History of Animals (Cresswell)

History of Animals  (1883) 
by Aristotle, translated by Richard Cresswell


History of Animals.

in ten books.

Translated by

Richard Cresswell, M.A.,

St. John's College, Oxford.

London: George Bell & Sons, York Street,
Covent Garden.



The following Translation of Aristotle's History of Animals has been made from the text of Schneider. In a work of considerable difficulty it is hardly possible entirely to avoid errors; but it is hoped that those which have escaped are neither numerous nor important. The notes of Schneider have been consulted throughout; and in places of difficulty the English translation by Taylor, the French of Camus, and the German of Strack, have been severally referred to.

The work itself is the most ancient and celebrated contribution to science which has come down to us; and it is hardly possible, when we consider the means of observation which were accessible at the time, to imagine a work of more accurate observation. From the numerous quotations in which our author avails himself of the experience of his predecessors in the same field, as well as corrects their errors, there can be no doubt that Aristotle had the advantage of many works which have perished in the lapse of ages. In the Appendix to the present Translation will be found the Essay of Schneider on the sources whence Aristotle derived his knowledge of the animals he describes; and these sources, together with his own accurate observations, are probably sufficient to account for the correct knowledge of the history of animals displayed throughout the work.

It is right, perhaps, to observe in this place, that Dr. Smith, in his Dictionary of Biography, speaks of the 'History of Animals' as partly the result of the royal liberality of Alexander; and doubtless Aristotle would gladly have introduced into his work any fresh materials which might have been made available to him either during his residence at the Macedonian court, or by the subsequent victories of Alexander in the East, if the information so obtained had reached Athens in sufficient time to be incorporated. But in the first instance he would naturally use the materials ready to his hand in the works of his predecessors, and these were not few. The animals also which he describes are principally those of Greece and of the countries with which the enterprising Greeks had frequent and commercial intercourse. He says little of the animals of the interior of Asia and of India, and speaks very cautiously of such as he does mention; and one who quotes his authorities so freely would hardly have failed to notice the sources of his information.

The study, or at least the knowledge of the classification of animals appears to have been carefully pursued in the earliest period of man's history. The oldest records that we possess contain abundant notices of the peculiarities of animals. The Mosaic law abounds in them, in its distinctions between the clean and the unclean, a distinction not then first established, but of the most remote antiquity. Indeed it could hardly be otherwise than that men engaged in the pursuits of agriculture and the chase should study the habits of the animals that were valuable to them, as well as those which were injurious. A study thus commenced by necessity, would eventually be pursued for its own sake; and not a few would be found who would investigate, and, as far as they could, record the various phenomena they observed. The paintings of Egypt and the sculptures of Assyria are our witnesses of the skill with which animals and plants were drawn, and of the minute perception of their external forms; and the knowledge thus gained in the ancient centres of civilization would be sure to circulate and increase when the intercourse with foreign nations spread the knowledge and philosophy so acquired.

In the writings of Homer we find that the knowledge of the anatomy of the human body had already made considerable progress; and the inspection of the animals offered in sacrifice cannot fail to have added much to the general knowledge of their history. A century later, we have the poems of Hesiod, devoted to the encouragement of agriculture and rural pursuits. Pythagoras, in the seventh century B.C., may perhaps have left no writings, but we know that he was an eminent student and exponent of natural phenomena. His contemporary, Alcma3on of Crotona, is especially mentioned by Aristotle; and he is eminent among natural philosophers as the first who is said to have recommended to his followers the practice of dissection. Empedocles of Agrigentum left a work on the phenomena of nature, of which a few fragments still remain, and there were also others who, if they did not enter into the details of what we now call natural history, treated generally of the nature of things, and opened the field to those who would study the subject in its particular parts. The empire of Persia was still the dominant power, and was carrying the civilization of the East to every part of the known world when Ctesias wrote his great works, of which, unhappily, only a few fragments remain. He described not only the history of his own time, but also the natural history of Persia and of India, and that probably with more accuracy than has been usually attributed to him. India he had not visited personally, so that he could only describe it from the information of others; but this implies that he was not alone in the studies which he devoted to natural objects. With such predecessors and aided by his own acute observations, we need not wonder that Aristotle produced a work which has ever been admired by naturalists, and must continue to rise in their estimation the longer it is in their hands.

