Is Sex Hot or Cold? An Ancient Debate

While gathering evidence for my dissertation (early stages), I’ve been amassing a wealth of delightfully interesting passages. I’ve made the decision to start sharing some of these, Sententiae Antiquae style. Here goes nothing:

Hippocratic Corpus,​​ Epid.​​ 6.5.15 Smith:

Chilling hardens the region of the belly.​​ 

ψύξις τὰ​​ κατὰ​​ κοιλίην σκληρύνει.

ψύξις: Smith,​​ μίξις​​ Galenus et Littré

Hippocratic Corpus, Vict. 2.58, 182.7-10 Joly-Byl:

Sex is thinning and moistening and heating. It is heating because of the exercise and the secretion of moisture. It is thinning because of the draining. It is moistening because of the remnant in the body of the melting caused by exercise.

Λαγνείη ἰσχναίνει καὶ ὑγραίνει καὶ θερμαίνει· θερμαίνει μὲν διὰ τὸν πόνον καὶ τὴν ἀπόκρισιν τοῦ ὑγροῦ, ἰσχναίνει δὲ διὰ τὴν κένωσιν, ὑγραίνει δὲ διὰ τὸ ὑπολειπόμενον ἐν τῷ σώματι τῆς συντήξιος τῆς ὑπὸ τοῦ πόνου.

Aristotelian Corpus,​​ Prob.​​ 4.17, 878b.17-21​​ (trans. Mayhew​​ 2011, 161):​​ 

Why does sexual intercourse cool and dry the stomach? Does it cool it because heat is excreted during copulation? But copulation also dries: for evaporation takes place as the heat exits, and (the heat) escapes as (the stomach) is cooled. And further, the heat produced during intercourse dries.

Διὰ​​ τί​​ τὰ​​ ἀφροδίσια​​ τὴν​​ κοιλίαν​​ ψύχει​​ καὶ​​ ξηραίνει;​​ ἢ​​ ψύχει​​ μέν,​​ ὅτι​​ ἐκκρίνεται​​ τὸ​​ θερμὸν​​ ἐν​​ τῇ​​ μίξει;​​ ξηραίνει​​ δ᾿​​ ἡ​​ μῖξις·​​ ἐξατμίζεται​​ γὰρ​​ τοῦ​​ θερμοῦ​​ ἐξιόντος,​​ ἐξέρχεται​​ δὲ​​ ψυχομένου.​​ ἔτι​​ καὶ​​ ἡ​​ θερμότης​​ ἐν​​ τῇ​​ ὁμιλίᾳ​​ ξηραίνει.

Sabinus fr. 29d Raiola (< Palladius,​​ Comm.Epid.VI​​ 2.80.9-19 Dietz):​​ 

It is necessary to make mention of the honorable Sabinus. Having come across the words ‘is inflated’ (φυσᾶται) and ‘noise’ (ψόφος), he says that if someone begins sexual activity, many gasses are secreted during sexual activity. His account is that we are not accustomed to sexual activity in childhood, but in our prime. At that time, there is a renewal and one’s nature undergoes change. The body is heated by sexual activity. From the heat and the agitation (ταραχή), pneumata are loosened, which are carried downwards and make gasses. This is the exegesis of Sabinus, and it is not to be tossed aside.​​ 

