Isidorus On The Nature Of Man.

Isidore sits on a chair, writing on a sloping desk the words '(ysid)oris (de) natu(ra) hominisI' Isidore, Concerning the Nature of Man.

Isidore sits on a chair, writing on a sloping desk the words ‘(ysid)oris (de) natu(ra) hominisI’ Isidore, Concerning the Nature of Man.

Text Translation:

Isidorus on the nature of man Nature, natura, is so called because it brings a thing to birth, nasci, for it has the power to beget and to form. Some have said that nature is God, by whom all things are created and exist. Race, genus, comes from gignere, to generate; this derives from the word for ‘earth’, from which all things spring. For the Greek word for ‘earth’ is ge. Life, vita, is so called from vigor, ‘active power’, or because it has within it the force of birth and growth. As a result, trees are said to have life, because they spring from the earth and grow. Man, homo, is so called because he is made from the soil, humus, as it says in the book of Genesis: ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground’ (2:7). It is said incorrectly that man in his entirety is formed from two substances, that is, from the union of a soul and a body. Strictly speaking, man, homo, comes from soil, humus. The Greek word for man is antropos [anthropos], because he looks upwards, raised up from the ground to contemplate his creator. This is what the poet Ovid means, when he says: ‘And though other animals are prone and fix their gaze upon the earth, he gave to man an uplifted face and bade him look at heaven and raise his countenance to the stars.’ (Metamorphoses, 1, 84-6). Standing erect, he looks at the heavens in search of God; he does not turn towards the ground, like the beasts who have been fashioned by nature and obedience to their appetite to bend their heads. But man is twofold: inner and outer.

The inner man is the soul; the outer, the body. The soul gets its name, anima, from the pagans, because they conceived of it as the wind; for this reason it is also called wind in Greek, animos, because we seem to live by taking air in through our mouths. This is clearly wrong, because the soul is created long before it can take air into its mouth and it is already alive in its mother’s womb. The soul, therefore, is not the same as air, as some believe, who cannot conceive of its nature as being without substance. The spirit, spiritus, is the same as the soul, anima, of which the evangelist speaks, saying: ‘I have the power to lay down my life, anima, and I have the power to take it again’ (see John, 10:18). It is to this same thing that the evangelist, recalling the time of our Lord’s passion, refers, in this way: ‘He bowed his head and gave up the ghost, spiritus’ (John, 19:30). What does ‘to give up the ghost, spiritus,’ mean if not that he laid down his life, anima? But the soul, anima, is so called because it lives. The spirit, spiritus, is so called either because of its spiritual nature, or because it gives breath, inspirare, to the body. Again, the mind, animus, is the same as the soul, anima; but the soul is to do with life, the mind with thought. For this reason, philosphers say that life can continue even without the mind, animus, and the soul can endure without the intellect; this is demonstrated by those who are ‘mindless’, amentes.

They call the intellect, mens, the faculty of knowing; the soul, anima, the faculty of willing. The intellect, mens, is so called because it stands out, eminere, in the soul, or because it has the capacity to remember, meminisse. Thus, those who are forgetful are also called ‘mindless’, amentes. For this reason, it is not the soul itself, but the most eminent part of it, the equivalent of its head or eye, that we call the intellect, mens. Thus man himself, because of his intellect, is called ‘the image of God’ (see Genesis, 1:26, 27). For in this way these terms and the faculties they represent are united in the soul, so that it is a single thing.

For different names are allocated to the soul in respect of its faculties. The memory, memoria, is also the intellect, mens; for this reason the forgetful are called ‘mindless’, amentes. When it gives life to the body, it is the soul, anima. When it wills something, it is the mind, animus. When it knows something, it is the intellect, mens. When it remembers, it is memory, memoria. When it judges what is right, it is reason, ratio. When it breathes, it is the life-giving spirit, spiritus. When it perceives or feels anything, it is sense, sensus. For the mind, animus, is called sense, sensus, on account of the things which it senses, sentire. For this reason, it is also known as the opinion, sententia.

The body, corpus, is so called because it perishes in a state of corruption, corruptum. For it can be reduced and die and at some time will decompose. But flesh, caro, gets its name from creare, to create. For the semen of the male has the power of growth; the bodies of men and animals are conceived from it. For this reason parents are also referred to as ‘creators’. Flesh is composed of four elements. There is earth in the flesh itself, air in the breath, water in the blood, and fire in the living heat. For the elements each have their own part in us; if any part is withheld, the whole dissolves. Flesh, caro, and the body, corpus, mean different things. There is always a body where there is flesh, but where there is a body there is not always flesh. For flesh is that which lives, the same as the body. But a body which is not alive is not the same as flesh. For we use the word ‘body’, corpus, to mean either something which, after life, is dead, or something which was created without life. Sometimes also a thing can have life yet be called a body, corpus, not flesh, caro, like grass or wood.

The body has five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Of these, two are opened and closed to sensations, two are always open. The senses, sensus, are so called because through them the soul very delicately activates the whole body with the force of sensation, sentire. As a result we say things are ‘present’, presentia, because they are before, pre, the senses, as, for example, they are before the eyes. Sight, visus, is what philosophers call humor vitreus. For some claim that sight comes either from the earth, or from an external air-born light or an internal light-bearing spirit, which travel from the brain through narrow passages, and, after penetrating the coating of the eye, emerge into the air and, mixed with similar matter, give vision. Vision, visus, is so called because, compared to the other senses, it is more lively, vivatior, more important, or swifter, velocior, and more powerful, vigere, as memory is, compared to the other faculties of the mind. For it is located closer to the brain, the source of all the senses. For this reason we use the word ‘see’ when we refer to things which pertain to the other senses. As when we say ‘see how it tastes’ and so on.

Hearing, auditus, is so called because it receives, haurire, voices, that is, it takes up sounds from the air which has been struck by them. The sense of smell, odoratus, comes, so to speak, from the phrase, aeris odorat tactus, ‘the touch of the air carrying a scent’. For smell is experienced through the touch of the air, just as the other word for ‘smelling’, olfactus, comes from odoribus efficiatur, ‘sensation acquired from odours’. Taste, gustus, gets its name from guttur, the throat.

Touch, tactus, is so called because it takes hold of and handles things, and diffuses the force of the sensation through every limb. For we explore by touch whatever we cannot judge with the other senses. There are two kinds of touch. For the sensation of touching comes either from outside the body by experience, or it arises within the body itself. Each sense has been given its own peculiar nature. For what is visible is captured by the eyes; what is audible, by the ears. Softness and hardness are assessed by touch; flavour by taste; odour is brought by the nostrils.

The head, caput, is the principal part of the body and gets its name because all the senses and nerves take, capere, their beginning from there, and the entire source of energy springs from it. It is the seat of all the senses. In a certain way it takes the role of the soul itself, which takes thought for the body. The crown, vertex, is the part of the head where the hair is gathered and on which the hair parts, vertere, which is how it gets its name. The word for skull, calvaria, comes from ossa calva, bare bones, by ellipsis; it is used in the neuter form. The occiput, occipicium, is the rear part of the head, as if the word came from contra capitium, ‘opposite the covering of the head’ or because it is behind the head, capitis retrorsum. The word for hair, capilli, comes as if from capitis pili, ‘hairs of the head’. Hair was created to embellish the head and to protect the brain from cold and to keep the sun off it. The word for hair, pilos, comes from pellis, the skin, from which the hair emerges, as pilum, the pestle, comes from pila, the mortar, in which it pounds colours. A hairstyle is called cesaries, from cedere, to cut; for this reason it only applies to men. For cutting the hair is appropriate for men; it is unfitting for women. The word coma is strictly speaking, ‘uncut hair’, and comes from the Greek. For the Greeks call uncut hair kaimos from their word for ‘cutting off’; they have also the word kirin [keirein] ‘to clip or crop’. From this comes the word for curls, cirri, which the Greeks call maaonem [mallos], a lock of hair. The word crinis properly speaking refers to women’s hair. The locks are so called because they are parted, discernere, by the bands of a filet. From this source also comes the word discriminalia, the hairpins by which the parted locks are fastened in place. The temples, timpora [tempora], lie below the skull, on the left and right. They are so called because they are mobile; with that mobility, they are changed at certain intervals like the seasons, tempora.

