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Whether breasts ought to be located on the chest in a woman.

Why it is that in elephants and apes the breasts are located on the chest, just as in the human.

Why there are more breasts in some animals, and fewer in others.

Why there are breasts even on some males, as, for example, sometimes on the he-goat.

Further it is inquired whether breasts ought to be located on the chest in a woman.

1. It seems not. For Avicenna says that where the digestive function ends, there begins the nutritive function. But the digestive function ends at the lower part of the belly. Therefore, the nutritive function begins there and, consequently, that is where breasts ought to be located.

2. Likewise, among all the parts of the body there is a special congruity between the vessels for the milk and the vessels for the sperm. Therefore, they ought to be located in parts next to one another. But the seminal vessels are on the lower parts; therefore, the milk vessels will be there too.

The Philosopher says the opposite, and it is evident to the senses.

After this one asks why it is that in elephants and apes the breasts are located on the chest, just as in the human. And one asks why there are more breasts in some animals, and fewer in others. And one asks why even on some males there are breasts, as for example on the human or the pig, even though they do not nourish a fetus, and sometimes on the he-goat.

To the first question one must reply that the nobler an animal is, the more it needs a nobler and better digested nourishment. But according to the Philosopher in book two of On the Soul and according to the medical authorities, the digestion of nourishment occurs through the mediation of heat. Since the human is the noblest animal, it therefore demands that its nourishment be situated quite near to the source of heat. This source is the heart, and this is the reason why the breasts are on the chest in a woman. Moreover, it would be disgraceful and embarrassing for a woman always to uncover her shameful parts, if her breasts were located there. For that reason nature located them in a decent place and not between the feet.[1]

1. To the first argument one should say that nothing nourishes before it is in a disposition near to conversion. But this only occurs when digestion precedes it. Thus, nutrition begins when digestion is completed. Moreover, Avicenna understands this statement concerning digestion and nutrition as it is in relation to one and the same person. But there is no nourishment in the breast for the one who digests the milk, she being the person in whom the digestion occurs, but rather nutrition is present in the breast for the nourishment of someone else.

2. To the second argument one must reply that because milk and semen are closely related, an abundance of the one impedes the abundance of the other.[2] So if the breasts were on the lower part of the human, there would be less milk owing to the abundance of the semen, when, nevertheless, a larger amount of milk is required because the human nurses on breast milk longer than other animals do.

To the second question one must reply that the elephant is a melancholic animal that has little blood. The length and hardness of its bones attest to its size. And likewise the ape has but little blood. An indication of this is that it has very poor estimation and good motion, and for that reason there is in them naturally but a modest abundance of milk. This is why their breasts are near the source of blood and heat, to enable the milk to be more abundant there and to be digested.

To the third question one must respond that some mothers (that is, female animals), such as the dog, sow, and sheep, have and give birth to several young, and this is why they have several breasts, so that all the young may suck the milk and be fed at the same time. If there were fewer breasts than there are young, then it could happen that a given young one would be deprived of nourishment, which is not seen in nature, and for that reason, etc. Therefore, young are most frequently generated in proportion to the number of breasts, etc.

To the fourth, one should say that not only is the milk conserved in the breasts, but also the spermatic blood. An indication of this is that when females enter adolescence, their breasts begin to itch a great deal due to these things [i.e., milk and spermatic blood]. Thus in those animals in which the breasts are located near the seminal vessels, there are no breasts on the males. But in the human the breasts are located at a distance from the location of the seminal vessels or the testicles, and the same is true for the pig. And for this reason there can be breasts in these males, but in others this is not the case due to their location and proximity to the testicles, unless in terms of their complexion and disposition they very much resemble the mothers, etc.

  • [1] While strange on the surface, this statement does, in fact, give us an insight into what was considered "acceptable" in Albert's time, indicating that breast-feeding must have been widely accepted in public.
  • [2] The relationship of breast milk and sperm or semen is intelligible only because women were commonly understood by the followers of Galen to have semen or sperm in addition to menses. See QDA 10.3;5; DA,, (SZ 1: 813, 829-30; 2: 1207).
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