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Open Access Pores and Void in Asclepiades’ Physical Theory

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Pores and Void in Asclepiades’ Physical Theory

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Abstract This paper examines a fundamental, though relatively understudied, aspect of the physical theory of the physician Asclepiades of Bithynia, namely his doctrine of pores. My principal thesis is that this doctrine is dependent on a conception of void taken directly from Epicurean physics. The paper falls into two parts: the first half addresses the evidence for the presence of void in Asclepiades’ theory, and concludes that his conception of void was basically that of Epicurus; the second half focuses on the precise nature of Asclepiadean pores, and seeks to show that they represent void interstices between the primary particles of matter which are the constituents of the human body, and are thus exactly analogous to the void interstices between atoms within solid objects in Epicurus’ theory.

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33. FN1 1)E.g. Harig (1983), 44-45 and n. 17; Casadei (1997), 77-78, 89; cf. also Wellmann (1908), 695, though it does not seem to support his argument to the effect that Asclepiades’ theory can be traced via Erasistratus to Aegimius of Elis.
34. FN2 2)Notably Lonie (1965) and Gottschalk (1980), who both maintain that Asclepiades’ theory basically replicated that of Heraclides of Pontus; on Lonie’s discussion see also below, n. 60.
35. FN3 3)Vallance (1990), 44-91.
36. FN4 4)In a recent article, Leith (2009), I argued that the onkoirepresent the most fundamental element of matter in Asclepiades’ system, and that their most basic characteristics exactly parallel those of Epicurean atoms, except for the fact that they are not atomic, but themselves physically divisible. There is evidence to suggest, however, that this divergence arose from Asclepiades’ deliberate modification of Epicurean doctrine, and I maintain that the distinctive features of his theory of matter can only be understood as being derived principally from Epicurean physics. The present contribution can be regarded as a counterpart to that study. In what follows, I shall avoid wherever possible making reference to controversial details regarding the nature of Asclepiades’ onkoi, in the hope that the conclusions of this paper will lend further plausibility to my arguments in the other, and vice versa.
37. FN5 5)For useful discussions of various kinds of distortive strategies employed by Galen in reporting the views of his medical opponents, see e.g. von Staden (1997), 192-96; Allen (2001); Tecusan (2004), 29-36.
38. FN6 6)Galen cites it at Hipp. Elem.9.26 and 35 [1.487, 489 K. = p. 134.15-16, 136.24-25 De Lacy].
39. FN7 7)Gal. Lib. Prop.8 [19.55 K. = p. 93.9-15 Boudon-Millot].
40. FN8 8)See Gal. Cur. Rat. Ven. Sect.3 [11.257 K.], where he refers his readers to On the Opinions of Asclepiadesbooks 5 and 6 and On Demonstrationbook 13 for a full refutation of Asclepiades’ theory of elements; cf. also Gal. MM12.7 [10.852-3 K.], where On the Opinions of Asclepiadesbook 5 is cited for a more detailed treatment of one of his most favoured arguments against Asclepiades’ theory of matter, namely the failure of the onkoito account for the phenomenon of pain.
41. FN9 9)Leith (2009).
42. FN10 10)Vallance (1990), 57: ‘If we look more closely at the context of those passages where Asclepiades is accused [by Galen] of selling out to Epicurus and negating continuum theory, some interesting results emerge. In each case the Methodists lurk not far away.’
43. FN11 11) Ibid.57-58.
44. FN12 12) Caus. Morb.1 [7.1-2 K.].
45. FN13 13)He refers explicitly to Caus. Morb.7 [7.32-33 K.].
46. FN14 14) MM10.267-68 K. He refers especially to the term µετασύγκρισις. A similar argument is found at SMT5.25 [11.781-84 K.], where Galen refers back to this passage of MM.
47. FN15 15)Vallance (1990), 56-57, 59.
48. FN16 16) Ibid., 91.
49. FN17 17)I assume that what is meant here is that matter is not a continuum, but divided up and separated by void as Calcidius goes on immediately to specify; cf. the sense of ‘divided’ in e.g. S.E. PH2.5: οἷον γοῦν ὅταν ὁ Στωικὸς πρὸς τὸν Ἐπικούρειον ζητῇ λέγοντα ὅτι διῄρηται ἡ οὐσία.