The word for face, facies, comes from effigies, likeness. For it portrays the whole nature of a man and reveals each person’s character. The countenance, vultus, is so called because it displays the desires, voluntas, of the soul. For it is changed, as the soul wills, into different movements of the features. For this reason the face, facies, and the countenance, vultus, differ from each other. For we understand by the face, facies, simply a person’s natural appearance; the countenance, vultus, signifies their inner disposition. The forehead, frons, gets its name from the openings, foramen, in which the eyes are set. It provides a certain representation of the mind and expresses in its own appearance the motion of the intellect, showing when it is either happy or sad. The eyes, oculus, are so called either because the coverings of the eyelids hide them, occultare, lest they should be harmed by the impact of an injury, or because they have a hidden, occultus, light, that is, one which is secret or is located within. Here the eyes are, of all the senses, the most closely allied to the soul. For they reflect every aspect of the intellect. As a result, confusion or joy within the soul is visible in the eyes. The eyes are the same as lights and are called ‘lights’, lumen, because light pours forth from them, or because from the beginning they hold light enclosed within them, or because they take in light from outside and reflect it to create vision. The pupil, pupilla, is the middle point of the eyes, in which the power of seeing resides. Because you see small images at this point, it is called pupilla, a word for ‘little children’. For little boys are called pupilli. Many people call the pupil pupilla, ‘the little girl’, because it is pure and undefiled, as girls are. Physicians say that those who are dying lack for three days before death those pupils which we see in the eyes; if they are not visible, it is a clear sign that the patient’s condition is hopeless. The circle by which the white of the eye is separated from the pupil, defined by its black colour, is called the corona, because its roundness enhances the circumference of the pupil like a garland, corona. Some call the upper lid, vertex, of the eye, volvus, from its similarity to the leaf of a door, valva. The eyelids, palpebre, fold over the eyes. The word comes from palpitatio, ‘frequent, rapid movement’, because the lids are always in motion. For they move quickly to meet each other, so that by their constant motion they refresh the vision. The eyelids are fortified by a rampart of hairs, so that if anything should fall into the eyes when they are open, it is repelled; also that, with the lids closing in sleep, the eyes should rest hidden as if wrapped up. At the extreme edges of the eyelids, in the places where they touch each other when closed, lashes stand in line, providing protection for the eyes, lest they should be easily hurt by things blundering into them and be damaged as a result. These lashes are also designed to prevent contact with dust or any heavier matter, or, in addition, soften the air itself by filtering it, making vision clear and bright. Some think that the word for tears, lacrime, comes from the phrase, laceratio mentis, ‘rending of the mind’; others think that it is because the Greeks call them lassiria [dakrua].

Cilia is the word for the lids with which the eyes are covered. They are called cilium or scilium because they conceal, celare, the eyes and cover them to keep them safe. Eyebrows, supercilia, are so called because they are placed above the eyelids. They are clad with hairs so as to offer protection to the eyes and turn aside the sweat which flows down from the head. Intercilium, however, is space between the eyebrows which is without hairs. The cheeks, gena, are the part of the face under the eyes, where the beard begins to grow. For the Greek word for beard is gene [geneias]. They are also called gena because it is here that the beard begins to grow, gigni. The cheek bones, mala, are the protruding parts under the eyes, placed under them as protection. They are called mala either because they project under the eyes in their roundness, which the Greeks call mela [melon], or because they are placed above the jawbone, maxilla. The jawbone, maxilla, is a diminutive of mala, as paxillus, peg, comes from palus, stake, taxillus, a small die, from talus, a full-sized die. The mandibles, mandibule, are parts of the jaws, which is how they get their name. The ancients called barba, beard, that which is peculiar to men, not women.

