Sir Thomas Browne (1646; 6th ed., 1672) Pseudodoxia Epidemica III:xvii (pp. 162-166)

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Chap. XVII.

Of Hares.

THE double sex of single Hares, or that every Hare is both male and female, beside the vulgar opinion, was the affirmative of Archelaus, of Plutarch, Philostratus, and many more.[1] Of the same belief have been the Jewish Rabbins: The same is likewise confirmed from the Hebrew word;2 which, as though there were no single males of that kind, hath only obtained a name of the feminine gender.[3] As also from the symbolical foundation of its prohibition in the law,4 and what vices therein are figured; that is, not only pusillanimity and timidity from its temper, feneration or usury from its foecundity and superfetation; but from this mixture of sexes, unnatural venery and degenerous effemination. Nor are there hardly any who either treat of mutation or mixtion of sexes, who have not left some mention of this point; some speaking positively, others dubiously, and most resigning it unto the enquiry of the Reader. Now hereof to speak distinctly, they must be male and female by mutation and succession of sexes; or else by composition, mixture or union thereof.

As for the mutation of sexes, or transition into one another, we cannot deny it in Hares, it being observable in Man. For hereof beside Empedocles or Tiresias there are not a few examples: and though very few, or rather none which have emasculated or turned women, yet very many who from an esteem or reality of being Women have infallibly proved Men.[5] Some at the first point of their menstruous eruptions, some in the day of their marriage, others many years after: which occasioned disputes at Law, and contestations concerning a restore of the dowry. And that not only mankind, but many other Animals may suffer this transexion, we will not deny, or hold it at all impossible: although I confess by reason of the postick and backward position of the feminine part in quardrupedes, they can hardly admit the substitution of a protrusion, effectual unto masculine generation; except it be in Retromingents, and such as couple backward.

Nor shall we only concede the succession of sexes in some, but shall not dispute the transition of reputed species in others; that is, a transmutation, or (as Paracelsians term it) Transplantation of one into another. Hereof in perfect Animals of a congenerous seed, or near affinity of natures, examples are not unfrequent, as in Horses, Asses, Dogs, Foxes, Pheasants, Cocks, &c. but in imperfect kinds, and such where the discrimination of sexes is obscure, these transformations are more common: and in some within themselves without commixtion, as particularly, in Caterpillars or Silkworms, wherein there is a visible and triple transfiguration. But in Plants, wherein there is no distinction of sex, these transplantations are conceived more obvious then any: as that of Barley into Oats, of Wheat into Darnel; and those grains which generally arise among Corn, as Cockle, Aracus, Ægilops, and other degenerations; which come up in unexpected shapes, when they want the support and maintenance of the primary and master-forms. And the same do some affirm concerning other Plants in less analogy of figures: as the mutation of Mint into Cresses, Basil into Serpoile,[6] and Turneps into Radishes. In all which, as Severinus conceiveth,7 there may be equivocal seeds and Hermaphroditical principles, which contain the radicality and power of different forms; thus in the seed of Wheat there lieth obscurely the seminality of Darnel, although in a secondary or inferiour way, and at some distance of production; which nevertheless if it meet with convenient promotion, or a conflux and conspiration of causes more powerful then the other; it then beginneth to edifie in chief, and contemning the superintendent form, produceth the signatures of it self.

Now therefore although we deny not these several mutations, and do allow that Hares may exchange their sex,[8] yet this we conceive doth come to pass but sometimes, and not in that vicissitude or annual alteration as is presumed. That is, from imperfection to perfection, from perfection to imperfection; from female unto male, from male to female again, and so in a circle to both without a permansion in either. For beside the inconceivable mutation of temper, which should yearly alternate the sex; this is injurious unto the order of nature, whose operations do rest in the perfection of their intents; which having once attained, they maintain their accomplished ends, and relapse not again into their progressional imperfections. So if in the minority of natural vigor, the parts of seminality take place; when upon encrease or growth thereof the masculine appear, the first design of nature is atchieved, and those parts are after maintained.