50. FN18 18)On the Placitatradition in Calcidius and other sources, see Mansfeld (1990), 3112-17, and esp. 3113 n. 238 on this passage; on Asclepiades and the referent of Calcidius’ solidae moles, Switalski (1902), 53 and especially Polito (2007).
51. FN19 19) In Tim.215: ‘aut enim moles quaedam sunt leves et globosae eaedemque admodum delicatae, ex quibus anima subsistit, quod totum spiritus est, ut Asclepiades putat.’ In this chapter Calcidius associates the term atomusonly with Democritus and Epicurus.
52. FN20 20)Switalski (1902), 51-53. See also Polito (2006), 291-92, 297-99; and (2007), 316.
53. FN21 21)Note that the ps.-Galenic author may also have described the pores as κενώµατα, which would seem to offer additional support for understanding them as void spaces. In her new Budé edition of the treatise, Petit records that one of the two branches of the tradition has the additional words ἢ κρεώµατα κ.τ.λ. after πόροι, where vacuitatesin the related Latin translation obviously points to an original reading πόροι ἢ κενώµατα. There is additional text, clearly corrupt, and Petit regards this as a later gloss accreted to the text in one branch (p. 131). I do not believe that it is such a gloss, but there is not space to go into the issues here.
54. FN22 22)The passage comes from a series of extracts added to Hero’s Definitionsby a Byzantine compiler (cf. Heath (1921), 316). There is a similar account, likewise referring to Asclepiades’ doctrine of pores and onkoi, in Sextus Empiricus’ book Against the Geometers( M.3.3-5, partially quoted below), and presumably both are drawing ultimately on a common source.
55. FN23 23)Vallance (1990), 47, arbitrarily dismisses the ps.-Hero passage as evidence: ‘[w]e might reasonably explain away this Heronic testimonium as showing signs of Galenic infection. More simply still we could dismiss both Hero and Dionysius: this might be best.’
56. FN24 24)As confirmed at S.E. M3.5: δευτέρᾳ δὲ ὅτι πάντοθεν ὑγροῦ µέρη καὶ πνεύµατος ἐκ λόγῳ θεωρητῶν ὄγκων συνηράνισται δι᾽ αἰῶνος ἀνηρεµήτων (‘Second, that the parts of moisture and pneuma are gathered together from all sides out of onkoiperceptible by reason which are in motion forever’); Cael. Aur. Cel. Pass.1.14.105: ‘. . . corpuscula intellectu sensa sine ulla qualitate solita atque ex initio concitata <et> aeternum moventia’ (‘. . . onkoiperceptible to reason, without any usual quality, having been in motion from the beginning and moving forever’). I accept Voss’ conjecture concitatafor comitataof the editio princeps, as does Bendz. Gottschalk (1980), 57, claims that concitataresults in a tautology with ‘aeternum moventia,’ but there is a distinction between moving forever and motion without beginning. Significantly, this was an important distinction also for Epicurus, who at Ep. Hdt.43-44 (see following n.), expressing himself rather better than Caelius, asserts both the perpetual motion of the atoms and the fact that this has no beginning.
57. FN25 25)Epicur. Ep. Hdt.43-44: κινοῦνταί τε συνεχῶς αἱ ἄτοµοι τὸν αἰῶνα . . . [44] ἥ τε γὰρ τοῦ κενοῦ φύσις ἡ διορίζουσα ἑκάστην αὐτὴν τοῦτο παρασκευάζει, τὴν ὑπέρεισιν οὐχ οἵα τε οὖσα ποιεῖσθαι• ἥ τε στερεότης ἡ ὑπάρχουσα αὐταῖς κατὰ τὴν σύγκρουσιν τὸν ἀποπαλµὸν ποιεῖ, ἐφ᾽ ὁπόσον ἂν ἡ περιπλοκὴ τὴν ἀποκατάστασιν ἐκ τῆς συγκρούσεως διδῷ. ἀρχὴ δὲ τούτων οὐκ ἔστιν, αἰδίων τῶν ἀτόµων οὐσῶν καὶ τοῦ κενοῦ (‘The atoms move continuously forever . . . For the nature of the void brings this about by separating each atom off by itself, since it is unable to lend them any support; and their own solidity causes them as a result of their knocking together to vibrate back, to whatever distance their interlinking allows them to recoil from the knock. There is no beginning to this, because atoms and void are eternal,’ trans. Long and Sedley). Cf. Lucr. 2.80-88.
