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
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
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
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
) when nourishment has taken
place. Neither is the function of the heart understood,
and its relation to the lungs is never
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
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
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
, the date of which is approximately 420 B.C.
The theory of relativity, implied in the doctrine of
Heraclitus, was fully developed in one direction by
Protagoras, who regarded knowledge as conditioned
by (i. e.
relative to) the percipient being. In
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
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
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
violent pulsations (of the
temples and so forth) are characteristic of certain
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
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
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
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
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.
MSS. AND EDITIONS.
The chief MSS. are A and M. Nutriment
edited several times in the sixteenth century, and
interesting remarks on it are to be found in the
J. Bernays, Heraklitische Briefe.
A. Patin, Quellenstudien zu Heraklit.
See also Mewaldt in Hermes,
xliv. 121, and,
for Heracliteanism in the Corpus,