Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VII/Lactantius/On the Workmanship of God, or the Formation of Man/Chap. X
Chap. X.—Of the Outer Limbs of Man, and Their Use.
But let us return to the works of God. That the eyes, therefore, might be better protected from injury, He concealed them with the coverings of the eyelashes, from which Varro thinks that the eyes derived their name. For even the eyelids themselves, in which there is the power of rapid motion, and to which throbbing gives their name, being protected by hairs standing in order, afford a most becoming fence to the eyes; the continual motion of which, meeting with incomprehensible rapidity, does not impede the course of the sight, and relieves the eyes. For the pupil—that is, the transparent membrane—which ought not to be drained and to become dry, unless it is cleansed by continual moisture so that it shines clearly, loses its power. Why should I speak of the summits of the eyebrows themselves, furnished with short hair? Do they not, as it were by mounds, both afford protection to the eyes, so that nothing may fall into them from above, and at the same time ornament? And the nose, arising from the confines of these, and stretched out, as it were, with an equal ridge, at once serves to separate and to protect the two eyes. Below also, a not unbecoming swelling of the cheeks, gently rising after the similitude of hills, makes the eyes safer on every side; and it has been provided by the great Artificer, that if there shall happen to be a more violent blow, it may be repelled by the projecting parts. But the upper part of the nose as far as the middle has been made solid; but the lower part has been made with a softened cartilage annexed to it, that it may be pliant to the use of the fingers. Moreover, in this, though a single member, three offices are placed: one, that of drawing the breath; the second, that of smelling; the third, that the secretions of the brain may escape through its caverns. And in how wonderful, how divine a manner did God contrive these also, so that the very cavity of the nose should not deform the beauty of the face: which would certainly have been the case if one single aperture only were open. But He enclosed and divided that, as though by a wall drawn through the middle, and made it most beautiful by the very circumstance of its being double. From which we understand of how much weight the twofold number, made firm by one simple connection, is to the perfection of things.
For though the body is one, yet the whole could not be made up of single members, unless it were that there should be parts on the right hand or on the left. Therefore, as the two feet and also hands not only avail to some utility and practice either of walking or of doing something, but also bestow an admirable character and comeliness; so in the head, which is, as it were, the crown of the divine work, the hearing has been divided by the great Artificer into two ears, and the sight into two eyes, and the smelling into two nostrils, because the brain, in which is contained the system of the sensation, although it is one, yet is divided into two parts by the intervening membrane. But the heart also, which appears to be the abode of wisdom, although it is one, yet has two recesses within, in which are contained the living fountains of blood, divided by an intervening barrier: that as in the world itself the chief control, being twofold from simple matter, or simple from a twofold matter, governs and keeps together the whole; so in the body, all the parts, being constructed of two, might present an inseparable unity. Also how useful and how becoming is the appearance and the opening of the mouth transversely cannot be expressed; the use of which consists in two offices, that of taking food and speaking.
The tongue enclosed within, which by its motions divides the voice into words, and is the interpreter of the mind, cannot, however, by itself alone fulfil the office of speaking, unless it strikes its edge against the palate, unless aided by striking against the teeth or by the compression of the lips. The teeth, however, contribute more to speaking: for infants do not begin to speak before they have teeth; and old men, when they have lost their teeth, so lisp that they appear to have returned afresh to infancy. But these things relate to man alone, or to birds, in which the tongue, being pointed and vibrating with fixed motions, expresses innumerable inflexions of songs and various kinds of sounds. It has, moreover, another office also, which it exercises in all, and this alone in the dumb animals, that it collects the food when bruised and ground by the teeth, and by its force presses it down when collected into balls, and transmits it to the belly. Accordingly, Varro thinks that the name of tongue was given to it from binding the food. It also assists the beasts in drinking: for with the tongue stretched out and hollowed they draw water; and when they have taken it in the hollow of the tongue, lest by slowness and delay it should flow away, they dash it against the palate with swift rapidity. This, therefore, is covered by the concave part of the palate as by a shell, and God has surrounded it with the enclosure of the teeth as with a wall.