58. FN26 26) Phys.4.8, 215a 19-22.
59. FN27 27)For Epicurus’ use of the Aristotelian discussion of void, see Inwood (1981), esp. 283-84 on the argument that void entails perpetual motion.
60. FN28 28)The perpetual κίνησις of the elements which is argued for at Pl. Tim.58A-C is conceived as the eternal inter-transformation of the elements, and aims at establishing that the elements will never be separated out from each other entirely. Given that Asclepiades’ onkoicannot be transformed into one another, his own conception of perpetual motion must have been significantly different.
61. FN29 29)Vallance (1990), 53, again dismisses this passage as evidence for Asclepiades’ doctrinal background without argument, remarking only that his use of the phrase ‘body does not pass through body’ ‘does not necessarily tell us much about Asclepiades’ true affiliations.’
62. FN30 30)The wonderful new edition of the papyrus by Manetti (2011), superseding that of Diels (1893), appeared just in time, and I have profited greatly from it in interpreting the papyrus remains. The phrase λό̣γου εἵνεκ̣α̣, ‘for the sake of argument’ is puzzling in the context, but there is no doubt that Manetti’s reading is correct. I assume that it conceals a reference to the previous formulation of the argument just seven lines before at col. xxxix 4, ἐ̣πειδήπερ σῶµα διὰ σώµατος ο̣[ὐ λ]έ̣γ̣ουσι διε̣λ̣θ̣εῖν.
63. FN31 31)Democritus and Leucippus, along with ‘many other natural philosophers,’ are mentioned as upholders of the doctrine of void shortly before at Phys.213b 1-2. Aristotle attributes the argument from growth explicitly to Leucippus at GC325b 3-5.
64. FN32 32)The immediately subsequent lines (351-53) describe the distribution of nutriment in trees in particular, and again the permeation of the nutriment throughout the entire organism is emphasized, as in the argument attributed to Asclepiades and described by the Aristotelian commentators. A version referring to animals is found at 6.946-47, again with the same emphasis: ‘diditur in venas cibus omnis, auget alitque/ corporis extremas quoque partis unguiculosque’ (‘Food is distributed into all the veins, increasing and nourishing even the extreme parts of the body and the nails’). Note the salient point that the veins are not connected to the nails, and cannot therefore be responsible for growth by themselves.
65. FN33 33)See Alex. Mixt.16.
66. FN34 34)So Todd (1976), 73-75. He points out there that the Stoics themselves would not have described their own theory of κρᾶσις δι᾽ ὅλου using the formulation ‘body passes through body.’
