Aristotle account of the heart

Aristotle’s description of phenomena in the living world, in particular animal anatomy and the causes of natural processes in the body, were far more advanced than that of his predecessors. His value of empirical research aided and ultimately enabled him to study a variety of natural phenomena. In this paper, I will focus on Aristotle’s account of the anatomy of the heart and its relation with a network of other organs (modernly known as the cardio vascular system) such as the veins and arteries and their relation to the respiratory functions of organisms.

The cardio vascular model that Aristotle describes in works such as The History of Animals and The Parts of Animals can be regarded as one of the earliest and most accurate representation of the cardio vascular system that continues to be used in many fields of study. Aristotle’s cardio vascular model and history will be discussed with emphasis on his claim that the human heart has three ventricles.

His detailed descriptions of the morphology of the right atrium in addition to three distinct heart cavities corresponding to the left atrium and right and left ventricles helped shape the belief that the vasculature had its starting point in the heart and was distributed all over the body. In addition, Aristotle’s account of the respiratory system will also be discussed with respect to his conception of the cardiovascular system. The detailed observations and experiments that Aristotle conducted on the human heart and related organs have greatly influenced the development of anatomy.

Aristotle came to the conclusion that the human heart had three ventricles and this assertion has been the focus of much debate over the possibility of its various interpretations and meanings. In his work The History of Animals he states that the heart has three cavities, and it lies above the lung at the point where the windpipe divides into two, and has a fat or thick membrane at the place where it is attached to the Great Blood-vessel and the Aorta (????? ). And it lies with its pointed end upon the Aorta. This end of it lies towards the chest in all animals which have a chest (HA 1.17, tr. Thompson).

There have been a variety of views both ancient and modern that have interpreted Aristotle’s conclusion as either wrong, inaccurate, and possibly right if the terminology and methodological perspective is further researched and analyzed. Some of the more notable assertions made in regard to this matter include those made by Richard and Stella Van Praagh in their article “Aristotle’s Triventricular Heart: And The Relevant Early History of The Cardiovascular System” in which they argue that Aristotle’s conclusions were quite accurate.

First off, Van Praagh and Van Praagh argue that Aristotle used the term “cavities” and not “ventricles” (which is the word that formed the basis of argumentation for many prominent figures in medicine and biology such as Claudius Galen, Andreas Vesalius and Jean Senac), therefore the primary focus on Aristotle’s mistakenness was due to the misinterpretation of the two words. The Praaghs argue that when describing the heart, Aristotle meant cavity instead of ventricles for two reasons: the atria, which is a structure of the heart, had not yet been distinguished from the ventricles, but all cardiac chambers were referred to as cavities.

The right atrium was not recognized as being a part of the heart but rather as an important vein (Van Praagh and Van Praagh 465). Van Praagh and Van Praagh go on to confirm Aristotle’s conclusions by mentioning the morphological anatomic identities of Aristotle’s three cavities. In a modern sense they can be comprehended in the following way: Aristotle claimed that the right cavity is the largest and connects with the “great vein and the lungs.

” Van Praagh and Van Praagh state that Aristotle’s description of the right cavity is the morphologically right ventricle it is said to be right-sided and the largest cardiac chamber, and it connects with the lungs via the pulmonary artery and with the great blood vessel. Aristotle notes that the middle cavity is medium in size and connects to the aorta & lungs, Van Praagh and Van Praagh confirm this because his left cavity is the (morphologically) left ventricle because it connects to the aorta; Aristotle also claimed that the left cavity is the smallest, and that it too connected with the lungs.

Van Praagh and Van Praagh mention that his left cavity is in fact the (morphologically) left atrium whose appendage lies to the left of the left ventricle and also connects to the lungs “via pulmonary veins” (Praagh 465). This goes to show that Aristotle’s ancient observations and conclusion that heart has three ventricles is accurate if compared to the modern day understanding of the heart’s components. Aristotle took into account a variety of factors when exploring the heart along with the related components (such as the veins and arteries) that put him at the forefront of revolutionizing the understanding of anatomy.