But surely it much impeacheth this iterated transection of Hares, if that be true which Cardan and other Physicians affirm, that Transmutation of sex is only so in opinion; and that these transfeminated persons were really men at first; although succeeding years produced the manifesto or evidence of their virilities. Which although intended and formed, was not at first excluded: and that the examples hereof have undergone no real or new transection, but were Androgynally born, and under some kind of Hermaphrodites. For though Galen do favour the opinion, that the distinctive parts of sexes are only different in Position, that is, inversion or protrusion; yet will this hardly be made out from the Anatomy of those parts. The testicles being so seated in the female, that they admit not of protrusion; and the neck of the matrix wanting those parts which are discoverable in the organs of virility.

The second and most received acception, is, that Hares are male and female by conjunction of both sexes; and such as are found in mankind, Poetically called Hermaphrodites; supposed to be formed from the equality, or non victorie of either seed; carrying about them the parts of Man and Woman; although with great variety in perfection, site, and ability; not only as Aristotle conceived, with a constant impotency in one;[9] but as later observers affirm, sometimes with the ability of either venery. And therefore the providence of some Laws have thought good, that at the years of maturity they should elect one sex, and the errors in the other should suffer a severer punishment. Whereby endeavouring to prevent incontinency, they unawares enjoyned perpetual chastity; for being executive in both parts, and confined unto one, they restrained a natural power, and ordained a partial virginity. Plato and some of the Rabbins proceeded higher; who conceived the first Man an Hermaphrodite;[10] and Marcus Leo the learned Jew, in some sense hath allowed it; affirming that Adam in one suppositum without division, contained both Male and Female.[11] And therefore whereas it is said in the text, That God created man in his own Image, in the Image of God created he him, male and female created he them;[12] applying the singular and plural unto Adam, it might denote, that in one substance, and in himself he included both sexes, which was after divided, and the female called Woman. The opinion of Aristotle extendeth farther, from whose assertion all men should be Hermaphrodites; for affirming that Women do not spermatize, and confer a place or receptacle rather then essential principles of generation, he deductively includes both sexes in mankind; for from the father proceed not only males and females, but from him also must Hermaphroditical and masculo-feminine generations be derived, and a commixtion of both sexes arise from the seed of one.[13] But the Schoolmen have dealt with that sex more hardly then any other; who though they have not much disputed their generation, yet have they controverted their Resurrection, and raisen a querie, whether any at the last day should arise in the sex of Women; as may be observed in the supplement of Aquinas.[14]

Now as we must acknowledge this Androgynal15 condition in Man, so can we not deny the like doth happen in beasts. Thus do we read in Pliny,[16] that Neroes Chariot was drawn by four Hermaphroditical Mares, and Cardan affirms he also beheld one at Antwerp.[17] And thus may we also concede, that Hares have been of both sexes, and some have ocularly confirmed it; but that the whole species or kind should be bisexuous or double-sexed, we cannot affirm, who have found the parts of male and female respectively distinct and single in any wherein we have enquired: and the like success had Bacchinus18 in such as he dissected. And whereas it is conceived that being an harmless Animal and delectable food unto man, nature hath made them with double sexes, that actively and passively performing they might more numerously increase; we forget an higher providence of nature whereby she especially promotes the multiplication of Hares, which is by superfetation; that is, a conception upon a conception, or an improvement of a second fruit before the first be excluded; preventing hereby the usual intermission and vacant time of generation; which is very common and frequently observable in Hares, mentioned long ago by Aristotle, Herodotus, and Pliny;[19] and we have often observed, that after the first cast, there remain successive conceptions, and other younglings very immature, and far from their term of exclusion.

