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Whether it is by nature, from customary activity, or by instruction that cunning is present in animals that walk.


One asks now about the cunning of walking animals. And first one inquires whether this is in them by nature, from customary activity, or by instruction.

1. It seems that it is in them from customary activity. That which is perfected by habitual behavior is acquired by customary activity. But the cunning of animals is perfected in repetition, for the Philosopher says that young bees do not make honey well because they are not accustomed to doing so, and it is the same for a swallow's nest and the spider's web. Therefore, etc.

2. Moreover, a nobler effect follows a nobler cause. But the intellective power is more noble than the sensitive one and more noble than the other parts or powers of the soul. Since, then, the cunning acts of a human possessing intellect are not acquired without customary activity, it seems that the cunning of brute beasts will all the more be acquired by customary activity and not from nature.

To the contrary. According to the Philosopher in the third book of the Physics, nature does not habituate one to a contrary. But customary activity can be habituated to a contrary. Since it is natural for fire to rise upward, if there is no impediment above it, it therefore immediately rises upward naturally. But brute beasts are directed to one thing to such an extent that they are not habituated to the contrary. Therefore, they act naturally and not from custom.

Besides, whatever a person acquires as something medicinal and useful to him, he acquires from counsel. But brute beasts acquire medicines without counsel, as is clear in the deer and in many others. For the deer eats dracontea in order to give birth more easily, and the roebuck and the goat when wounded eat fleabane, so that the weapon piercing it may fall out more easily.[2] And a wounded bird seeks wild oregano for the same purpose, and a blinded serpent or one with weakened sight seeks fennel in order to be restored. And animals that desire to fight with serpents, like the weasel, either eat rue or roll around in it beforehand. And the leopard, if it should eat something poisonous, eats human feces and will then be healed. Since these animals were not instructed by others, it seems that these acts of cunning are present in them by nature.

To this one must reply that some acts of cunning are present in beasts naturally, and some by customary activity. For certain animals are teachable, like the elephant, the horse, the dog, the falcon, the bear, and others like these, and certain acts of cunning are present in such as these as a result of teaching and customary activity. But some animals are unteachable, like all those that lack hearing, and acts of cunning are naturally present in such as these. In truth the perfection of an operation is present in them from customary activity. As a result, in these it is necessary to consider two things: the first is industry for working, and this is present in them from birth; and the second is a perfection for working, and this is present in them by customary activity. This is why mature bees make honey better than young bees, owing to repetition. Thus, all animals with hearing are teachable, and for those lacking hearing the opposite is true, as is said in book one of the Metaphysics

1. From this a solution for the first argument is evident.

2. To the second, one should reply that the sensitive and vegetative souls are assimilated to nature owing to their materiality, and this is why, just as nature does not habituate one to contraries or opposites, thus neither will the sensitive and vegetative souls, since they are naturally ordered to one thing. But reason is capable of opposites, and this is why those things that are agreeable to some animals by nature are not established thus for the human, but he can habituate himself to these and their opposites. And that which the brute beast seeks by an instinct of nature the human can investigate through reason.

The arguments to the contrary ought to be conceded, because they reach the same conclusion.

Nevertheless, the causes of the things taken up in the second argument are these. Dracontea is warm and dry, and, owing to its warmth, it opens, and, owing to its dryness, it cleanses, and there is a great deal of menstrual moisture in the deer after conception, and this is why before giving birth it eats dracontea, so that through its warmth the pathways of the womb will be opened, and through its dryness these will be cleansed, and the superfluities, which would suffocate the fetus at the time of its birth, are consumed. And in this way it can give birth more easily.

Moreover, fleabane is effectively warm and moist. And this is why if an arrow pierces a goat, it eats fleabane, so that by means of its heat the wound will be opened and by means of its moisture the flesh will be softened once more. Once this has been accomplished, the arrow will fall out more quickly. And it does this by a natural instinct.

Moreover, oregano is warm and dry. And this is why, if it is eaten by a wounded animal, it cleanses the wounds, and things that are cleansed are more easily cured, and this is why wounded birds seek it.

Moreover, fennel clarifies vision. When, however, serpents have lain sheltered in caves for a long time, they have weak and impeded sight owing to the long period of inactivity during which superfluities gather in their eyes. And this is why, when they go out at the beginning of spring, they especially seek out fennel.

Besides this, the serpent is cold and moist, and as a result is very sensitive [passibilis]. Rue, however is warm and dry, and as a result it is opposed to the serpent's complexion and frequently kills it. And this is why those animals about to fight with serpents especially seek out rue and arm themselves with it.

Moreover, the odor of rue is especially overpowering, and the serpent's sense of smell is very sensitive because the nexus is weak,[3] and this is why, just as something visibly overpowering corrupts a person's sight, and a harsh or overpowering sound corrupts the hearing, so in this way does the odor of rue corrupt the serpent's sense of smell and stupefy it. And this is why rue is planted around beneficial herbs, because toads, serpents, and other venomous animals flee from it.

Moreover, the pard and the panther eat human feces after having eaten something poisonous, because human feces are especially choleric and the abundance of choler provokes diarrhea and, as a result, the purging of the poison. The wolf, however, to the contrary dies from eating this excrement. The reason for this is as follows. A person may take some things for use as medicine and others as food, and if the medicines are consumed as food they will be harmful, and vice versa. Now, then, the pard takes up this human superfluity as a medicine, and this is why, once the diarrhea has been provoked and the poison cast out, it ceases to eat it. But the wolf eats these superfluities as food, and therefore provokes excessive diarrhea, so much so that very often death befalls it. This is because it has very weak intestines, and thus the food is more quickly dissolved, and as a result death befalls it.

  • [1] "Customary activity" = consuetudo. Although awkward, the phrase attempts to preserve the author's contrast between characteristics or properties that are instinctive to nature, learned through instruction, or acquired from experience.
  • [2] Dracontea: dragon-wort or cuckoo pint, Arum maculatum. Cf. De veg. 6.290 and DA 23.21.98 with notes (SZ 2: 1614-15). For the claim that the wolf eats dracontea to sharpen its teeth, see QDA 8.14.
  • [3] This phrase, quia debilis nexus est, is found only in the MS designated T by the editor. Nexus normally indicates a connection and may refer poetically to a serpent's coils, but that does little to suggest a relevant meaning for the phrase in this context. It may refer to the interconnection of the animal's parts as at QDA 8.11-14 below, or it may be best to bracket the phrase as an intrusion.
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