Specifically, the methodologies of Aristotle’s research lead him to emphasize the idea of differences. Aristotle seemed to have taken a careful approach when analyzing the observed data at hand by acknowledging the factors that had or could have caused discrepancies in the observations of the cardio vascular system . “for in dead animals the nature of the principle veins is obscure, for they collapse as soon as the blood has escaped, and it pours out of them as from a vessel” (HA III.2 trans. R Cresswell).

Aristotle explains how the type of death given to an animal before dissecting may impact the shape, form, look of internal organs. He adds that this is the reason why “it is impossible to understand them (veins) unless a person will examine animals which, after emaciation, have been killed by strangulation” (HA III. 3. 1 trans. R Cresswell). In a review named “The Aristotelian Account of ‘Heart and Veins’” M. M.

Shoja remarks that “If strangulation was the case, the vena cava and the right ventricle might have been dilated being full of dark blood while the left atrium and ventricle had been drained into the distensible veins [1,4]. This potentially could lead to the impression of a great vein as well as a large right cavity, in contrast to the medium-sized middle chamber and small left cavity” (M. M. Shoja 309). This sort of methodology is what may implicate that Aristotle did comprehend the function of a heart as a means by which blood quantities were distributed and how they differed in parts of the body.

Furthermore this may have served as another reason why Aristotle believed that the heart only had three cavities because during that time the right atrium was not considered as a part of the heart but rather as a dilated vein connected to the superior vena cava. “Aristotle had no notion of blood circulation in the modern sense [4]. In his model, the heart only generates blood, which is conveyed to the periphery by two blood vessels in a way analogous to irrigation channels” (M. M. Shoja 310).

Despite not having understood blood circulation on the modern sense, broadly speaking, Aristotle provided the ideas and foundations necessary in order to further and develop the understanding of the processes that take place in the body, in particular that of blood circulation. Aside from his exploration of the heart’s anatomy, Aristotle also dedicated research to the exploration of blood vessels and their functions. In their article “A Portrait of Aristotle as an Anatomist: Historical Article”, Enrico Crivellato and Domenico Ribatti, mention that Aristotle referred to blood vessels as “phlebes,” this is what he labeled the major vessels that pulsated also known as arteries (Crivellato & Ribatti 480).

Aristotle was on the right path to defining the vascular system; he used the term “arteria” as to shed light on the idea of a wind pipe or something designated for the passage of air and he also recognized that there were two types of vascular channels, “one made up of larger and membranous vessels (the veins), and the other constituted by narrower and more sinewy vessels (the arteries)” (Crivellato & Ribatti 480).

Aristotle believed that the vasculature had its starting point in the heart and was distributed all over the body (PA 3. 5 668a). He had an understanding of a process that transferred blood due to his observation and acknowledgement of major components involved with blood transportation and the overall cardiovascular system such as the superior vena cava, inferior vena cava (which Aristotle refers to as the great blood vessel or the aorta which is depicted in the diagram I have provide on pg. 3).

More importantly, Aristotle claimed that the cavities of the heart were all connected to the lung via passages, he states “all of these (right, middle, and left cavity of the heart) are perforated towards the lungs, but imperceptibly so from the minuteness of the passage” (HA III. 3. 2-3 trans. R. Cresswell). This is an important distinction to make from his observations due to the influence that the heart and lung’s relation had on Aristotle’s account of respiration, and its relation to the cardio vascular system.

Despite Aristotle’s comprehension and exploration of the heart and blood vessel he did not develop a formal distinction between arteries and veins in fact according to Crivillato & Ribatti the formal distinction of the two would come later from works presented by Praxagoras (480). His exploration of the heart and blood vessels soon paved the way to his overall comprehension of the interconnection between the cardio vascular system and the respiratory system.