The word for ear, auris, comes from the phrase voces haurire, ‘to hear voices’. In this context Virgil says: ‘I have heard the voice with my ears’ (see Aeneid, 4, 359). Alternatively, it is so called because the Greek word for voice itself is audien [aude] from the same root as auditus, hearing. For by the substitution of a letter, ears are called aures for audes. For the voice, rebounding along the twisting passage by which the ears take in their sense of hearing, produces a sound. The tip of the ear, pinnola, ‘little point’, gets its name from its sharpness. For the ancients called anything sharp pinnion. From this we get bipennis, two-edged, and pinna, a fin. The nostrils, nares, are so called because odour or breath continually flows, manare, through them, or because through odour they warn us, admonere, that we should learn something from an odour. For this reason, in contrast, the unlearned and uncouth are called ignari, ignorant. The ancients said that to smell something was to know something. Terence: ‘And would they not have smelled it six whole months before he started anything?’ (Adelphi, 397).

The straight part of the nose, of equal extent in roundness and length, is called ‘the column’, columna. The end of the nose is called pirula, ‘little pear’, because it is pear-shaped. But the right and left parts of the nose, from their resemblance to wings, are called pennule, ‘little wings’. The part between nostrils is called the septum, interfinium. The mouth, os, is so called because, as if through a door, ostium, we send food inside and eject sputum outside; or because food goes in there and speech comes out. Lips, labia, get their name from lambere, to lick. The upper lip we call labium; the lower, and thicker, labrum. Others say that men’s lips are labra; women’s, labia. Varro thinks that the tongue, lingua, got its name from the phrase, ligare cibum, to bind food. Others say that it is because it binds words together from distinct sounds. For the tongue hits the teeth, like a plectrum hitting strings, producing the sound of the voice. The Greeks call teeth odontes, from which they seem to have taken their Latin name, dentes. The first of the teeth are called incisors, precisores, because they first cut up, praecidere, everything that we take into our mouth. The Next are called canines, canini; two of them are in the right jaw, two in the left. They are so called because they look like the teeth of dogs, canis. Dogs use these teeth to break up bones, just as men do; such food as the incisors cannot cut up, they pass on to the canines to break up. They are commonly called colomelli, ‘little columns’, because of their length, breadth and roundness. The last of the teeth are called molars, molares; they work, grind and chew the food which the incisors have cut up and the canines have broken up; they get their name from molere, to grind. The number of teeth is determined by sex. For there are more in a man’s mouth; fewer in a woman’s. The gums, gingive, are so called because they produce, gignere, the teeth. They were created to adorn the teeth, lest a row of crooked teeth might seem more of a horror than an ornament. Our palate, palatum, is placed like a vault over the mouth; the word comes from polus, a pole, or figuratively, the sky. The Greeks call the palate uranus [ouranos], since in its curved shape it resembles the sky. The throat, fauces, gets its name from the phrase fundere voces, ‘to produce sounds’, or because we speak, fari, through it. The windpipes, artherie, are so called because air, that is the breath, aer, is conveyed through them from the lung, or because they keep the vital breath in narrow, artus, confined passages. From these they produce the sounds of the voice. The sounds would be all of one kind if the movements of the tongue did not make them different. Toles, a word in the Gallic tongue meaning goitre, becomes in common speech, by diminution, toxilli, tonsils, which often swell up in the throat. The chin is called mentum, or ‘coping stone’, because the two mandibles begin or are joined together there. The soft palate, gurgulio, gets its name from guttur, the gullet. Its passage extends to the mouth and nostrils, having within it a channel by which the sounds of the voice are sent to the tongue, so that it can bring them together as words. From this we get the word garrire, to babble. Next to the windpipe is the oesophagus, rumen, by which we swallow food and drink. Hence animals which regurgitate food and chew it again, are said to ruminate, ruminare. The epiglottis, sublinguium, is otherwise known as ‘the lid’ of the windpipe. It is like a little tongue which shuts off the opening at the rear of the tongue from secretions such as phlegm. The neck, collum, is so called because it is rigid and rounded like a column, columpna, carrying the head and supporting it like a capitol. The front part is called the throat, gula; the rear, the nape, cervix. The nape, cervix, is so called because the brain, cerebrum, is linked in a straight line through that section to the spinal chord; it is, so to speak, cerebri via, ‘the route of the brain’. The ancients spoke of napes, or necks, in the plural. Hortensius was the first to speak of it in the singular. In fact, cervix in the singular means that specific part of the body. In the plural, it often signifies ‘obstinate resistance’. Cicero in his orations against Verres: ‘You accuse the praetor. Curb your boldness, cervices’ (6,110). The shoulders humeri, are like armi, forequarters.