δεῖ​​ δὲ​​ τοῦ​​ ἀστειοτέρου​​ ἀναμνῆσαι​​ Σαβίνου.​​ τοίνυν​​ εὑρηκὼς​​ τὸ​​ φυσᾶται​​ καὶ​​ τὸν​​ ψόφον,​​ τοῦτο​​ λέγει,​​ ὅτι​​ ἐάν​​ τις​​ ἄρξηται​​ ἀφροδισιάζειν,​​ ἐν​​ τοῖς​​ ἀφροδισίοις​​ φῦσαι​​ πολλαὶ​​ ἐκκρίνονται.​​ ἀποδίδωσι​​ δὲ​​ καὶ​​ λόγον,​​ ὅτι​​ ἐν​​ τῇ​​ παιδικῇ​​ ἡλικίᾳ​​ οὐκ​​ εἰώθαμεν​​ ἀφροδισιάζειν,​​ ἀλλ’​​ ἐν​​ τῇ​​ ἀκμαστικῇ.​​ τότε​​ οὖν​​ καινοτομεῖται​​ καὶ​​ ξενισμὸν​​ ὑπομένει​​ ἡ​​ φύσις·​​ ἀπὸ​​ δὲ​​ τῶν​​ ἀφροδισίων​​ θερμαίνεται​​ τὸ​​ σῶμα·​​ ἀπὸ​​ τῆς​​ θέρμης​​ οὖν​​ καὶ​​ τῆς​​ ταραχῆς​​ διαλύεται​​ πνεύματα,​​ ἃ​​ φέρεται​​ ἐπὶ​​ τὰ​​ κάτω,​​ καὶ​​ ποιεῖ​​ φύσας.​​ αὕτη​​ μὲν​​ οὖν​​ ἡ​​ Σαβίνου​​ ἐξήγησις,​​ καὶ​​ οὐκ​​ ἀπόβλητος.

4​​ φῦσαι:​​ correxit​​ Raiola,​​ φύσαι Dietz

Galen, Comm.Epid.VI 5.23, 17b.284.5-10K = 301.14-18 Wenkebach-Pfaff

You all have learned that sex is drying, just like sleeplessness, because of the further dispersing of the humors. But sex heats the body of those who are strong in their capacity, whereas for those who are weak it heats at first but afterwards cools strongly. 

μεμαθήκατε γὰρ ὅτι λαγνεία ξηραίνει, καθάπερ ἀγρυπνία, διὰ τὸ διαφορεῖν ἐπὶ πλέον τοὺϲ χυμούϲ. ἀλλὰ καὶ θερμαίνει τὸ ϲῶμα τοῖϲ ἐρρωμένην ἔχουϲι τὴν δύναμιν ἡ λαγνεία, τοῖϲ δ’ ἀϲθενέϲιν ἐν μὲν τῷ παραχρῆμα θερμαίνει, ψύχει δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα γενναίωϲ.

Galen, San.Tuen. 3.11, 6.222 K = 98 Koch (trans. Johnston slightly mod.)

Those who regard apotherapia as worthwhile, as in those fatigued from toil, are anticipating the dissipation of the capacity and dryness of the body. For, we suffer both of these immediately after sexual activity and excessive exercise. [ . . .] Both sides will agree it is necessary to strengthen the capacity and condense the looseness but not increase the dryness.

οἱ μὲν οὖν ἀποθεραπεύειν ἀξιοῦντεϲ, ὥϲπερ τοὺϲ ἀπὸ καμάτου, τήν τε κατάλυϲιν τῆϲ δυνάμεωϲ ὑφορῶνται καὶ τὴν ξηρότητα τοῦ ϲώματοϲ (ἄμφω γὰρ ταῦτα πάϲχομεν ἐπ’ ἀφροδιϲίοιϲ τε καὶ πλήθει τῶν γυμναϲίων) [. . .] ὅτι μὲν γὰρ ἀναρρῶϲαί τε χρὴ τὴν δύναμιν καὶ ϲφίγξαι τὴν ἀραιότητα καὶ μὴ παραυξῆϲαι τὴν ξηρότητα, ϲυγχωρήϲουϲιν ἑκάτεροι.

Galen, Comm.Epid.VI 5.26, 305.22-306.8 Wenkebach-Pfaff, based on German trans. of the Arabic  

I therefore praise Capito and Dioscorides because they have firmly helped out. They have written the following words: “During diseases which are in the process of growing, sex makes the body cold.” In accordance with this reading, the saying is not faulty and garbled, as is the case with the first reading. Also, with most of the diseases that we have mentioned, the consummation of sexual activity makes the body cold, and this is correct apart from the case of epilepsy, which affects children. In the case of this disease it is appropriate to say that what helps such a patient is not sex, but rather the passing of age, even without sex. We certainly see the passing of age helping in this case. It seems then that both claims are correct, namely, that as sex is drying it is cooling.