Aristotle took note of some major components involved in what modern day terms would deem to be the respiratory system. Aristotle took note of the nose as the means by which the body managed the passage of breadth, he states “inhaling and exhaling is into the chest and without the nostrils it is impossible to inhale or exhale, for inhaling and exhaling is from the breast by the windpipe and not from any part of the head (HA I. 9 4). The trachea (windpipe) is the component that connects the pharynx and larynx to the lungs; this in turn allows the lung to take up air.

On the note of air, Aristotle believed that the significance of the lung was to consent the organism to breath, thus allowing refrigeration of the body (De resp. 22 478a25). In addition Aristotle described the heart as being a large spongy organ containing blood within the blood vessel that ran through it he states “the lung is sponge-like and filled with tubes, and of all the so-called viscera this part is the most filled with blood. ” (Resp. 478a12-14).

Given that Aristotle believed that the heart was the primary component in the blood present in organisms, one can see how he adopted the idea that the heart and lung were in fact connected through the various blood vessels and veins. In his essay “Aristotle On Respiration: the Origins of Functional Anatomy” Lennox states “since Aristotle has no concept of a circulatory system and thus of a functional difference between our ‘arterial’ and ‘venous’ systems, I suppose he would be referring to both the network of blood vessels stemming from the pulmonary artery and those leading to the pulmonary vein” (pg.21,ftn 28).

Furthermore he adds that “his functional anatomy has established that, in animals with lungs, there is a system of blood vessels within the lung, originating in the heart, that allows the blood in the lung to be contiguous with a system of tubes, originating in the windpipe, that transport breath to and from the lungs” from this we can conclude that Aristotle may have unintentionally postulated a system that was yet to be developed with respect to the respiratory system’s dependence on the cardiovascular system and vice versa.

In conclusion, the descriptions that Aristotle provided on phenomena and natural processes have profoundly influenced the development of many branches of science. His exploration and notes of anatomy, in particular those of the heart and cardiovascular system have till this day proven to be the foundation to the development of anatomy. Works Consulted Aristotle, De Partibus Animalium (On the Parts of Animals), tr. W. Ogle. eBooks@Adelaide.

http://ebooks. adelaide. html Aristotle, On Breathing, tr. by G. R. T. Ross. eBooks@Adelaide Aristotle, Historia Animalium (The History of Animals), tr. D. W. Thompson. eBooks@Adelaide http://ebooks. adelaide. edu. au/a/aristotle/history/index. html Aristotle, Historia Animlium (The History of Animals), transl R. Cresswell. London, 1878 Crivellato, Enrico, and Domenico Ribatti. “A Portrait of Aristotle as an Anatomist: Historical Article. ” Clinical Anatomy 20. 5 (2007): 447-485. Print.

J. G Lennox, “Aristotle On Respiration: the Origins of Functional Anatomy,” History and Philosophy of science, Pittsburgh Huxley, On Certain Errors Respecting the Structure of the Heart Attributed to Aristotle, Nature Vol. XXI. No. 523 Nature Publishing Group. 1879 Loukas, Marios, R. Shane Tubbs, Robert G. Louis Jr. , Jeremy Pinyard, Sumreen Vaid, and Brian Curry. “The Cardiovascular System In The Pre-Hippocratic Era. ” International Journal of Cardiology 120. 2 (2007): 145-149. Print.

Praagh, Richard Van, and Stella Praagh. “Aristotle’s Triventricular Heart and the Relevant Early History of the Cardiovascular System. ” Medical History 4 (1983): 462-468. Chestnet. Web. 7 Nov. 2013. Nutton, Vivian. “From Plato to Praxagoras. ” Ancient Medicine. New York : Routledge , 2004. 115-127. Print. Shoja, Mohammadali M. , R. Shane Tubbs, Marios Loukas, and Mohammad R. Ardalan. “The Aristotelian Account of Heart And Veins. ” International Journal of Cardiology 125. 3 (2008): 304-310. Print.

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