The Works of Aristotle the Famous Philosopher

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Its use or proper action in the work of generation, is to receive and retain the seed, and deduce from it power and action by its heat, for the generation of the infant; and it is, therefore, absolutely necessary for the conservation of the species. It also seems by accident to receive and expel the impurities of the whole body, as when women have abundance of whites, and to purge away, from time to time, the superfluity of the blood, as when a woman is not with child.

SECT. II.—Of the difference between the ancient and modern Physicians, touching the woman's contributing seed for the Formation of the Child.

Our modern anatomists and physicians are of different sentiments from the ancients touching the woman's contributing seed for the formation of the child, as well as the man; the ancients strongly affirming it, but our modern authors being generally of another judgment. I will not make myself a party to this controversy, but set down impartially, yet briefly, the arguments on each side, and leave the judicious reader to judge for himself.

Though it is apparent, say the ancients, that the seed of man is the principal efficient and beginning of action, motion and generation, yet the woman affords seed, and contributes to the procreation of the child, it is evident from hence, that the woman had seminal vessels, which had been given her in vain if she wanted seminal excretions; but since nature forms nothing in vain, it must be granted that they were formed for the use of the seed and procreation, and fixed in their proper places, to operate and contribute virtue and efficiency to the seed; and this, say they, is further proved from hence, that if women at years of maturity use not copulation to eject their seed, they often fall into strange diseases, as appears by young women and virgins, and also it appears that, women are never better pleased than when they are often satisfied this way, which argues, that the pleasure and delight, say they, is double in women to what it is in men, for as the delight of men in copulation consists chiefly in the emission of the seed, so women are delighted, both in the emission of their own and the reception of the man's.

But against this, all our modern authors affirm that the ancients are very erroneous, inasmuch as the testicles in women do not afford seed, but are two eggs, like those of a fowl or other creatures; neither have they any such offices as in men, but are indeed an ovarium, or receptacle for eggs, wherein these eggs are nourished, by the sanguinary vessels dispersed through them; and from hence one or more, as they are fecundated by the man's seed, are conveyed into the womb by the oviducts. And the truth of this, say they, is so plain, that if you boil them, the liquor shall have the same taste, colour and consistency with the taste of bird's eggs. And if it be objected that they have no shells, the answer is easy; for the eggs of fowls while they are in the ovary, nay, after they have fallen into the uterus, have no shell: and though they have one when they are laid, yet it is no more than a fence which nature has provided for them against outward injuries, they being hatched without the body, but those of women being hatched within the body have no need of any other fence than the womb to secure them.

They also further say, that there are in the generation of the foetus, or young ones, two principles, active and passive; the active is the man's seed elaborated in the testicles out of the arterial blood and animal spirits; the passive principle is the ovum or egg, impregnated by the man's seed; for to say that women have true seed, say they, is erroneous. But the manner of conception is this; the most spirituous part of the man's seed, in the act of copulation, reaching up to the ovarium or testicles of the woman (which contains divers eggs, sometimes fewer) impregnates one of them; which, being conveyed by the oviducts to the bottom of the womb, presently begins to swell bigger and bigger, and drinks in the moisture that is so plentifully sent hither, after the same manner that the seed in the ground suck the fertile moisture thereof, to make them sprout.

But, notwithstanding what is here urged by modern anatomists, there are some late writers of the opinion of the ancients, viz., that women both have, and emit seed in the act of copulation; and even women themselves take it ill to be thought merely passive in the act wherein they make such vigorous exertions; and positively affirm, that they are sensible of the emission of their seed in that action, and that in it a great part of the delight which they take in that act, consists. I shall not, therefore, go about to take away any of their happiness from them, but leave them in possession of their imaginary felicity.

Having thus laid the foundation of this work, I will now proceed to speak of conception, and of those things which are necessary to be observed by women from the time of their conception, to the time of their delivery.


Of Conception; what it is; how women are to order themselves after Conception.

SECTION I.—What Conception is, and the qualifications requisite thereto.

Conception is nothing but an action of the womb, by which the prolific seed is received and retained, that an infant may be engendered and formed out of it. There are two sorts of conception: the one according to nature, which is followed by the generation of the infant in the womb; the other false and wholly against nature, in which the seed changes into water, and produces only false conceptions, moles, or other strange matter. Now, there are three things principally necessary in order to a true conception, so that generation may follow, viz., without diversity of sex there can be no conception; for, though some will have a woman to be an animal that can engender of herself, it is a great mistake; there can be no conception without a man discharge his seed into the womb. What they allege of pullets laying eggs without a cock's treading them is nothing to the purpose, for those eggs should they be set under a hen, will never become chickens because they never received any prolific virtue from the male, which is absolutely necessary to this purpose, and is sufficient to convince us, that diversity of the sex is necessary even to those animals, as well as to the generation of man. But diversity of sex, though it be necessary to conception, yet it will not do alone; there must also be a congression of the different sexes; for diversity of sex would profit little if copulation did not follow. I confess I have heard of subtle women, who, to cover their sin and shame, have endeavoured to persuade some peasants that they were never touched by man to get them with child; and that one in particular pretended to conceive by going into a bath where a man had washed himself a little before and spent his seed in it, which was drawn and sucked into her womb, as she pretended. But such stories as these are only for such who know no better. Now that these different sexes should be obliged to come to the touch, which we call copulation or coition, besides the natural desire of begetting their like, which stirs up men and women to it, the parts appointed for generation are endowed by nature with a delightful and mutual itch, which begets in them a desire to the action; without which, it would not be very easy for a man, born for the contemplation of divine mysteries, to join himself, by the way of coition, to a woman, in regard to the uncleanness of the part and the action. And, on the other side, if the woman did but think of those pains and inconveniences to which they are subject by their great bellies, and those hazards of life itself, besides the unavoidable pains that attend their delivery, it is reasonable to believe they would be affrighted from it. But neither sex makes these reflections till after the action is over, considering nothing beforehand but the pleasure of the enjoyment, so that it is from this voluptuous itch that nature obliges both sexes to this congression. Upon which the third thing followeth of course, viz., the emission of seed into the womb in the act of copulation. For the woman having received this prolific seed into her womb, and retained it there, the womb thereupon becomes depressed, and embraces the seed so closely, that being closed the point of a needle cannot enter into it without violence. And now the woman may be said to have conceived, having reduced by her heat from power into action, the several faculties which are contained in the seed, making use of the spirits with which the seed abounds, and which are the instruments which begin to trace out the first lineaments of the parts, and which afterwards, by making use of the menstruous blood flowing to it, give it, in time, growth and final perfection. And thus much shall suffice to explain what conception is. I shall next proceed to show

SECT. II.—How a Woman ought to order herself after Conception.

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