Nor need any man to question this in Hares, for the same we observe doth sometime happen in Women; for although it be true, that upon conception the inward orifice of the matrix exactly closeth, so that it commonly admitteth nothing after; yet falleth it out sometime, that in the act of coition, the avidity of that part dilateth it selfe, and receiveth a second burden; which if it happen to be near in time unto the first, they do commonly both proceed unto perfection, and have legitimate exclusions, periodically succeeding each other. But if the superfetation be made with considerable intermission, the latter most commonly proves abortive; for the first being confirmed, engrosseth the aliment from the other. How ever therefore the project of Julia,[20] seem very plausible, and that way infallible, when she received not her passengers, before she had taken in her lading, yet was there a fallibility therein: nor indeed any absolute security in the policy of adultery after conception. For the Matrix (which some have called another Animal within us, and which is not subjected unto the law of our will) after reception of its proper Tenant, may yet receive a strange and spurious inmate. As is confirmable by many examples in Pliny; by Larissæa in Hippocrates and that merry one in Plautus urged also by Aristotle: that is, of Iphicles and Hercules, the one begat by Jupiter, the other by Amphitryon upon Alcmæna as also in those super-conceptions, where one child was like the father, the other like the adulterer, the one favoured the servant, the other resembled the master.[21]

Now the grounds that begat, or much promoted the opinion of a double sex in Hares, might be some little bags or tumours, at first glance representing stones or Testicles, to be found in both sexes about the parts of generation; which men observing in either sex, were induced to believe a masculine sex in both. But to speak properly, these are no Testicles or parts official unto generation, but glandulous substances that seem to hold the nature of Emunctories. For herein may be perceived slender perforations, at which may be expressed a black and foeculent matter. If therefore from these we shall conceive a mixtion of sexes in Hares, with fairer reason we may conclude it in Bevers; whereof both sexes contain a double bag or Tumour in the groin, commonly called the Cod or Castor, as we have delivered before.[22]

Another ground were certain holes or cavities observable about the siedge; which being perceived in Males, made some conceive thee might be also a foeminine nature in them. And upon this very ground, the same opinion hath passed upon they Hyæna, and is declared by Aristotle, and thus translated by Scaliger;[23] Quod autem aiunt utriusque sexus habere genitalia, falsum est, quod videtur esse foemineum sub cauda est simile figura foeminino, verum pervium non est; and thus is it also in Hares, in whom these holes, although they seem to make a deep cavity, yet do they not perforate the skin, nor hold a community with any part of generation: but were (as Pliny delivereth), esteemed the marks of their age, the number of those deciding their number of years.[24] In which opinion what truth there is we shall not contend; for if in other Animals there be authentick notations, if the characters of years be found in the horns of Cows, or in the Antlers of Deer; if we conjecture the age of Horses from joints in their docks, and undeniably presume it from their teeth; we cannot affirm, there is in this conceit, any affront unto nature; although who ever enquireth shall find no assurance therein.

The last foundation was Retromingency or pissing backward;[25] for men observing both sexes to urine backward, or aversly between their legs, they might conceive there was a foeminine part in both; wherein they are deceived by the ignorance of the just and proper site of the Pizzel, or part designed unto the Excretion of urine; which in the Hare holds not the common position, but is aversly seated, and in its distension enclines unto the Coccix or Scut. Now from the nature of this position, there ensueth a necessity of Retrocopulation,[26] which also promoteth the conceit: for some observing them to couple without ascension, have not been able to judge of male or female, or to determine the proper sex in either. And to speak generally, this way of copulation is not appropriate unto Hares, nor is there one, but many ways of coition: according to divers shapes and different conformations. For some couple laterally or sidewise, as Worms: some circularly or by complication, as Serpents; some pronely, that is, by contaction of the ventral parts in both, as Apes, Porcupines, Hedgehogs, and such as are termed Mollia, as the Cuttle-fish and the Purple; some mixtly, that is, the male ascending the female, or by application of the ventral parts of the one, unto the postick parts of the other, as most Quadrupeds: Some aversly, as all Crustaceous Animals, Lobsters, Shrimps, and Crevises, and also Retromingents, as Panthers, Tygers, and Hares.[27] This is the constant Law of their Coition, this they observe and transgress not: onely the vitiosity of man hath acted the varieties hereof; nor content with a digression from sex or species, hath in his own kind run thorow the Anomalies of venery; and been so bold, not only to act, but represent to view, the irregular wayes of Lust.[28]



*My (or others') notes are in [brackets]; additional material by Browne from manuscripts or previous editions is in {braces}; Browne's original marginalia are not specially marked. Ross briefly and unconvincingly defends the ancients on this question, Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chap. 10.