They are so called to distinguish men from dumb animals, so that we say men have shoulders, humeri; animals, forequarters, armi. For, strictly speaking, ‘forequarters’ applies to four-legged animals. The part at the rear of the highest point of the shoulder we call the shoulder-blade, ola. The word for arms, brachia, is associated with that for strength. For in Greek barus means ‘strong’ and ‘heavy’. Muscles swell between the shoulder and elbow and in muscles there is remarkable strength. In the arms there are bulges, tori, which are muscles; they are so called because the inner parts seems to be twisted, tortus. The elbow, cubitus, is so called because we lean on it, cumbere, to eat. The ulna, according to some, is an extension of either hand; according to others, of the elbow; the latter seems more likely to be true because the elbow in Greek is ulenos [olene]. The pits under the arms, ale, are so called because the movement of the arms begins there, like that of wings, ale. Some call the armpits ascelle, because from that point the arms are set in motion, cillere. For this reason they are also called oscilla, because the arms are swung, oscillare, that is they are moved, movere, from the extremity of the body, ora; since movere and cillere mean the same, to move from the extremity becomes ora cillere. Some call the armpits subhirci, ‘undergoats’,because in many people they give off the rank smell of goats. The hand, manus, is so called because it performs a service, munus, for the whole body. For it serves food to the mouth, does everything and disposes of everything; with it, we take and we give. The word is used incorrectly for labour or workmen, ‘hands’. For this reason, we talk about manupretium, ‘workman’s wage’. The right hand, dextra, gets its name from dare, to give, for it is given as a pledge of peace. It is used as a proof of faith and in greeting, and is used in this context in Tully: ‘By order of the Senate, I have pledged the public faith’, that is, the right hand (Cicero, Catiline, 3, 8). And the apostle says: ‘They gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship’ (Galatians, 2:9). The left hand, leva, is so called because it is more suited to raising, levare. It is also called sinistra, sine dextera, ‘without the right hand’, so to speak, or because it permits, sinere, something to be done. For sinistra comes from sinere. The palm, palma, is the hand with the fingers spread; when they are contracted it is called the fist, pugnus. The word comes from pugillus, a handful, just as the word for the palm, palma, comes from the outspread branches of the the palm tree. Fingers are called digiti, either because there are ten, decem, of them, or because they are joined together in a proper fashion, decenter. For they amount in themselves to a perfect number and are ranged in a most regular order, The first, the thumb, pollex, is so called because it surpasses, pollere, the others in strength and power. The second finger, index, is also known as salutaris or demonstratorius, the greeting or indicating finger, because we generally use it in greeting, showing or pointing. The third finger is called impudicus, lewd; it is frequently used to express the pursuit of something shameful. The fourth is the ring finger, anularis, because it is the on which a ring is worn. It is also called medicinalis, the medical finger, because it used by physicians to smear on ground-up salves. The fifth finger is called auricularis, because we scrape our ear, auris, with it. Our word for nails, ungule, comes from the Greek, for they call them onices.