67. FN35 35)Asclepiades, however, is nowhere mentioned in Todd (1976).
68. FN36 36)Gal. Hipp. Elem.9.35 [1.489-90 K = p. 136.23-26 De Lacy]: ἐν δὲ τῷ παρόντι τοσοῦτον εἰπεῖν ἀποχρήσει πρὸς τὸν ἐνεστῶτα λόγον, ὅτι τῶν ὑπὸ Ἀσκληπιάδου λεγοµένων ἐν τῷ Περὶ στοιχείων βιβλίῳ πρὸς τοὺς ὅλας δι᾽ ὅλων κεραννύντας ἀλλήλαις τὰς οὐσίας οὐδὲν ἅψεται τῶν κατὰ τὰς ποιότητας µόνας κεράννυσθαι λεγόντων (‘but now for this present discourse it will be enough to say only this much, that none of the things that Asclepiades says in his book On Elementsin answer to those who mix substances with each other through and through will touch those who say that the mixture is of their qualities only,’ trans. De Lacy; for the identification of the former group with the Stoics, see De Lacy’s commentary to p. 96.12 and 136.15-20). The anonymous scholiast on this passage has the following (ed. Moraux (1977), 50.241-45): διὸ καὶ ὁ Γαληνός φησιν ὅτι τῶν ὑπ᾽ Ἀσκληπιάδου λελεγµένων ἐν τῷ Περὶ στοιχείων βιβλίῳ πρὸς τοὺς ὅλας δι᾽ ὅλων ἀλλήλας κεραννύντας τὰς οὐσίας οὐδὲν ἅψεται τῶν τὰς ποιότητας µόνας κεράννυσθαι λεγόντων. ἔλεγε δὲ ὅτι σῶµα διὰ σώµατος οὐ χωρεῖ (‘For this reason Galen also says that none of what was said by Asclepiades in his book On Elementsin answer to those who mix substances with each other through and through will touch those who say that mixture is of their qualities only. He [sc. Asclepiades] said that body does not pass through body’).
69. FN37 37)Todd (1976), 74-81. He fails to acknowledge, however, that the disjunction ‘through body or through void’ which introduces Alexander’s refutation of the Stoic theory of mixture at Mixt.5 ff., and which, Todd notes, ‘seems unnecessary when the Stoics would never have posited the latter theory’ (75), exactly matches the basic argument of the early atomists which Aristotle reports, as well as that of Asclepiades. He remarks at 79-80, referring to Phys.213b 18-20, which he regards as the source of the Peripatetic development of the criticism ‘body does not pass through body,’ that Aristotle ‘in one case, because he is arguing against a specific aspect of the theory of void, . . . states the alternative of growth through body or through the void.’ But surely the reason for Aristotle having done so was rather that this was the form of the early atomist argument for void which he was reporting. We are not compelled to conclude with Todd that the form and use of the concept ‘body does not pass through body’ developed solely within the Peripatetic exegetical tradition.
70. FN38 38)Vallance (1990), 56; see also 115, where, referring to the pores, he speaks of ‘the disintegration of the walls of the passages – the solutioof the corpuscles which make up the pores.’
71. FN39 39)Lonie (1965), 128.
72. FN40 40)I shall examine the comparable Epicurean use of the term πόρος shortly.
73. FN41 41)E.g. Pigeaud (1981).
74. FN42 42)E.g. Casadei (1997).
75. FN43 43)On the possibility that the even more suggestive term κενώµατα was used by the ps.-Galenic author of Int., see above n. 21.
76. FN44 44)Gal. MM2.4 [10.101 K.]: ἢ λόγῳ θεωρητῶν ὄγκων ἔν<σ>τασις, ἐν λόγῳ θεωρητοῖς ἀραιώµασιν, where Asclepiades is named seven lines above; and similarly MM13.2 [10.876 K.]: εἴτε ἔνστασιν ἐν λόγῳ θεωρητοῖς ἀραιώµασιν. The third occurrence, at Comp. Med. Gen.6.16 [13.936 K.], appears within a chapter copied verbatim from the writings of Asclepiades, but this should be the first century AD pharmacologist Asclepiades Pharmacion, despite its suggestive references to onkoiand their dissolution: τούς τε ὄγκους διαλύει, τό τε παρακείµενον πᾶν ὑγρὸν κοµίζεται διὰ τῶν ἀραιωµάτων καὶ τοὺς κόλπους παρακολλᾷ.
77. FN45 45)At M.7.202, Sextus states that he dealt with Asclepiades’ doctrine in more detail ἐν τοῖς ἰατρικοῖς ὑποµνήµασι.
78. FN46 46)Sextus uses both terms, once each: M.3.5 (quoted above), and M.8.220: Ἀσκληπιάδῃ δὲ ὡς ἐνστάσεως νοητῶν ὄγκων ἐν νοητοῖς ἀραιώµασιν. The ps.-Galenic author of Int.likewise uses both terms, once each, at 9 [14.698 K. = p. 21.14 Petit] (quoted above), and 13 [14.728-29 K. = p. 47.14-18 Petit]: κατὰ δὲ Ἐρασίστρατον καὶ Ἀσκληπιάδην, ὡς ἐπίπαν µία αἰτία ἐπὶ πάσης νόσου, καθ᾽ ὃν µὲν ἡ παρέµπτωσις τοῦ αἵµατος εἰς τὰς ἀρτηρίας• καθ᾽ ὃν δὲ ἡ ἔνστασις τῶν ὄγκων ἐν τοῖς ἀραιώµασιν. The term ἀραίωµατα, and notably λόγῳ θεωρητὰ ἀραίωµατα, is also mentioned in several chapters of the Problemataof Cassius the Iatrosophist which otherwise show strong signs of Asclepiadean influence: see esp. chs. 77 [p. 65 Garzya and Masullo (2004)] and 82 [p. 66 Garzya and Masullo] (note that these chs. are printed as 76 and 81 in Ideler’s edition, at vol. I pp. 166 and 167 respectively). Asclepiades himself is said to have described the glands as ἀραιόποροι, and therefore more receptive of matter at Probl.41.13 [p. 55 Garzya and Masullo = ch. 40, p. 158 Ideler].
79. FN47 47) Viaethroughout Cael. Aur. Cel. Pass.and Tard. Pass.; foraminaat Cels. proem. 16.
80. FN48 48)Cf. also µηθενὸς ἀντικόπτοντος; ὅταν γε δὴ µηδὲν ἀπαντᾷ ἀυτοῖς; ὅταν µηθὲν µηδὲ ἐκείνοις ἀντικόπτῃ.
81. FN49 49)On the passage of eidolathrough a πόρος, see also Epic. fr. 24.46.13-16 Arr. According to Sedley’s convincing reconstruction, there is no reference to πόρος at fr. 31.4.1-4 Arr. = fr. 8 col. iv Sedley (1973).
82. FN50 50)Notably, Epicur. Nat.25 P. Herc.1191-12 sup. (Laursen (1997), 33 = fr. 34.26.11 Arr.) uses the term to describe openings through which matter passes into our bodies from outside. Cf. also Ep. Pyth.111, Nat.25 P. Herc.1420, 2, 2 (Laursen (1995), 91 = fr. 35.10.9-15 Arr.).
83. FN51 51)If we assume that Caelius is translating Soranus’ original Greek here, then the form complexiosuggests some such term as συµπλοκή or περιπλοκή, the former of which Galen uses in general statements that for Asclepiades everything is composed of onkoi: e.g. Gal. Ther. Pis.11 [14.253 K.]: ἕκαστα γὰρ τῶν γιγνοµένων ἐκ τῆς τῶν ὄγκων συνθέσεως καὶ συµπλοκῆς γίγνεσθαι βούλεται (sc. Asclepiades); cf. also Arist. DC3.4, 303a 7-8, on atoms: ἀλλὰ τῇ τούτων συµπλοκῇ καὶ περιπαλάξει πάντα γεννᾶσθαι. For the complex issue of Caelius’ relationship to his Soranian original in the Cel. Pass.and Tard. Pass., see especially van der Eijk (1999), 415-24.
84. FN52 52)At Cel. Pass.3.13.110, Caelius explicitly cites Cicero as an authority for his rendering of φαντασία by visum. He also refers to Tusc., without mentioning its title, at Tard. Pass.1.6.180, though not on the subject of translation.
85. FN53 53)Cf. Cic. Fin.1.19: ‘declinare dixit atomum perpaulum, quo nihil posset fieri minus; ita effici complexiones et copulationes et adhaesiones atomorum inter se, ex quo efficeretur mundus omnesque partes mundi quaeque in eo essent.’ (‘he said that the atom makes a very tiny swerve, – the smallest divergence possible; and so are produced entanglements and combinations and cohesions of atoms with atoms, which result in the creation of the world and all its parts, and of all that in them is,’ trans. Rackham, Loeb).
