) which has some connection with soul and differs in quality as the souls themselves differ in worth. This substance is identical with two of the entities mentioned in our title and ‘analogous’ to the third.

Πάσης μὲν οὖν ψυχῆς δύναμις ἑτέρου σώματος ἔοικε κεκοινωνηκέναι καὶ θειοτέρου τῶν καλουμένων στοιχείων ὡς δὲ διαφέρουσι τιμιότητι αἱ ψυχαὶ καὶ ἀλλήλων, οὕτω καὶ ἡ τοιαύτη διαφέρει φύσις. πάντων μὲν γὰρ ἐν τῷ σπέρματι ὑπάρχει ὅπερ ποιεῖ γόνιμα εἶναι τὰ σπέρματα, τό καλούμενον θερμόν. τοῦτο δ᾿ οὐ πῦρ πὐδὲ τοιαύτη δύναμίς ἐστιν, ἀλλὰ τὸ ἐμπεριλαμβανόμενον ἐν τῷ σπέρματι καὶ ἐν τῷ ἀφρώδει πνεῦμα καὶ ἡ ἐν τῷ πνεύματι φύσις, ἀνάλογον οὖσα τῶν ἄστρων στοιείῳ.

The sentences which follow state that fire has no generative or procreative power, yet such a power must be present in the Sun and in the θερμόν, the vital heat of living beings. Clearly, then, this θερμόν cannot be identical with the fire.

Nowhere else in the body of his preserved work does Aristotle establish this close connection between the vital heat, the pneuma, and the element of the stars, the so-called aether. These three concepts differ as much in their origin and past history as in their function and place within Aristotle's own physical or biological system. A brief sketch of them—skipping by necessity many significant episodes in the history of each—will suffice to make this clear.

What needs here to be said about the ‘element of the stars’ is indeed not much. It was Aristotle himself who added this element to the canonic four of the Empedoclean and Platonic tradition. The dialogue On Philosophy and the First Book On the Heaven secured it its place. It is divine, un-ageing, and unchanging, and yet a material element. Like the other elements it has its specific ‘natural motion’, to wit the circular, which makes it possible for Aristotle to explain by a physical ‘hypothesis’ the celestial motions for which Plato had resorted to the World-Soul. The place of this element is the entire heavenly region, extending from the First Heaven to the moon; below this, in the regions occupied by the four other elements, it is never to be found.

Research Article
Copyright © The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies 1957

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1 de gen. anim. II, 3.736b30–737a1.

2 Ibid. 737a1–8.

3 See now SirRoss, David, Aristotle Parva Naturalia 40–3.Google Scholar

4 Cf. de philos. 26 f., 29 (Walzer); de caelo I, 2 f. and pass.; Meteor. I, 2.340b6 ff. Bignone, E. (L'Aristot. Perduto I, 227 ff.)Google Scholar thinks that in the ‘aether’ formed the substance of the human νοῦς.

5 Vorsokr. 6 28A26, a, b (cf. Heraclitus' conception of soul as fire, esp. 22B36).

6 Ibid. 31A85.

7 de somno 3 (esp. 457b6 ff.); de iuv. 24; cf. ibid. 4 ff.

8 de carne 2 ff., 6; de nat. hom. 12 (de corde 6). The de victu (which is now considered late) even knows (2, 60.62).

9 Tim. 78b–79e (note 79d2 ff.). On Tim. 79e see my paper Stud. It. 27 (1956), 544 ff.

10 See esp. de part. an. II, 3. 650a3 ff. (cf. de an. II, 4. 416b28f. and Ross op. cit. 41 and n. 2); de iuv. pass., esp. 4ff., 19, 21, 24.

11 See de iuv. 14. 474b14 ff. et al., de gen. anim. II, 1. 732b28 ff., 733a34 ff.

12 Besides Jaeger's studies (presently to be cited) see in particular Beare, J. I., Greek Theories of Elem. Cognition (Oxford, 1906), 333 ff.Google Scholar; Sir David Ross (see Note 3). For the later history of the concept see e.g. Verbeke, G., L'évolution de la doctr. du pneuma (Paris-Louvain, 1945)Google Scholar and Waszink, J. H., Tertullian, De anima (Amsterdam, 1947), 342 ff.Google Scholar See also Wiersma, W., Mnemos. ser. 3, 11 (1943), 102 ff.Google Scholar

