Aristotele, De generatione (Englisch)

Aristoteles. Detail from Raffael’s, School of Athens (1510/11). Source: WikiCommons. Public domain.

I’ve just posted a German translation of some excerpts of Aristotle’s theory of generation, and as I slowly want to build up a collection of English primary source material, here comes the English equivalent. Actually, given that the German translation quoted here is dated, and the English one below is quite good (methinks), it may have an intrinsic value to have both translations here.

To give a brief account of the author and his work, as I usually do when presenting primary sources in translation here, would be an odd exercise in the case of Aristotle. His oeuvre is huge, and so was the influence he had; in the Latin West, it is true, direct access was seriously hampered for centuries, but in the later Middle Ages, a growing number of works were translated into Latin, and they quickly became set books at the nascen universities (notwithstanding occasional ban on some of his works). This is also true for his On the generation of animals which contains abundant material on reproduction; it was mainly known from the translation into Latin by Michael the Scot (d. 1235) who was working with an Arab translation of the Greek original.


A standard edition is: Aristotele, Generation of Animals. With an English translation by Arthur Leslie Peck (Loeb classical library 366), London und Cambridge, Mass. 1943, herre at 101–103 and 393–397 [].

The Latin translation of Michael the Scot: Aristoteles, De animalibus: Michael Scot’s Arabic-Latin translation. A critical edition with an introduction, notes and indices, Part 3: Generation of animals, ed. Aafke M. I. van Oppenraaij, Leiden 1992.

Literature: Maryanne Cline Horowitz, Aristotle and women, in: Journal of the History of Biology 9 (1976), 183–213; Joan Cadden, Meanings of sex difference in the Middle Ages: medicine, science, and culture (Cambridge History of Medicine), Cambridge 1993, 21–26.


De gen. I, 20

There are some who think that the female contributes semen during coition because women sometimes derive pleasure from it comparable to that of the male and also produce a fluid secretion. This fluid, however, is not seminal; it is peculiar to the part from which it comes in each several individual; there is a discharge from the uterus, which though it happens in some women does not in others. Speaking generally, this happens in fair-skinned women who are typically feminine, and not in dark women of a masculine appearance. Where it occurs, this discharge is sometimes on quite a different scale from the semen discharged by the male, and greatly exceeds it in bulk. Furthermore, differences of food cause a great difference in the amount of this discharge which is produced; e.g., some pungent foods cause a noticeable increase in the amount.

The pleasure which accompanies copulation is due to the fact that not only semen but also pneuma is Emitted; it is from this pneuma as it collects together that the emission of the semen results. This is plain in the ease of boys who cannot yet emit semen, though they are not far from the age for it, and in infertile men, because all of them derive pleasure from attrition. Indeed, men whose generative organs have been destroyed sometimes suffer from looseness of the bowels caused by residue which cannot be concocted and converted into semen being secreted into the intestine.

Further, a boy actually resembles a woman in physique, and a woman is as it were an infertile male; the female, in fact, is female on account of inability of a sort, viz. it lacks the power to concoct semen out of the final state of the nourishment (this is either blood, or its counterpart in bloodless animals) because of the coldness of its nature. Thus, just as lack of concoction produces in the bowels diarrhoea, so in the blood-vessels it produces discharges of blood of various sorts, and especially the menstrual discharge (which has to be classed as a discharge of blood, though it is a natural discharge, and the rest are morbid ones).

Hence, plainly, it is reasonable to hold that generation takes place from this process; for, as we see, the menstrual fluid is semen, not indeed semen in a pure condition, but needing still to be acted upon.

De gen. IV, 1

The semen of the male […] exhibits a difference, inasmuch as the male possesses in itself a principle of such a kind as to set up movement [in the animal as well] and thoroughly to concoct the ultimate nourishment, whereas the female’s semen contains material only. If [the male semen] gains the mastery, it brings [the material] over to itself; but if it gets mastered, it changes over either into ist opposite or else into extinction. And the opposite of the male is the female, which is female in virtue of its inability to effect concoction, and of the coldness of its bloodlike nourishment. […]

De gen. IV, 2

We have now stated the cause why some creatures are formed as males, others as females. And our statements are borne out by the facts. Thus, young parents, and those which are older too, tend to produce female offspring rather than parents which are in their prime; the reason being that in the young their heat is not yet perfected, in the older, it is faihng. Also, parents which are more fluid of body and feminine tend to produce females: this is true also of fluid semen as opposed to that which has “set”: all these things are due to a deficiency of natural heat.

Also, the fact that when the wind is in the north, male offspring tend to be engendered rather than when it is in the south [is due to the same cause: animals’ bodies are more fluid when the wind is in the south) so that they are more abundant in residue as well. And the more residue there is, the more difficulty they have in concocting it; hence the semen of the males and the menstrual discharge of the women is more fluid.

Here is a pdf version of the above texts.

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Christof Rolker (2015, 19. November). Aristotele, De generatione (Englisch). Männlich-weiblich-zwischen. Abgerufen am 4. März 2024, von

Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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Christof Rolker

Prof. Dr. Christof Rolker, Historiker an der Universität Bamberg.

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