The trunk, truncus, is the middle part of the body, from the neck to the groin. Nigidius says of it: ‘The head is carried by the neck, the trunk is supported by the hips, knees and legs’ (Opera, 108). Thorax is the Greek word for the front part of the trunk from the neck to the stomach; we call it the ark, archa, because what is there is arcanus, hidden, that is, secret; others are kept out by it. For this reason both arca, a chest, and ara, an altar, have names implying secrecy. The soft mounds on this part of the body are called breasts, mamille. Between them is a bony part called the breast bone, pectus. To the right and left are the ribs, coste. The breast bone, pectus, is so called because there is a nap, pexus, between the protruding parts of the breasts. In the same way, a comb is called pecten, because it makes hairs smooth. The breasts, mamille, are so called because they are round, as if the word were a diminutive of mala, apple. The nipples, papille, are the tips of the breast; suckling infants take hold of them. They are called papille because babies seem to stroke them, palpare, while they suck milk from them. Accordingly, the word mamilla refers to the whole mound of the breast; uber, the part from which the baby is suckled. But the nipple is the short bit that conveys the milk. Uber is so called either because it is filled, uberta, with milk, or because it is moist, uvida, with fluid, namely, full of milk, as a grape, uva, moist with juice. Milk, lac, gets the force of its name from its colour because it is a white fluid. For the Greek word for white is leucos [leukos]. The nature of milk comes by a process of change from blood. For after birth, any blood not consumed as nourishment for the womb, flows by its natural passage into the breasts and, becoming white from their particular quality, acquires the properties of milk.

Skin, cutis, is what you meet first on the body. It is so called because, placed over the body, it is the first part to suffer any cut. For the Greek word for ‘cut’ is cutis. Skin or hide, pellis, is the same thing. It is so called because it keeps off, pellere, external injuries by covering the body, and takes the force of rain, wind and the heat of the sun. When the skin has been removed, what is now revealed underneath is called ‘hide’, corium. The word is derived from caro, flesh, because flesh is covered by it, but this applies to brute animals. The pores, pori, of the body have a Greek name; in Latin they are properly called spiramenta, ‘breathing-holes’, because the vitalising spirit is supplied through them from outside. Arvina is the fat which adheres to the skin. Pulpa is flesh without fat, so called because it pulsates, palpitare, for it often recoils. Many also call it viscus, because it has a gluey quality. Limbs, membra, are the parts of the body. The joints, artus, by which the members are fastened together, get their name from artare, to compress. Sinews, nervi, get their name from the Greek; the Greeks call them neutra [neura]. Others think that they are called nervi, strings, in Latin, because the connections of the joints are in turn attached to them. It is definitely the case that the sinews are the greatest source of our strength. For the thicker they are, the more likely they are to increase our strength.

Limbs or joints, artus, are so called because, bound together in turn by the sinews, they are compressed, coartare, that is, drawn together; the diminutive of artus is articulus, joints. For we call the larger limbs, like the arms, artus; the smaller limbs, like the fingers, are articuli. Compago is the word we use for the heads of the bones, because they are pressed to each other by the sinews, as if by glue. Bones, ossa, are the foundations of the body; in them is the basis of its posture and all its strength. The word comes from ustus, burnt, either because the ancients burned bones or, as others think, because bones are visible when flesh is burnt, for indeed everywhere else they are hidden under a covering of skin and organs. Marrow, medulla, is so called because it moistens the bones, refreshing and strengthening them. The vertebrae, vertibula, are the extremities of the bones, pressed together by thick knots; they are so called because they swivel, vertere, to allow the members to bend in different directions.

Cartilages, cartilagines, are soft bones without marrow. The external part of the ear, the partition between the nostrils and the ends of the ribs are of this kind, or the coverings of those bones which are articulated. They are so called because, if they rub together lightly when they are bent, there is no pain, carere dolore. Ribs, costa, are so called, some think, because the interior of the body is guarded, custodire, by them; surrounded by them, as by a palisade, the entire soft part of the belly is kept safe. The side, latus, is so called because when we lie down it is hidden, latere, for it is the left part of the body. On the right side, movement is easier; the left is stronger and better fitted for carrying a load. For this reason, the left, leva, is so called because it is more suitable to lifting, levare, and carrying anything. It is the left side which carries the shield, sword, quiver and other burdens, leaving the right hand free for action.