1 [Not in the surviving Greek fragments of Archelaus (where, according to the TLG, the word hare does not occur); but Pliny reports it, HN VIII(218) (englished by Holland, VII, chap. LV, p. 232). Plutarch mentions the superfetation of hares (De vitando aereo aliendo, 830c; Englished by Holland, "Against taking money at interest", in Moralia (1603, p. 285): "It is reported of hares that at one time they suckle young leverets and be ready to kinnule others that be in their bellies, and withall to conceive a fresh" (but usurers are worse in spreading debt). He mentions the hare as being "unclean and impure" to the Jews, and several times as a sign that the defenders of a town are lazy, but has nothing to say about their changing sex. Philostratus, Imagines]

2 Arnabeth. [Usually transcribed Arnebeth.]

3 [A question that much vexed commentators. Cf. Bochart Hierozoicon, III:XXXII, 996:18-30:

Judaei anxie quaerunt, cur in Mose legatur tbnra, arnebeth, Foeminina terminatione, cum genericum animalium nomen Masculine soleat efferri, ut mas foeminam includat. Aben-Ezra duo respondet: vel in illa specie marem non reperiri, quod perabsurdum: vel marem in foeminam, & foeminam in marem invicem transmutari; quod & alii scripserunt. Donatus in Eunuchum, Lepus Physicis dicitur incerti sexus, ac esse modo mas, modo foemina. Idem testatur Democritus Geoponicon libri decimi noni capite decimo quarto, leporem transmutare naturas, & modo generare ut marem, modo parere ut foeminam. Et Archelaüs apud Plinium, ubi supra, singulis leporibus scribit utramque vim inesse, ac fine mare aeque gignere.

and so on for another column or so. Frankly, such discussion about a fairly common and even domesticated animal strikes me as wilfull block-headedness, but there it is. The "hare" of Leviticus, as it is described as an animal that chews its cud, is probably not any animal we think of as hare, or rabbit, and some commentators believe it should be left untranslated. Nevertheless, as Bochart points out, ancients such as Plutarch were already referring to the Jewish refusal to eat lagw=j, hare; Symp. IV. Qu. 5.]

4 Levit. 11. [6: "And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you." Also Deut. 14:7, which adds what the KJV has improbably translated "cony".]

5 [The philosopher Empedocles; the idea is drawn from two lines of verse in Diogenes Laertius, meant to illustrate Empedocles' theory of the history of the soul rather than the history of his own body (Vit. Philosophorum, VIII.77 ll. 5-6, with Aldobrandini's Latin translation):

H)/dh ga/r pot' e)gw\ geno/mhn kou=ro/j te ko/rh te
Qa/mnoj t' oi)wno/j te kai\ e)/caloj e)/mpuros i)xqu/j.

Iam enim ego puer fui puellaque
Frutexque, avisque, atque è mari igneus piscis.

Tiresias son of the nymph Chariclo and of Everes, on seeing snakes copulate, changed into a woman; see the long note at Apollodorus 3.6.7, if Perseus hasn't moved it yet again. Consider also in this connection the Chevalier(e) d'Eon.]

6 [Creeping thyme, Thymus serpyllum. Before we dismiss Browne's quaint ideas concerning plants, we should recall that many people still believe, among our pseudodoxia, that an individual phlox plant will "revert" to magenta.]

7 In Idea Medicinæ Philosophicæ.

8 [Wren: "Why may not the sex seem to change in hares rather than in men? Frequent storyes wee have of some taken for maydes till ripe age or marriage have discovered the instruments of the male to have been but hidden." (How would we know whether a hare "seems" to be a maid or a man, to those who count: other hares?)]

9 [Aristotle, De gen. animalium, IV.iv (in English).]

10 [Plato, Symposium, 189d ff., the (in)famous passage describing the original humans as a kind of hermaphrodite whirligigs. Browne denies the theories of the Rabbins (on the specious grounds that there couldn't be a hermaphrodite before there was a woman), Religio Medici I. sect. 21.]

