“Habit Just Like Nature”: Tawdry Tuesday, Confused Biology Edition

There is a lot in this that is interesting, challenging, and infuriating (both syntactically and semantically). Beyond a regressive albeit typically Aristotelian assumption that (1) there is an absolute category of “according to nature” and (2) the category of the natural is good, we find the objectionable and horrific positioning of non-heteronormative men and all women as monstrous. (In more canonical work, Aristotle clearly claims that women are a deformed human, less than male.)  But within all of this, we have a fascinating acknowledgement that human sexuality and desire is shaped by culture and habit.

Aristotle, Problems 4.26

“Why is it that some men enjoy being passive in sex and some also enjoy being active, while others do not? Is this because for each effluent there is a place into which it is received naturally and when effort is applied, it causes the force to swell as it exits and then it expels it? Examples of this include urine in the bladder, food which has been digested in the stomach, tears in the eyes, mucus in the nose, or blood in the veins.

It is the same way when it comes to semen in the testicles and penis. When people do not have the same natural passages, either because those which flow to the penis have been blocked up—as what happens with eunuchs and those like eunuchs or for some other reason—then the secretion flows instead into the anus. For this is the direction it goes. An indication of this is the spasming of that part of the body during sexual intercourse and the simultaneous weakening of the area around the anus. So, if someone is extreme in desire, then the material (semen) comes together there, with the result that, whenever desire develops, the place where desire is located yearns for friction.

Desire can arise from both nourishment and imagination. But whenever it is moved by anything, then the pneuma increases there and the effluent flows to the place where it is most natural. So, when the semen is light or full of pneuma, then upon its release the erections stop, as they often do with young children and old men, when no liquid is expelled or when the moisture has dried up.

But if someone has neither of these experiences, he feels desire until something happens. The more effeminate men are set up by nature in such a way that no semen—or very little—is kept in that place it is designated for by nature but instead into that area we mentioned above. The reason for this is because they are arranged against nature. For, even though they are male they are developed in such away that this part of their bodies is deformed. This deformity makes them either completely ruined or twisted. But it is not complete destruction, because then he would be a woman. For this reason it is necessary that things be distorted and the force of the expulsion of the semen should move through some other place.

This is why they cannot be pleased, like women. For there is little ejaculate and it is not compelled to exit, but instead it cools quickly. The desire to be passive develops in the men whose semen cools in the anus; those whose bodies cool semen in both places, desire to play both roles. Yet, they desire more to play the part based on where a greater preponderance of semen is cooling.

For some people this activity comes from habit. It turns out that people enjoy doing the things they do and ejaculate when they do. Therefore, they long to do the things which makes this happen and practice can become something more like nature. For this reason, whoever has not learned to submit passively to sex before puberty but instead start the practice at the time of puberty, desire the same thing, to be passive in sex. This is because of the memory they keep from the experience and the pleasure that comes with the memory and it is from the habit they develop, as if it were natural. Really, many other things and habit too develop as if they are natural. If one happens to be libidinous and soft, then each of these things happens with greater speed.”

 

Διὰ τί ἔνιοι ἀφροδισιαζόμενοι χαίρουσι, καὶ οἱ μὲν ἅμα δρῶντες, οἱ δ᾿ οὔ; ἢ ὅτι ἔστιν ἑκάστῃ περιττώσει τόπος ǁ εἰς ὃν πέφυκεν ἀποκρίνεσθαι κατὰ φύσιν, καὶ πόνου ἐγγινομένου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐξιὸν ἀνοιδεῖν ποιεῖ, καὶ συνεκκρίνει αὐτήν, οἷον τὸ μὲν οὖρον εἰς κύστιν, ἡ δ᾿ ἐξικμασμένη τροφὴ εἰς κοιλίαν, τὸ δὲ δάκρυον εἰς ὄμματα, μύξαι δ᾿ εἰς μυκτῆρας, | αἷμα δὲ εἰς φλέβας; ὁμοίως δὴ τούτοις καὶ ἡ γονὴ εἰς ὄρχεις καὶ αἰδοῖα. οἷς δὴ οἱ πόροι μὴ κατὰ φύσιν ἔχουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ἢ διὰ τὸ ἀποτυφλωθῆναι τοὺς εἰς τὸ αἰδοῖον, οἷον συμβαίνει τοῖς εὐνούχοις καὶ εὐνουχίαις, ἢ καὶ ἄλλως, εἰς τὴν ἕδραν συρρεῖ ἡ τοιαύτη ἰκμάς· καὶ γὰρ διεξέρχεται ταύτῃ. σημεῖον | δ᾿ ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ ἡ συναγωγὴ τοῦ τοιούτου τόπου καὶ ἡ σύντηξις τῶν περὶ τὴν ἕδραν. ἐὰν οὖν ὑπερβάλλῃ τις τῇ λαγνείᾳ, τούτοις ἐνταῦθα συνέρχεται, ὥστε ὅταν ἡ ἐπιθυμία γένηται, τοῦτ᾿ ἐπιθυμεῖ τῆς τρίψεως εἰς ὃ συλλέγεται. ἡ δ᾿ ἐπιθυμία καὶ ἀπὸ σιτίων καὶ ἀπὸ διανοίας γίνεται. ὅταν | γὰρ κινηθῇ ὑφ᾿ ὁτουοῦν, ἐνταῦθα τὸ πνεῦμα συντρέχει, καὶ τὸ τοιοῦτο περίττωμα συρρεῖ οὗ πέφυκεν. κἂν μὲν λεπτὸν ᾖ ἢ πνευματῶδες, τούτου ἐξελθόντος, ὥσπερ αἱ συντάσεις τοῖς παισὶ καὶ τοῖς ἐν ἡλικίᾳ ἐνίοτε, οὐθενὸς ὑγροῦ ἐκκριθέντος, παύονται, ὅταν τε κατασβεσθῇ τὸ ὑγρόν.