Galen, Comm.Epid.VI 5.27, 17b.295.1-10K = 309.9-16 Wenkebach-Pfaff + Lukus of Macedon (?) based on the German trans. of the Arabic:

“Copulation hardens the region of the belly” [Epid. 6.5.15].That sex dries the entire body is one of the agreed upon points. However, residues do not always appear to dry the region of the belly, but whenever it is greatly weighed down by them due to the ruin of function and chilling of the parts by which nourishment is concocted and distributed to the region of the belly. < . . . > “Copulation chills and hardens the region of the belly.” < . . . > For, they want the chilling of the region of the belly to be caused by copulation, and the dryness by the chilling, even though we demonstrated that it (sc. dryness?) does not happen via chilling but via hardening.

(Lukus ap. Gal. arab.): I have already said that most interpreters only know the reading whose interpretation just preceded, and this is the following: ‘The cold makes the body hard.” The reading, which we now put forward as having ‘sex’ in place of ‘cold’, Lukus explained as follows: “This saying is right and true. For, we have watched it and observed it as so.” Yet, despite his lengthy remarks in front of many people, Lukus could not discredit the interpretation which we brought forth. He could not even specify the reason why sex makes the body dry, but instead he simply explained it is clear that the matter is so. Thus he made the mistake of relying on observations and experience without any qualification.

Μίξιϲ τὰ κατὰ τὴν γαϲτέρα ϲκληρύνει. ὅτι μὲν ἡ λαγνεία ξηραίνει τὸ ϲύμπαν ϲῶμα, τῶν ὁμολογουμένων ἐϲτίν. οὐ μὴν ἀεί γε τὰ κατὰ τὴν κοιλίαν περιττώματα φαίνεται ξηραίνειν, ἀλλ’ ὅταν μεγάλωϲ ὑπ’ αὐτῶν βαρυνθῇ διὰ τὴν κατάλυϲίν τε τῆϲ δυνάμεωϲ καὶ ψῦξιν τῶν μορίων, ὑφ’ ὧν ἡ τροφὴ πέττεται καὶ ἀναδίδοται τὰ κατὰ τὴν κοιλίαν. *** “μίξιϲ τὰ κατὰ τὴν κοιλίαν ψύχει καὶ ϲκληρύνει.” *** βούλονται μὲν γὰρ ὑπὸ τῆϲ μίξεωϲ τὴν ψῦξιν γίνεϲθαι τῶν κατὰ τὴν κοιλίαν, ὑπὸ δὲ τῆϲ ψύξεωϲ τὴν ξηρότητα, καίτοι μὴ γινομένην τῷ λόγῳ τῆϲ ψύξεωϲ ἐδείξαμεν, ἀλλὰ τῷ τῆϲ ϲκληρότητοϲ.

13 lacunam ante μίξιϲ posuit Wenkebach   14 etiam post ϲκληρύνει lacunam posuit Wenkebach ex interpr. arab.

Oribasius, Eun. 1.13.5, 329.28-31 Raeder (cf. Gal. San.Tuen. 3.11):

Since the body becomes looser, colder, drier, and weaker from sexual activity, it is necessary to prescribe things that are clearly contracting, heating, moistening, and strengthening.

ἐπεὶ δ’ ἐξ ἀφροδισίων ἀραιότερόν τε καὶ ψυχρότερον καὶ ξηρότερον καὶ ἀσθενέστερον γίνεται τὸ σῶμα, τὰ πυκνοῦντα δηλονότι καὶ θερμαίνοντα καὶ ὑγραίνοντα καὶ ῥωννύντα δεῖ προσάγεσθαι.

