previous next

[11arg] That Plutarch in his Symposiacs defended the opinion of Plato about the structure and nature of the stomach, and of the tube which is called τραχεῖα, against the physician Erasistratus, urging the authority of the ancient physician Hippocrates.

BOTH Plutarch 1 and certain other learned men have written that Plato was criticized by the famous physician Erasistratus, 2 because he said 3 that drink went to the lungs and having sufficiently moistened them, flowed through them, since they are somewhat porous, and from there passed into the bladder. They declared that the originator of that error was Alcaeus, who wrote 4 in his poems:
Wet now the lungs with wine; the dog-star shines,
but that Erasistratus himself declared 5 that there were two little canals, so to speak, or pipes, and that they extended downward from the throat; that through one of these all food and drink passed and went into the stomach, and from there were carried into the belly, which the Greeks call κάτω κοιλία. That there it is reduced and digested and then the drier excrement passes into the bowels, which the Greeks call κόλον, 6 and the moisture through the kidneys into the bladder. But through the other tube, which the Greeks call the τραχεῖα ἀρτηρία, or “rough windpipe,” the breath passes from the lips into the lungs, and from there goes back into the mouth and nostrils, and along this same road a passage for the voice also is made; and lest drink [p. 249] or drier food, which ought to pass into the stomach, should fall from the mouth and slip into that tube through which the breath goes back and forth, and by such an accident the path of the breath should be cut off, there has been placed at these two openings by a kind of helpful device of nature, a sort of movable valve which is called the “epiglottis,” which alternately shuts and opens. This epiglottis, while we are eating and drinking, covers and protects “the rough windpipe,” in order that no particle of food or drink may fall into that path, so to speak, of the rising and falling breath; and on that account no moisture passes into the lungs, since the opening of the windpipe itself is well protected.

These are the views of the physician Erasistratus, as opposed to Plato. But Plutarch, in his Symposiacs, 7 says that the originator of Plato's opinion was Hippocrates, and that the same opinion was held by Philistion of Locris 8 and Dioxippus the pupil of Hippocrates, famous physicians of the olden time; also that the epiglottis, of which Erasistratus spoke, was not placed where it is to prevent anything that we drank from flowing into the windpipe; for fluid seems necessary and serviceable for refreshing and moistening the lungs; but it was placed there as a kind of controller and arbiter, to exclude or admit whatever was necessary for the health of the body; to keep away all foods from the windpipe and turn them to the stomach, but to divide what is drunk between the stomach and the lungs. And that part which ought to be admitted into the lungs through the windpipe the epiglottis does not let through rapidly and all at once, but when it has been checked and held back, as it were by a kind [p. 251] of dam, it allows it to pass gradually and little by little, and turns aside all the remainder into the other tube leading to the stomach.

1 Sympos. vii. 1.

2 p. 194, Fuchs.

3 Tim. 44, p. 91, A; 31, p. 70, c.

4 Frag. 39, Bergk4.

5 pp. 184 ff. and 194, Fuchs.

6 The three places referred to are the stomach, the small intestine and the large intestine. Neither the Greek nor the Latin terms are always used consistently.

7 vii. 1. 3.

8 Frag. 7, p. 112, Wellmann.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, 1927)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: