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Home arrow Philosophy arrow The fathers of the church

Whether the generation of one that shares each sex is natural.

Next one inquires whether the generation of one that shares each sexlike the hermaphroditeis natural.

1. It seems not. For just as there is a mixture of elements, so too is there a mixture of the sexes. But the mixture of the elements is uniform, and therefore so too is the mixture of the sexes.

2. In addition, the male's power either prevails or is overcome. If it prevails, a male is generated; if it is overcome, a female. It is not possible, then, for something to be generated in the middle.

3. In addition, if nature could produce such a fetus, then such a thing could generate on its own, since it would have the members appropriate to each sex.

The Philosopher says the opposite.

To this, one must reply that nature acts with intention because it acts for an end. But intention is of two types: first and second. It belongs to nature's first intention to produce the best that it can. But it belongs to the second intention that, if it departs from the best, it produces one that it is nearest to it. This is why, when the natural power is strong, it produces a male. When, however, the production of a male is impeded by the recalcitrance of the matterif the dispositions of the matter surpass or simply overpowerthen it produces one like the one from which the matter is derived, so that it produces a female. If, however, the power partially prevails and is partially overcome, to the extent that the power prevails it produces members suited to a male, and to the extent that it is overcome it produces members suited to a female. Nevertheless, this does not occur without a superfluity of matter, for otherwise it would not produce a penis and a womb in the same fetus. Thus, if we consider nature's first intention, the production of a fetus such as this is unnatural; however, if we consider nature's second intention, this production is natural because it proceeds from a natural cause.

1. On to the arguments. To the first, one must respond that the mixture of elements is uniform because elements that have been brought close to one another act upon, and are acted upon, one to another. Thus if each part of the mixture were not mixed, but one part were simple, and then this simple part acted on another, then it would be either simple or mixed.[1] But such opposition does not exist between the parts of the male and the female.

2. To the second argument one must reply that it is not the case that the male's sperm always prevails or is overcome in an absolute sense; it can partially prevail, or be partially overcome.

3. To the third, one must respond that such a monster cannot reproduce on its own, because, although it would have the members of each sex, nevertheless it is unable to cast sperm through the male member into its own womb. Thus, while it might be able to cast its sperm and generate in another, nevertheless it cannot become pregnant, because, as was touched on in the fifth book, all mannish women [viragines] are sterile because they do not have wombs suited to conception, and this is why, etc.

Whether some power in the semen is the cause of resemblance.

Next one inquires into the cause of the resemblance of children, and whether some power in the semen is the cause of resemblance.

1. It seems not. Because only the power of the father or the mother is present in the semen. But the fetus sometimes resembles neither the father nor the mother, and therefore, etc.

2. In addition, imagination contributes to resemblance. For it is said that when a woman imagines the form of a certain demon depicted on a curtain above the bed she always conceives children like the picture, and the same thing is read about Jacob.[2] But it is clear that the power of such a picture was not in the semen.

The Philosopher says the opposite. For he says that variation among the progeny occurs as a result of differences in the powers in the semen.

To this, one must reply that a natural agent generates one like itself, to the extent that it is able. Thus there always remains some power of the one generating in the one generated. If, then, the semen is derived from the one generating, the power of the proximate generator will be in the semen, and, since the power of its generator is in the one generated, the power of both the proximate and remote generators will be in the semen. Now then, it frequently is the case that the male's sperm dominates the matter of the female's menses absolutely, and then the one generated will perfectly resemble the male. For insofar as the animal power is in the semen, it produces an animal; and insofar as a human power is there, it produces a human; and insofar as a power dominates in it with respect to maleness, it will produce a male; and insofar as a power dominates with respect to the accidental and individual dispositions, it produces a child like itself in its characteristics.[3] Thus the complete victory of the male semen or sperm over the female's matter is the cause why the fetus resembles the father. If, however, the sperm's power dominates with respect to the species' characteristics, but does not dominate or prevail with respect to the male's characteristics because its heat is weak and the cold and moisture of the matter of the female are abundant, then, if this matter that is resisting the agent dominates absolutely and with respect to maternal characteristics, then a female resembling the mother is produced. If the power of the father, however, dominates in characteristics common to a male but not in its own characteristics (that is, insofar as he is Socrates or Plato), then this power will produce a male but not one similar to the father. But it does produce a fetus like the father to the extent that it is able, since the power of the grandfather and great-grandfather are also in the semen, although more remotely than the father's.

Thus when it cannot produce one resembling the father with its own power, it produces one like the grandfather or greatgrandfather with an even more remote power. If, however, this power departs from the characteristics of the male, yet prevails with respect to its own individual characteristics and dispositions, then it produces a female, yet one that resembles the father. And the contrary obtains if it prevails with respect to the male's characteristics but is overcome with respect to its own characteristics, because then it produces a male resembling the mother. And if it falls short of a resemblance to the mother, it produces one, insofar as it can, that resembles the grandmother or great-grandmother. If, however, it prevails with respect to the characteristics of the male but prevails neither in its own individual and proper characteristics, nor in those of distant forebears, then it will produce a male human being that sometimes will resemble neither of the parents [in any respect]. Thus, with respect to the various modes of prevailing or dominating, the fetus will bear a resemblance in a variety of ways.

1. On to the arguments. To the first, one must respond that the power of the father and the mother is in the semen. But the power of the father is the power of the grandfather, since the father came forth from the grandfather, and this is why the fetus can resemble the grandfather. And the explanation is similar for the more remote forebears.

2. To the second argument one must reply that the imaginative power leaves its impression on the natural power because it is superior to and dominates it. Thus the entire body is altered by various imaginings. And this is how it happens that the eye of an enchanter alters the bodies of children (and this is how it is said that the eye of an enchanter once threw a serf into a ditch), because children are amazed at the shapes or aspects of some things more than others, and, on account of this, fear and trembling are produced in children. And it is this way for others as well. Thus various types of imagining cause a change in every part of the body and this is why that royal woman, whom Avicenna described, imagining the shape of a demon or a dwarf (or, according to others, an Ethiopian) bore children resembling them, because her own power succumbed at the moment of conception[4] owing to the violent imagination, and the natural power was altered according to the kind of thing she was imagining. And it was the same for animals looking upon things of various colors, because a different impression on the soul results in a change in the entire body. And it is similar for the semen. In any case, the power of a superior agent contributes a great deal to these particular causes.

  • [1] The translation proffered entails a slight repunctuation of the ungrammatical Latin text as printed.
  • [2] Gn 30.37-38. For the persistent influence of the notion that imagination can affect the appearance of the fetus, see Paul-Gabriel Bouce (1988).
  • [3] "Characteristics" = conditiones, more commonly qualities or peculiar features.
  • [4] Or: "in the fetus."
 
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