The Index to the present volume has been formed on the basis of that of Schneider, and considerable pains have been taken to add as many names as possible from other sources, especially the Index of Strack, and Kiilb's recent translation of the History of Animals, both of which contain identifications of a great many animals. A few identifications have also been added from Liddell and Scott's Lexicon, as well as from Professor Bell's Catalogue of Animals in Captain Spratt's work on Lycia; and the cephalopods are named from Professor Owen's article on that class, in the Cyclopaedia of Anatomy. It is hoped, therefore, that the Index will be found to contain a greater number of suggestions for the identification of the animals mentioned by Aristotle than have been hitherto published collectively. It is also right to add, that it has been compiled after the translation was completed; and, therefore, in any differences which may be found between the identifications at the foot of the page and those given in the Index, the reader will rather prefer the latter, as the result of later research in works which were not accessible when the translation was made.

R. C.
April 30, 1862.

Analytical Table of Contents.

Book I.—The work commences with a general review of the animal kingdom, and several suggestions for a natural arrangement of animals in groups, according to their external form or their mode of life, a comparison of animals among themselves, and a description of some of their habits. Aristotle then introduces the human form, the best known to man, as the standard of comparison to which he refers the rest of the animal kingdom. The concluding chapters of this book are occupied with a description of the several parts of the human body, both internal and external.

Book II.—In the second book the different parts of animals are described. The animals are arranged in various groups, viviparous and oviparous quadrupeds, fish, serpents, birds. The only animals described are those with red blood: the description of the rest being reserved for the fourth book. Their internal organs are also described; and in the course of the book a few animals, as the ape, elephant, and chameleon, are especially noticed.

Book III.—The third book commences with a description of the internal organs, beginning with the generative system. A considerable portion of the book is devoted to the course of the veins; and Aristotle quotes from other writers, as well as states the result of his own observations. He then describes the nature of other constituent parts of the body, sinews, fibres, bone, marrow, cartilage, nails, hoofs, claws, horns, and beaks of birds, hair, scales, membranes, flesh, fat, blood, marrow, milk, and the spermatic fluid.

Book IV.—Animals without blood, and first, the cephalopods, are described; then the crustaceans, testacea, echinidæ, ascidians, actiniæ, hermit crabs, insects. In the eighth chapter the organs of sense are considered, and afterwards, the voice, sleep, age, and differences of the sexes in animals are described.

Book V.—In the former books animals are for the most part described with reference to their several parts. In the fifth book they are treated as entire, and especially with regard to their mode of reproduction. First of all, our author treats of spontaneous reproduction, and then of those animals which spring from a union of the sexes; and from this he proceeds to some detail with respect to different groups of animals, testacea, crustacea, insects. The book concludes with a long description of bees and their habits.

Book VI.—In this book the same subject is continued through the several classes of birds, fish, and quadrupeds. This account of the reproduction of animals includes also the consideration of the seasons, climates, and ages of animals, and how far these influence their reproduction.

Book VII.—The seventh book is almost entirely devoted to the consideration of the reproduction of man, and an account of man from his birth to his death. This book ends abruptly, and is probably imperfect.

Book VIII.—In the eighth book Aristotle passes on to the most interesting part of his work, the character and habits of the whole animal world, as it was known to him. The amount of detail which he has collected and arranged on this subject is most interesting. He treats, first of all, of the food of animals, of their migrations, their health and diseases, and the influence of climate upon them.

Book IX.—The subject of the eighth book is continued, with an account of the relations in which animals stand to each other, and especially the friendship and hostility of different species; and these are for the most part referred to the nature of their food, and their mode of procuring it. The notices of fish are not so numerous as those of other groups: this would necessarily arise from the difficulty of observation. At the conclusion of the book, an essay on bees and their congeners is given at considerable length.

Book X.—This book, in all probability erroneously ascribed to Aristotle, is occupied with a treatise on the causes of barrenness in the human species. It appears to be rather a continuation of the seventh book, which ends abruptly; but it is well placed at the end, as no genuine work of our author.

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This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse