The female is, as it were, a deformed male, and the menstrual fluids (katamênia) are semen, only not pure; i.e. it lacks one constituent, and one only, the principle of soul (tên tês psukhês arkhên). - Aristotle, GA 737a27-9
If relatively few members of the biological species are granted citizenship, that is because only they are capable of becoming fully human. - Lear 1995.64
The goal of this paper is to establish a connection between the physical inferiority of women in Aristotle's biological works, and the political inferiority of women in his Politics. This connection has either been taken for granted as self-evident, or, more recently, has been denied altogether. I argue that the physical deficiencies of women correspond quite precisely to their ethical deficiencies, focusing on Aristotle’s explanation of menstruation and the deficiencies in pneuma (physical) and thumos (ethical) that it indicates.
Blood, specifically menstrual blood, is essential to the definition of woman in Hippocratic and Aristotelian gynecology: “to be a woman is to menstruate” (King 1998.76). Aristotle differed from most Hippocratic authors in attributing menstruation to a woman’s cold nature, however; many Hippocratic treatises (notably, On the Diseases of Women) and Presocratic philosophers took menstruation as a sign that women were more ‘hot-blooded’ than men. (Aristotle himself notes this at PA 648a.) For Aristotle, menstruation proves that women do not have the body heat necessary to cook (pettein) nutritional residue into the most pure, most concentrated substance possible for humans, namely semen. (The purest, most concentrated substance that women can cook up from nutritional residue is breast milk.) duBois (1988.125) acidly comments, "Semen is simply the final stage of that coction, the most digested, most 'civilized' form of the body's blood and food."
As Aristotle asserts in the first statement above, menstrual blood differs from semen in lacking only ‘the principle of soul’. This ‘principle of soul’, which women’s colder nature cannot produce, is pneuma, or ‘hot air’ (thermos aêr: GA 736a; to kaloumenon thermon: 736b). Aristotle means a hot element of the soul quite literally in the anatomical context of the Generation of Animals. However, when considered from an ethical, less literal standpoint, ‘soul-heat’ (thermotêta psukhikên: GA 762a) becomes thumos. Plato derived thumos from the raging (thuseôs) and boiling (zeseôs) of the soul (Cratylus 419e). A precise definition of thumos in Aristotle is notoriously difficult (see e.g. Koziak 2000 ch. 3), but the cluster of associations he makes around thumos is illuminating. Aristotle asserts that men have more thumos, women less (HA 608b3, 608b11). The long-standing cultural associations of thumos with anger and the martial sphere ensure that it is primarily a masculine attribute, just as courage (andreia), by its very definition (literally ‘manliness’), can only be a masculine virtue. Aristotle associates high levels of thumos and heat with the traditionally masculine qualities of bravery (andreia), authority (to arkhon), and freedom (to eleutheron), and associates coldness and low levels of thumos with the traditionally feminine qualities of fear, cowardice, and subservience (PA 650b27-31; GA 750a11-13; EN 3.8; Pol. 1327b23-33, 1328a6-7; cf. Probl. 10.60, 27.3, 30.1, Physiog. 807a31 ff.). In biological contexts, pneuma can be understood as a literal heat of the soul; in ethical and political contexts, thumos signifies a metaphorical ‘fieriness’ of spirit. Both aspects of ‘soul-heat’ are closely linked together (e.g., women are precluded from a high level of thumos by their lack of pneuma).