Palladius,​​ Comm.Epid.VI​​ 2.143.28-144.3​​ Dietz:

But we ought to examine what sort of quality sexual activity instills. All declare unanimously that it is drying. For,​​ seed is secreted at that time, the emptying of which then makes dryness. As for the other controversy: some people say that sexual activity is heating, and others that it is cooling. Those that claim it is heating say that​​ diffusion occurs at some point, and swelling is found in the face, and often an opening of the vessel with total heat. Those that claim​​ it is cooling say that chilling​​ accompanies the seed and the vital pneuma draining.​​ ​​  ​​​​ 

ἀλλ’​​ ὀφείλομεν​​ ζητεῖν​​ ποίαν​​ ποιότητα​​ ἐντιθέασι​​ τὰ​​ ἀφροδίσια.​​ πάντες​​ οὖν​​ ἐξ​​ ἑνὸς​​ στόματος​​ ἀπεφήναντο,​​ ὅτι​​ ξηραίνουσι.​​ σπέρμα​​ γὰρ​​ τότε​​ ἐκκρίνεται,​​ οὗ​​ ἡ​​ κένωσις​​ τότε​​ ξηρότητα​​ ποιεῖ.​​ περὶ​​ δὲ​​ τῆς​​ ἑτέρας​​ ἀντιθέσεως​​ οἱ​​ μὲν​​ εἶπον​​ ὅτι​​ θερμαίνουσιν,​​ οἱ​​ δὲ​​ ψύχουσι.​​ καὶ​​ οἱ​​ λέγοντες​​ ὅτι​​ τάδε​​ θερμαίνουσι,​​ τάδε​​ φασὶν,​​ ὅτι​​ χύσις​​ ποτὲ​​ γίνεται,​​ ὄγκος​​ εὑρέθη​​ ἐν​​ τῷ​​ προσώπῳ,​​ καὶ​​ πολλάκις​​ ἀναστόμωσις​​ ἀγγείου​​ ἀπαντᾷ​​ τῇ​​ θερμασίᾳ.​​ οἱ​​ δὲ​​ λέγοντες​​ ὅτι​​ ψύχουσι,​​ φασὶν​​ ὅτι​​ σὺν​​ τῷ​​ σπέρματι​​ καὶ​​ ζωτικὸν​​ πνεῦμα​​ κενούμενον​​ ψύξις​​ ἀκολουθεῖ.​​ 

John of Alexandria, Comm.Epid.VI 29, 82.24-31 Duffy:

This copulation is in dispute as to whether it is heating or cooling. It has been agreed among all that it is drying, since secretion of the seed occurs and dispersion of vital tone. What, then, do we say? That it is both heating and cooling, but heating in respect to quality. Hence, we see that following this movement and agitation the body becomes warmer and sharper. And thereafter blood is secreted. But in respect to essence it is cooling, owing to the excretion of both the vital tone and the seed, as well as much dissipation.

αὕτη δὲ ἡ μίξις ἀμφιβάλλεται μέν, εἴτε θερμαίνει ἢ ψύχει, παρὰ πᾶσι δὲ ὡμολόγηται, ὅτι ξηραίνει, εἴ γε καὶ σπέρματος ἔκκρισις γίνεται καὶ ζωτικοῦ τόνου διαφόρησις. τί οὖν λέγομεν; ὅτι καὶ θερμαίνει καὶ ψύχει, ἀλλὰ κατὰ ποιότητα θερμαίνει. ὅθεν ὁρῶμεν, ὅτι ἐπὶ τῇ κινήσει ταύτῃ καὶ ἐπὶ τῷ βρασμῷ θερμότερον γίνεται τὸ σῶμα καὶ δριμύτερον· ἐντεῦθεν καὶ αἷμα ἐκκρίνεται. κατ’ οὐσίαν δὲ ψύχει τῇ ἐκκρίσει τοῦ τε ζωτικοῦ τόνου καὶ τοῦ σπέρματος καὶ τῇ πολλῇ διαφορήσει.