The back, dorsum, runs from the neck to the loins. It is so called because it is a very hard, durior, surface of the body, strong like stone, able to carry loads and to bear things steadfastly. The hinder parts,terga, get their name because we lie flat on them on the ground, terra, something that only man can do. For dumb animals can only lie either on their belly or side. For this reason it is incorrect to use the word in connexion with animals. The shoulder, scapula, comes from scandere, to mount. The interscapilium is the space between the shoulders, from which it gets its name. The protruding parts on the right and left of the back are called pale, because we press on them in wrestling, which the Greeks call palin [pale].

The spine, spina, is what we call the series of joints of the back, because it has sharp little spokes; its joints are called spondilie, from the part of the brain which is carried by them on a long course to other parts of the body. The sacral spine, sacra spina, is the end of the continuous spine, which the Greeks call hyronoston [hieron ostoun], since it is the first part of an infant to be created after conception; and also because it was the first part of the beast offered by pagans in sacrifice to their gods; for this reason also it is called sacra spina.

Varro says that the kidneys, renes, are so called because streams, rivus, of the obscene fluid [semen] rise there. For the veins and spinal cord, medulla, exude a thin liquid into the kidneys. Freed by the heat of sexual desire, it runs down from the kidneys. The loins, lumbi, get their name from the wantonness of lust, libido, because the seat of fleshly pleasure in men is there, just as in women it is in the navel. For this reason the Lord says to Job at the beginning of his speech: ‘Gird up now thy loins like a man’ (Job, 38:2), in order that he should make ready his resistance there, where the dominance of lust normally begins. The navel, umbilicus, is the centre of the body, so called because it is like a knob, umbo, in the middle of the groin. For this reason the boss in the middle of a shield, from which it hangs, is called umbo. The word for groin, ilium, comes from the Greek, because we cover ourselves there, for the Greek word ileos [eileo]means ‘to wind round’. The buttocks, clunes, are so called because they are beside the straight gut, colum quod est longum. The rump, nates, is so called because we bear down upon it, inniti, when we sit. For this reason the flesh on the rump is compressed into a round shape, lest the bones should ache under the weight of the body pressing down on them.

The sexual organs, genitalia, as their name itself shows, are parts of the body named from the begetting of offspring, which are created and produced by them. They are also called pudenda, ‘shameful parts’, either on account of our modesty, or from the hair, pubis, with which they are covered at puberty. They are called ‘shameful’ because they lack the same decent appearance of the other parts of the body which are visible. The same part is called the penis, veretrum, because it is found in men only, viri est tantum, or because semen, virus, is emitted from it. For virus strictly means the fluid which comes from a man’s organs of generation. The word for testicles, testiculi, is a diminutive of testis, witness; there is a minumum of two. They supply to the penis, calamus, semen which the kidneys and loins take from the spinal cord, in order to create a fetus. The skin which contains the testicles is called viscus. The posterior parts of the body are so called because they are at the rear, turned away from the face, lest when we empty our bowels, we should defile our gaze. The anus or passage, meatus, is so called because excrement passes, meare, through it, that is, it is discharged from it. The thighs, femur, are so called because the male sex is distinguished from the female, a femina, by that part; they extend from the groin to the knee. The word femen comes from femur; the femina are the parts of the thighs with which we grip the horse’s back when we ride. For this reason, it used formerly to be said that warriors lost their horses ‘from under their thighs’.