86. FN54 54)Lucr. 1.346-57, esp. 346-47, ‘praeterea quamvis solidae res esse putentur,/ hinc tamen esse licet raro cum corpore cernas’ (‘Besides, however solid things may be thought to be, here is proof that you may discern them to be of less than solid consistency,’ trans. Smith, Loeb).
87. FN55 55)See above, n. 47.
88. FN56 56)On this, see also the comments of Casadei (1997), 90.
89. FN57 57)Lucretius’ use of terms which primarily refer to two-dimensional shapes at 653-54 is further confirmation that he does not have a primary conception of the foraminaas extended vessels or channels.
90. FN58 58)What precisely Epicurus’ conception of void was is of course another question, one which I have not sought to address here, but I have found myself persuaded by the arguments of Sedley (1982); for a different view, see Inwood (1981).
91. FN59 59)Leith (2009); see above n. 4.
92. FN60 60)Lonie (1965), 128-29, remarks that ‘so far as the πόροι in Asclepiades’ theory are λόγῳ θεωρητοί, he seems to belong in the line of medical thought which begins with Strato.’ He does not address the Galenic, or non-Galenic, evidence on Asclepiades’ postulation of Epicurean-style void. Against his remark, it may be noted that in the Epicurean system the void interstices which must exist in solid objects are also imperceptible, and their existence has to be inferred. Lonie goes on to argue on other grounds that Erasistratus (and therefore Strato) are unlikely candidates as sources for Asclepiades’ theory (129-32), with a view ultimately to establishing Heraclides of Pontus as this probable source. But he does not return to the problem of Asclepiades’ pores and void, and appears to pass over the possibility of Epicurean influence simply by noting that the Epicureans ‘seem to have taken little interest in medical theory, although it is possible that Epicurus himself wrote περὶ νόσων’ (133). Lonie thus seems to take it for granted that any source of Asclepiades’ theory must have included a developed medical system, but this precludes the possibility of any innovation on Asclepiades’ part, and ignores any potential medical application of Epicurean atomism, as well as its actual medical application in the explanation of plague at Lucr. 6.1090-137, or in the analysis of the effects of various diseases on the mind at Lucr. 3.463-73 and 487-509.
93. FN61 61)Erasistratus’ principle of PTKA has often been associated with later theories of horror vacuiin scholarship, but see Berryman (1997) for cautionary remarks.
94. FN62 62)See Gal. Nat. Fac.2.6 [2.99 K. = Scr. Min.vol. III p. 173 Helmreich]; Ut. Resp.2 [4.474 K. = p. 84 Furley and Wilkie]. Cf. Furley and Wilkie (1984), 34-35.
95. FN63 63)As pointed out by Furley (1989), 157, ‘[t]here is no direct evidence as to whether Strato made use of the principle of horror vacuiin his physics . . . The theory of matter depends on the concept of the microvoid, whereas horror vacuiis simply the view that there is no massedvoid; and the latter is equally true for Aristotle’s theory of matter, which denies the microvoid. Indeed the microvoid theory might be thought to be an impediment to horror vacui.’
96. FN64 64)Vallance (1990), 63-89; cf. also Vallance (1993), 699. As noted above, in the conclusion to his chapter on void, Vallance (1990), 91, suggests that Asclepiades posited ‘what may after all have been an Epicurean void.’
97. FN65 65)I dedicate this article to the memory of Bob Sharples, my teacher and then colleague at UCL. It is the last thing I gave him to read, and his comments were, as always, penetrating, encouraging and of enormous help. I owe him a very great deal. Parts of the paper were presented to a seminar in the Dept. of the History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge, in February 2009, and I thank the audience for comment, in particular David Sedley and Roberto Polito. David Sedley was also kind enough to read the paper in more or less its final form, and his comments were very valuable. My thanks are also due to the anonymous reader for this journal for a kind review which improved the paper in a number of ways. The bulk of the research was carried out during a Research Fellowship funded by the Wellcome Trust (grant no. 082230), to which I wish to record my sincere gratitude.

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Affiliations: 1: Jesus College Cambridge CB5 8BL UK


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