13 For Diogenes see Vorsokr. 64aA19f., B4f.; on the relation to him of ‘Hipp’, de morbo sacro, cf. Miller, Harold W., T.A.P.A. 79 (1948), 168 ff.Google Scholar

14 See de an. motu 10; de an. II, 8.420a9 ff.; de gen. anim. II, 6. 744a2 ff. and (out of context though this passage is) V, 2. 781a21 ff. For Diogenes as ultimate source cf. Pohlenz, , Hippokrates (Berlin 1938), 39 ff, 93 ffGoogle Scholar; Lesky, Erna, Abhd. Mainzer Akad., 1950, 19, 123 ff.Google Scholar

15 Vorsokr. 64A24; de gen. anim. II, 2. 735b8 ff. (cf. b19; 736a13 with Peck's note on this passage and a19 ff).

16 ‘The Pneuma in the Lyceum’, Hermes 48, 29 ff., esp. 51–7.

17 Diokles von Karystos (Berlin, 1938); see also Abh. Pr. Akad. (phil.-hist. Kl.) 1939.3.

18 See Plato Phileb. 29a10.

19 This may account, e.g. for the pneuma in the organism of non-breathers (de iuv. 15. 475a6 ff; de part. an. III, 669a2) and in the ear and its πόροι (de an. II, 8. 420a3–12; cf. III, i. 425a4; de part. anim. II, 10. 656b17; de gen. anim. II, 6. 744a3 f., V, 2. 781a23).

20 II, 2. 735a30 ff, b8 ff., b32 ff., 736a1 f.

21 E.g. de part, anim. II, 7. 652b7–11; de iuv. 14. 474b10–13; see also 473a4, 469b11–17.

22 I, 21. See also 20. 729a10 f.

23 736b8–29.

24 The significance of this sentence seems to have been more appreciated by A. Platt (who in the Oxford translation adds the ‘only’) than by Peck, who in vain scans Aristotle's alternatives for hints of a solution (on 736b21). On the other hand, Platt's assumption of a lacuna at 737a8 and his doubts about a17 ff. are gratuitous (for our section has settled—not only ‘more or less settled’—how the soul functions can be δυνάμει present). I accept Aubert-Wimmer's corrections in 737a8 f. and 12. It may be necessary to change 736b17 to

25 II, 6. 742a15 f. indicates a different origin of the pneuma which differentiates the parts of the foetus.

26 II, 2. 735a30–b38. See also p. 120. Note 736a1 f. and also 735b34.

27 Cf. de part. an. II, 3. 650a2 ff.; de iuv. 4. 469b11 ff., 14. 474a25 ff. See also above (p. 120) and de gen. anim. I, 19.

28 II, 2. 735a32.

29 III, ii. 762a19–22. Here, too, Aristotle makes use of and (see also 762b16 ff.); yet they appear in a somewhat different combination (note also the difference between 762a24 ff. and 736b32). For quotations of Thales' dictum ‘slanted’ toward ψυχή see de an. I, 5. 411a8; Pl., Legg. 10. 890b9; Epin. 991d1 ff.

30 On the relation of πνεῦμα and πῦρ in early Stoicism see Pohlenz, , Die Stoa (Berlin, 1948), I, 73 f.Google Scholar; of and θερμόν Jaeger, , Hermes 48Google Scholar, 50, n. 1.

31 Frgs. 44, 59; 8, 15 in Wellmann, M., Die Fragmente d. sizil. Arzte (Berlin 1901).Google ScholarCf. Wellmann, ibid. 14 ff., 20, 70, 77 ff.

32 St. V. F. II, 897; cf. also II, 879, 885. See Wellmann, op. cit. 15, n.4. In general cf. Moreau, J., L'âme du monde de Platon aux Stoic (Paris, 1939), 165 f.Google Scholar

33 Cic., de nat. deor. 2. 23 f.; cf. 3. 35. To Aristotle's point that fire is not procreative the Stoics in their way do justice by distinguishing two kinds of fire, one consuming and destructive, the other constructive and procreative (St. V. F. I, 120; 504). For the reliquiae (περιττώματα) see 737a4 in our section.

34 Legg. 10, 889b.

35 Legg. 895C7 ( The next step is the identification of the self-moving with soul).

36 See above, p. 119 and note 9.

37 de part, anim. II, 7. 65207 ff.; de iuv. 4; 6. 470a19 ff.

38 de iuv. 24; cf. 23. 478b31 f.; see also 14. 474a25 ff. and again 4, esp. 469b13–20.

39 Aen. 6. 747, 726 (note also 730).

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