The word for hips, coxe, comes, so to speak, from coniuncte axes, ‘axles joined together’, for the thighs are moved on them. Their joints are called hollows, concava, because the heads of the thigh bones turn in them. The hollows of the knee, suffragines, are so called because they are broken underneath, subtus franguntur, that is, they bend downwards and not upwards like the arm. The knees are the junction between the thighs and the legs. They are called genua because in the womb they are opposite the upper part of the face, gena; knees and cheeks press closely together and, in the same way as the eyes signify grief, the knees signify the desire for mercy. For genua comes from gena. Finally, they say that a man is born in a folded shape, so that his knees are on top, as a result of which his eyes are formed so that they are hollow and hidden. Ennius: ‘And the cheek presses against bent knees’ (Incerta, 14). For this reason, when men fall on their knees, they start to cry. For nature wills them to remember their mother’s womb, where they stayed, before they came into the light. The legs, crura, are so called because we run, currere, and take steps on them; they extend from under the knee to the lower calf. The word for shins, tibia, comes, so to speak, from tuba, trumpets, which they resemble. The ankle, talus, comes from from the word for a dome, tholus; for a dome is is of a prominent, round shape. For this reason the roof of a circular temple is called tolus.

The ankle is under the leg; under the ankle is the heel, calcaneum. The feet, pedes, have been assigned a name from the Greek. For the Greeks call them podas [poas], meaning that they proceed with alternating footsteps, firmly on the ground. The sole, planta, gets its name from planities, a flat surface, because they are not rounded, as they are in quadrupeds, lest a two-legged person might not be able to stand on them, but are flat and long in shape, so that they keep the body stable. The sole has a front part which also is made up of many bones. The heel, calx, at the end of the foot, gets its name from callus, thick skin, with which we tread the earth. Calcaneus, heel, comes from the same root. The sole is the under part of the foot, so called because with it we imprint our footsteps. Everything which supports something is called solum, as if it were solid, solidus; for this reason the earth is called solum, because it supports everything, and the sole of the foot, solum, because it bears the whole weight of the body. We use the word viscera not only for intestines, but for anything under the skin, from viscus, the layer between the skin and the flesh. Likewise the word is used of the tips of sinews, which are made from blood combined with nerves. Again, muscles, lacerti, or mures, exist because there are places in every member of the body like the heart, cor, in the middle part of the whole body; and they are called by names of animals -lacerti, lizards, mures, mice – which like them lie hidden under the ground. Thus the muscle, musculus, is name from its likeness to a mussel, or ‘sea-mouse’. It is also called torus because in areas where there is muscle, the inner parts seem to be twisted, tortus. The heart, cor, comes either from the Greek word, because they call it cardinan [kardia], or from cura, care, for the heart is the seat of concern and the source of knowledge. For this reason it is near the lung, so that when it is aflame with anger, it can be cooled by the fluid of the lung. The heart has two arteries, arterie: the left one has more blood; the right, more life-giving spirit. For this reason we see the pulse beating in the left arm. Precordia are places near the heart in which we perceive feeling. They are so called because there is the origin of emotion and of thought. The pulse, pulsus, is so called because it throbs, palpitare. From its sign we learn whether the body is in in sickness or health. The motion is twofold, single or complex. The single motion consists of a single movement. The complex is uneven and irregular because it makes many movements, with fixed intervals between them. It strikes a dactyl as long as there is nothing wrong; if the beats are more rapid, like dorcacizontes [dorkadazontes] or fainter, like mirmizontes [murmizontes], they are a sign of death.

Folio 80v – Of trees, continued. Ysidorus de natura hominis; Isidorus on the nature of man.


  1. avalus says

    @ Raucous Indignation 1: There is just so much wrong in this, I should have skipped it as well … :D.

    I had to laugh very loud when I read “to give up the ghost”, because in german the expression “den geist aufgeben” (literally: to give up the ghost…) means that something is broken or destroyed. I never heard it in any french or english lessons or books I read, so I thought it was a local expression. So yay, I was unaware and now I learned something!

  2. says

    Avalus, that’s interesting, because I know the phrase “to give up the ghost” to mean someone died. It’s very old, and you rarely hear or read that anymore.

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