ἐὰν δὲ μηδέτερον | τούτων πάθῃ, ἐπιθυμεῖ ἕως ἄν τι τούτων συμβῇ. οἱ δὲ φύσει θηλυδρίαι οὕτω συνεστᾶσιν ὥστ᾿ ἐκεῖ μὲν μὴ ἐκκρίνεσθαι ἢ ὀλίγην, οὗπερ τοῖς ἔχουσι κατὰ φύσιν ἐκκρίνεται, εἰς δὲ τὸν τόπον τοῦτον. αἴτιον δὲ ὅτι παρὰ φύσιν συνεστᾶσιν· ἄρσενες γὰρ ὄντες οὕτω διάκεινται ὥστε ἀνάγκη τὸν τόπον | τοῦτον πεπηρῶσθαι αὐτῶν. πήρωσις δὲ ἡ μὲν ὅλως ποιεῖ φθόρον, ἡ δὲ διαστροφήν. ἐκείνη μὲν οὖν οὐκ ἔστιν· γυνὴ γὰρ ἂν ἐγένετο. ἀνάγκη ἄρα παρεστράφθαι καὶ ἄλλοθί που ὁρμᾶν τῆς γονικῆς ἐκκρίσεως. διὸ καὶ ἄπληστοι, ὥσπερ αἱ γυναῖκες· ὀλίγη γὰρ ἡ ἰκμάς, καὶ οὐ βιάζεται ἐξιέναι,  καὶ | καταψύχεται ταχύ. καὶ ὅσοις μὲν ἐπὶ τὴν ἕδραν, οὗτοι πάσχειν ἐπιθυμοῦσιν, ὅσοις δ᾿ ἐπ᾿ ἀμφότερα, οὗτοι καὶ δρᾶν καὶ πάσχειν· ἐφ᾿ ὁπότερα δὲ πλεῖον, τούτου μᾶλλον ἐπιθυμοῦσιν. ἐνίοις δὲ γίνεται καὶ ἐξ ἔθους τὸ πάθος τοῦτο. ὅσα γὰρ ἂν ποιῶσι, συμβαίνει αὐτοῖς χαίρειν καὶ προΐεσθαι | τὴν γονὴν οὕτως. ἐπιθυμοῦσιν οὖν ποιεῖν οἷς ἂν ταῦτα γίνηται, καὶ μᾶλλον τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ φύσις γίνεται. διὰ τοῦτο ὅσοι ἂν μὴ πρὸ ἥβης ἀλλὰ περὶ ἥβην ἐθισθῶσιν ἀφροδισιάζεσθαι, δισιάζεσθαι, ǁ διὰ τὸ γίνεσθαι αὐτοῖς ἐν τῇ χρείᾳ τὴν μνήμην, ἅμα δὲ τῇ μνήμῃ τὴν ἡδονήν, διὰ [δὲ] τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκότες ἐπιθυμοῦσι πάσχειν· τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται. ἐὰν δὲ τύχῃ λάγνος | ὢν καὶ μαλακός, καὶ θᾶττον ἕκαστα τούτων συμβαίνει.

Image result for ancient greek sexuality

The assertion late in this segment, that “many things and habit too develop as if they are natural” τὰ μέντοι πολλὰ καὶ τὸ ἔθος ὥσπερ πεφυκόσι γίνεται is the closest thing to the attributed “habit is second nature.” Given the genealogy and the implications of this belief, it is, well, complicated.

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