Digital imaging and history of medicine
ATLOMY Project: Orly Lewis, Yael Baron, Dmitry Ezrohi, Yotam Giladi, Shay Hermon, Nir Propper, Marco Vespa
and funded by the European Research Committee, GA 852550.
For Aristotle, the guts or the intestines were a place of marvelous change, crucial for all living organisms. Somewhere along the intestinal tract, between the stomach above and the colon below, food will make its first step in a long process that Aristotle dubbed “cooking” (pepsis). During this process, food will gradually assimilate into the body. First, it will become blood in the heart, then this blood, coursing through a complex system of vessels and tubes, will reach the different body parts and be absorbed into them. Blood, according to Aristotle, is the final form food takes upon itself before turning into a wide variety of tissues – flesh, bone, fat, and others. Instead of blood carrying essentials, like oxygen, to the different tissues, the blood itself is their foodstuff. Aristotle describes how in the intestines, the food makes its first qualitative leap in this long process. The heat of the stomach and intestines forces the liquid mass of food to separate into two substances – a thick vapor that will continue its way to become viscous blood and a heavier mass of waste which will be excreted from the body. In many ways, this process resembles the separation of cooked milk into whey and curd.
Nutrition stands at the nexus of organic life in Aristotle’s thinking. The ability to assimilate food into the body is what distinguishes the animate from the inanimate. So, when Aristotle inquires into the nature of the biological and even ethical and political lives of organisms, his inquiry assumes that they all share a process that happens in an anatomical system which includes some form of guts. This context is lost when we skim through this text unaided. By providing the reader with a three-dimensional model of the anatomical system Aristotle has in mind, something of the original context is regained. This ability to trace Aristotle’s description in space and not only with the mind’s eye is crucial for any engagement with the Aristotelian text. Aristotle’s inquiries were, for the most part, about embodied organisms whose spatiality and three-dimensionality are lost to us. This model and the project for which it stands are a step towards a better contextualization of Aristotle and the Greco-Roman culture in general.