11 [In a long and (as may be imagined) somewhat convoluted passage reconciling the Platonic and a peculiar version of the Mosaic stories of the beginnings of man; Leo Hebraeus, Dialoghi d'Amore, Dialogo III, pp. 194verso-206recto (be warned: this is in Italian, although easy to read).]

12 [Gen. 1:27; the basis of much of Leo Hebraeus's discourse.]

13 [Aristotle, De generatione I:20; his argument, which is complicated and not very far, by Greek standards, from biological fact, is that the male (in animals which have a distinction of sexes) supplies the formative, the female the material part of the infant, not that the female supplies nothing. He says that forming a baby is something like curdling milk, with the female supplying the milk and the male the curdle. As it happens, the male principle, or semen, does determine the sex of the offspring, so that Browne has accidentally hit upon something here.]

14 [Aquinas, Summa Supplement, 81, 3: Will everyone be the same sex after the resurrection? (The answer is "no".)]

15 Consisting of man and woman.

16 [Pliny HN xi.109 (262).]

17 [Cardan on hermaphroditical mares??]

18 Bacch. de Hermaphroditis. [Bauhin.]

19 [Aristotle, De generat. animal. IV.5.773a (translated, Book IV, chap. 5 (no local links; look for "superfoetation"); and History of Animals, VI.33:

Hares copulate in a rearward posture, as has been stated, for the animal is opisthuretic. They breed and bear at all seasons, superfoetate during pregnancy, and bear young every month. They do not give birth to their young ones all together at one time, but bring them forth at intervals over as many days as the circumstances of each case may require. The female is supplied with milk before parturition; and after bearing submits immediately to the male, and is capable of conception while suckling her young. The milk in consistency resembles sow's milk. The young are born blind, as is the case with the greater part Of the fissipeds or toed animals.

Herodotus III.108.3 (and see the note on e)pikui/+sketai). Pliny HN viii(219), englished by Holland, Chap. LV.]

20 [In Macrobius, Saturnalia II.5.9; her answer to expressions of surprise that her offspring resembled her husband was that passengers weren't allowed on board until the hold was filled.]

21 [For Pliny on this kind of superfoetation, see HN vii (49), englished, Book VII, Chapter XI; other parts of the same book deal with "prodigious" births. Hippocrates, ???. Plautus, Amphitryon 5.1 (1122)-5.2. Aristotle, History of Animals VII.iv, discusses human superfoetation at some length, giving the example of a woman who brought forth twins, one resembling her husband, the other her adulterous lover; of Hercules and Iphicles, Aristotle notes "according to legend", which is a weakish sort of "urging" even for a merry example.]

22 [In Chap. IV.]

23 [Aristotle, Hist. Animal. VI.32:

The fact is that the sexual organ of the male hyena resembles the same organ in the wolf and in the dog; the part resembling the female genital organ lies underneath the tail, and does to some extent resemble the female organ, but it is unprovided with duct or passage, and the passage for the residuum comes underneath it. The female hyena has the part that resembles the organ of the male, and, as in the case of the male, has it underneath her tail, unprovided with duct or passage; and after it the passage for the residuum, and underneath this the true female genital organ.

Browne has abbreviated Scaliger's Latin:

Quod autem aiunt, utriusque sextus habere genitalia, falsum est: sed quod habent mares, est simile lupi et canis. Quod autem videtur esse femineum, sub cauda quidem est simile figura feminino, verum pervium non est: sub hoc meatus excrementorum.]

24 [Pliny viii.81 (218) (englished by Holland VIII.)]

25 [Aristotle, Hist. animal. VI.33: "Hares copulate in a rearward posture, as has been stated, for the animal is opisthuretic"; in Scaliger's Latin, "Lepores venerem exercent coeuntes aversi inter se, sicut iam dictum est: retro enim mingunt." But I am awfully fond of Wentworth's opisthuretic, and it battles mightily in my heart with retromingent.]

26 [Wren: Which is true in lions alsoe, and partlye in dogs.]

27 [Wren: Hares and lions: which I sawe at the tower, and remember itt is specified expresly by Aristotle of them.]

28 [Of the millions of examples one could give, I'll leave the reader with Seneca, Natural Questions I:16, on mirrors.]


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