THE treatise Nutriment is unique. It deals with an interesting subject in an unusual manner, and, in spite of the limitations of Greek physiology, many valuable and interesting views are set forth.

Heraclitus held that matter is, like a stream, in a state of continuous change. His system contained other hypotheses,1 but this was the most fruitful, and the one which commended itself most to his followers and to his successors.

A later Heraclitean, whether a professional doctor or not is uncertain, applied the theory of perpetual change to the assimilation of food by a living organism, and Nutriment is the result. He has copied the aphoristic2 style and manner of his master, as well as the obscurity, with considerable success, and whole paragraphs might well be genuine fragments of Heraclitus.

The author's idea of digestion is far from easy to follow.

Apparently nutritive food is supposed to be dissolved in moisture, and thus to be carried to every part of the body, assimilating itself to bone, flesh, and so

[p. 338] on, as it comes into contact with them. Air (breath) also is regarded as food, passing through the arteries from the heart, while the blood passes through the veins from the liver. But the function of blood is not understood ; blood is, like milk, "what is left over" (πλεονας1μός2) when nourishment has taken place. Neither is the function of the heart understood, and its relation to the lungs is never mentioned.

The aspect of nutrition which appeals most to the writer is the combination of unity and multiplicity which it exhibits. Food is one ; yet it has the power of becoming many things. Similarly the animal organism is one, with many parts vitally connected with the whole, so that they act in complete sympathy with it and with one another.

Food, says the writer, has "power" (δύναμις2), and so has the body. This "power" seems to be the sum total of its properties, although these are not yet regarded as abstractions. It is one and many ; one in its essence, many in its manifestations. But "power" in its various forms is manifested only in relationship to other things ; it is not independent, being latent until called into action by a suitable environment. In modern language, the author feels that qualities are relations. Wine is good (or bad) in certain circumstances ; so is milk and all other foods. All things are good or bad πρός2 τι (Chapters XIX and XLIV).

This theory of δύναμις2 with its insistence upon relativity helps in assigning a date to the document. A similar account of δύναμις2 is given in Ancient Medicine, the date of which is approximately 420 B.C. The theory of relativity, implied in the doctrine of

[p. 339] Heraclitus, was fully developed in one direction by Protagoras, who regarded knowledge as conditioned by (i. e. relative to) the percipient being. In Nutriment relativity is made to apply, not merely to the knowledge of properties, but to the properties themselves. Such an extension of the doctrine would probably be made somewhat later than the time of Protagoras, and we may with some confidence suppose that the author wrote about 400 B.C.

The first chapter of Nutriment distinguishes γένος2 from εἶδος2 after the Aristotelian manner. A similar distinction occurs in the Parmenides of Plato, and it need not prevent us from assigning a date as early as the end of the fifth century B.C.

In Chapter XLVIII mention is made of pulses, supposed to be the first occasion of such mention in Greek literature.3 This fact, again, is no argument against an early date. The reference is quite general, and amounts to no more than the knowledge, to be found in several places in the Hippocratic Corpus,4 that violent pulsations (of the temples and so forth) are characteristic of certain acute diseases.

It should be noticed that the doctrine of δύναμις2 described above is inconsistent with a post-Aristotelian date. Aristotle's doctrine is obviously a development of it, and it is clear how the earlier doctrine prepares the way for the later.

The Heraclitean love of anthithesis results in

[p. 340] many purely verbal contrasts, which render more obscure the natural obscurities of this little tract. Indeed the reader is often forced to the conclusion that the writer wished so to express himself that more than one interpretation might legitimately be put upon his words. In my paraphrase I have tried to give the most obvious meaning, although I have often felt that other meanings are almost equally possible.5

Nutriment is more important as a philosophical than as a medical document. The teaching of Heraclitus did not die out with his death ; he had followers who emended and developed his theories, and one of these wrote Nutriment to bring a branch of physiology into the domain of philosophy. The tract is a striking proof of the difficulty of uniting philosophy and science, and of pursuing the latter on the methods of the former. Incidentally one may notice that it belongs to the period of eclecticism and reaction which followed the development of atomism.6

Nutriment was accepted as a genuine work of Hippocrates by Erotian, and a mutilated commentary on it passes under the name of Galen. Aulus Gellius (III. xvi), quotes it as a work of Hippocrates. There was another tradition in antiquity, referred to in two Paris MSS., that Nutriment was the work of Thessalus or of Herophilus. It is easy to understand how some found a difficulty in ascribing to the

[p. 341] author of Epidemics such a dissimilar book ; indeed it is likely that the chief reason for assigning it to Hippocrates was its superficial likeness to Aphorisms.


The chief MSS. are A and M. Nutriment was edited several times in the sixteenth century, and interesting remarks on it are to be found in the following :

J. Bernays, Heraklitische Briefe.

A. Patin, Quellenstudien zu Heraklit.

See also Mewaldt in Hermes, xliv. 121, and, for Heracliteanism in the Corpus, C. Fredrich, Hippokratische Untersuchungen.

[p. 343]

1 Some perhaps (e. g. the union of opposites) being more fundamental.

2 It is interesting to note that the aphoristic style, which is a great aid to memory, came into vogue at a time when text-books first became necessary. It has its modern analogue in the "crammer's" analysis.

3 See Sir Clifford Allbutt, Greek Medicine in Rome, Chapter XIII, for the ancient doctrines about pulses. It is most remarkable that before about 340 B.C. their great importance was not realised.

4 See Littré's index, s.v. battements.

5 I wish to point out that Chapters I, III, V and VI are up to the present unsolved mysteries. Incidentally, I should like to mention that Chapter I shows that the history of the word εἶδος2 is not so simple as Professor A. E. Taylor makes out in Varia Socratica.

6 See Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, Chapter X.

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