The Works of Aristotle the Famous Philosopher

Page 29 of 76

In this chapter I am to treat of the womb, which the Latins call matrix. Its parts are two; the mouth of the womb and the bottom of it. The mouth is an orifice at the entrance into it, which may be dilated and shut together like a purse; for though in the act of copulation it is big enough to receive the glans of the yard, yet after conception, it is so close and shut, that it will not admit the point of a bodkin to enter; and yet again, at the time of a woman's delivery, it is opened to such an extraordinary degree, that the child passeth through it into the world; at which time this orifice wholly disappears, and the womb seems to have but one great cavity from the bottom to the entrance of the neck. When a woman is not with child, it is a little oblong, and of substance very thick and close; but when she is with child it is shortened, and its thickness diminished proportionably to its distension; and therefore it is a mistake of anatomists who affirm, that its substance waxeth thicker a little before a woman's labour; for any one's reason will inform him, that the more distended it is, the thinner it must be; and the nearer a woman is to the time of her delivery the shorter her womb must be extended. As to the action by which this inward orifice of the womb is opened and shut, it is purely natural; for were it otherwise, there could not be so many bastards begotten as there are, nor would any married women have so many children. Were it in their own power they would hinder conception, though they would be willing enough to use copulation; for nature has attended that action with so pleasing and delightful sensations, that they are willing to indulge themselves in the use thereof notwithstanding the pains they afterwards endure, and the hazard of their lives that often follows it. And this comes to pass, not so much from an inordinate lust in woman, as that the great Director of Nature, for the increase and multiplication of mankind, and even all other species in the elementary world, hath placed such a magnetic virtue in the womb, that it draws the seed to it, as the loadstone draws iron.

The Author of Nature has placed the womb in the belly, that the heat might always be maintained by the warmth of the parts surrounding it; it is, therefore, seated in the middle of the hypogastrium (or lower parts of the belly between the bladder and the belly, or right gut) by which also it is defended from any hurt through the hardness of the bones, and it is placed in the lower part of the belly for the convenience of copulation, and of a birth being thrust out at full time.

It is of a figure almost round, inclining somewhat to an oblong, in part resembling a pear; for being broad at the bottom, it gradually terminates in the point of the orifice which is narrow.

The length, breadth and thickness of the womb differ according to the age and disposition of the body. For in virgins not ripe it is very small in all its dimensions, but in women whose terms flow in great quantities, and such as frequently use copulation, it is much larger, and if they have had children, it is larger in them than in such as have had none; but in women of a good stature and well shaped, it is (as I have said before), from the entry of the privy parts to the bottom of the womb usually about eight inches; but the length of the body of the womb alone, does not exceed three; the breadth thereof is near about the same, and of the thickness of the little finger, when the womb is not pregnant, but when the woman is with child, it becomes of a prodigious greatness, and the nearer she is to delivery, the more the womb is extended.

It is not without reason then, that nature (or the God of Nature) has made the womb of a membranous substance; for thereby it does the easier open to conceive, is gradually dilated by the growth of the foetus or young one, and is afterwards contracted or closed again, to thrust forth both it and the after-burden, and then to retire to its primitive seat. Hence also it is enabled to expel any noxious humours, which may sometimes happen to be contained within it.

Before I have done with the womb, which is the field of generation, and ought, therefore, to be the more particularly taken care of (for as the seeds of plants can produce no plants, nor sprig unless grown in ground proper to excite and awaken their vegetative virtue so likewise the seed of man, though potentially containing all the parts of the child, would never produce so admissible an effect, if it were not cast into that fruitful field of nature, the womb) I shall proceed to a more particular description of its parts, and the uses for which nature has designed them.

The womb, then, is composed of various similar parts, that is of membranes, veins, arteries and nerves. Its membranes are two and they compose the principal parts of the body, the outermost of which ariseth from the peritoneum or caul, and is very thin, without it is smooth, but within equal, that it may the better cleave to the womb, as it is fleshier and thicker than anything else we meet with within the body, when the woman is not pregnant, and is interwoven with all sorts of fibres or small strings that it may the better suffer the extension of the child, and the water caused during pregnancy, and also that it may the easier close again after delivery.

The veins and arteries proceed both from the hypogastric and the spermatic vessels, of which I shall speak by and by; all these are inserted and terminated in the proper membranes of the womb. The arteries supply it with food and nourishment, which being brought together in too great a quantity, sweats through the substance of it, and distils as it were a dew at the bottom of the cavity; from thence proceed the terms in ripe virgins, and the blood which nourisheth the embryo in breeding women. The branches which issue from the spermatic vessels, are inserted on each side of the bottom of the womb, and are much less than those which proceed from the hypogastrics, those being greater and bedewing the whole substance of it. There are some other small vessels, which arising the one from the other are conducted to the internal orifice, and by these, those that are pregnant purge away the superfluity of the terms when they happen to have more than is used in the nourishment of the infant: by which means nature has taken so much care of the womb, that during pregnancy it shall not be obliged to open itself for passing away those excrementitious humours, which, should it be forced to do, might often endanger abortion.

As touching the nerves, they proceed from the brain, which furnishes all the inner parts of the lower belly in them, which is the true reason it hath so great a sympathy with the stomach, which is likewise very considerably furnished from the same part; so that the womb cannot be afflicted with any pain, but that the stomach is immediately sensible thereof, which is the cause of those loathings or frequent vomitings which happen to it.

But beside all these parts which compose the womb, it has yet four ligaments, whose office it is, to keep it firm in its place, and prevent its constant agitation, by the continual motion of the intestines which surround it, two of which are above and two below. Those above are called the broad ligaments, because of their broad and membranous figure, and are nothing else but the production of the peritoneum which growing out of the sides of the loins towards the veins come to be inserted in the sides of the bottom of the womb, to hinder the body from bearing too much on the neck, and so from suffering a precipitation as will sometimes happen when the ligaments are too much relaxed; and do also contain the testicles, and as well, safely conduct the different vessels, as the ejaculatories, to the womb. The lowermost are called round ligaments, taking their origin from the side of the womb near the horn, from whence they pass the groin, together with the production of the peritoneum, which accompanies them through the rings of the oblique and transverse muscles of the belly, by which they divide themselves into many little branches resembling the foot of a goose, of which some are inserted into the os pubis, the rest are lost and confounded with the membranes which women and children feel in their thighs. These two ligaments are long, round and nervous, and pretty big in their beginning near the matrix, hollow in their rise, and all along the os pubis, where they are a little smaller and become flat, the better to be inserted in the manner aforesaid. It is by their means the womb is hindered from rising too high. Now, although the womb is held in its natural situation by means of these four ligaments, it has liberty enough to extend itself when pregnant, because they are very loose, and so easily yield to its distension. But besides these ligaments, which keep the womb, as it were, in a poise, yet it is fastened for greater security by its neck, both to the bladder and rectum, between which it is situated. Whence it comes to pass, that if at any time the womb be inflamed, it communicates the inflammation to the neighbouring part.

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