But He has adorned the teeth themselves, which are arranged in order in a wonderful manner, lest, being bare and exposed, they should be a terror rather than an ornament, with soft gums, which are so named from producing teeth, and then with the coverings of the lips; and the hardness of the teeth, as in a millstone, is greater and rougher than in the other bones, that they might be sufficient for bruising the food and pasture. But how befittingly has He divided the lips themselves, which as it were before were united! the upper of which, under the very middle of the nostrils, He has marked with a kind of slight cavity, as with a valley: He has gracefully spread out the lower for the sake of beauty. For, as far as relates to the receiving of flavour, he is deceived, whoever he is, who thinks that this sense resides in the palate; for it is the tongue by which flavours are perceived, and not the whole of it: for the parts of it which are more tender on either side, draw in the flavour with the most delicate perceptions. And though nothing is diminished from that which is eaten or drunk, yet the flavour in an indescribable manner penetrates to the sense, in the same way in which the taking of the smell detracts nothing from any material.
And how beautiful the other parts are can scarcely be expressed. The chin, gently drawn down from the cheeks, and the lower part of it so closed that the lightly imprinted division appears to mark its extreme point: the neck stiff and well rounded: the shoulders let down as though by gentle ridges from the neck: the fore-arms powerful, and braced by sinews for firmness: the great strength of the upper-arms standing out with remarkable muscles: the useful and becoming bending of the elbows. What shall I say of the hands, the ministers of reason and wisdom? Which the most skilful Creator made with a flat and moderately concave bend, that if anything was to be held, it might conveniently rest upon them, and terminated them in the fingers; in which it is difficult to explain whether the appearance or the usefulness is greater. For the perfection and completeness of their number, and the comeliness of their order and gradation, and the flexible bending of the equal joints, and the round form of the nails, comprising and strengthening the tips of the fingers with concave coverings, lest the softness of the flesh should yield in holding any object, afford great adornment. But this is convenient for use, in wonderful ways, that one separated from the rest rises together with the hand itself, and is enlarged in a different direction, which, offering itself as though to meet the others, possesses all the power of holding and doing either alone, or in a special manner, as the guide and director of them all; from which also it received the name of thumb, because it prevails among the others by force and power. It has two joints standing out, not as the others, three; but one is annexed by flesh to the hand for the sake of beauty: for if it had been with three joints, and itself separate, the foul and unbecoming appearance would have deprived the hand of all grace.
Again, the breadth of the breast, being elevated, and exposed to the eyes, displays a wonderful dignity of its condition; of which this is the cause, that God appears to have made man only, as it were, reclining with his face upward: for scarcely any other animal is able to lie upon its back. But He appears to have formed the dumb animals as though lying on one side, and to have pressed them to the earth. For this reason He gave them a narrow breast, and removed from sight, and prostrate towards the earth. But He made that of man open and erect, because, being full of reason given from heaven, it was not befitting that it should be humble or unbecoming. The nipples also gently rising, and crowned with darker and small orbs, add something of beauty; being given to females for the nourishment of their young, to males for grace only, that the breast might not appear misshapen, and, as it were, mutilated. Below this is placed the fiat surface of the belly, about the middle of which the navel distinguishes by a not unbecoming mark, being made for this purpose, that through it the young, while it is in the womb, may be nourished.
- Ciliorum. The word properly denotes the edge of the eyelid, in which the eyelash is fixed; said to be derived from “cilleo,” to move.
- Oculi, as though derived from “occulere,” to conceal.
- Palpitatio. Hence “palpebræ,” the eyelids.
- Reficit obtutum.
- Xenophon, Memorabilia, i. 4.]
- Ipsa duplicitate.
- Lingua, as though from “ligando.”
- Linguæ sinu.
- Foras molliter explicavit.
- Brachia. The fore-arms, from the hand to the elbow.
- Lacerti, The arm from the elbow to the shoulder.
- Maturius funditur.
- i.e., pollex, as though from “polleo,” to prevail.