The longer title of this post is
“καρδία καὶ ψυχή καὶ νεφρός καὶ κεφαλή”
(or “Heart and Soul and Kidney, and Heady Abstractions”)
Rhetoricians have refused to translate ἐν-θύμημα (one of Aristotle’s key terms of the Rhetoric) but rather, following
I think and believe, in my heart and soul, that the translators, not the transliterators, get this right.
But now we see that Bible translators are not all in agreement about the translation of other key terms in Greek literatures: καρδία and νεφρός and κεφαλή. The disputes revolve around whether a man (i.e., a husband) should be head over a woman (i.e., a wife) around the world today because that is what New Testament letter writers seem to have written to some early Christians around Europe around twenty centuries ago.
And the Bible translation disagreements revolve mainly around κεφαλή. Should it be translated “heady authority” only? Can’t it mean “fountain head” or “source”? And should it be translated “intellect” when the word νεφρός is much more clearly used for “mind” in the LXX and the NT as in apparent contrast with καρδία (or “heart”)?
Some of us have offered evidence that κεφαλή is not always a metaphor for “heady authority” and that κεφαλή is often a literal and sometimes a figural “source.” The funniest, most painful example is of the head (i.e., the part of the body with face, eyes, ears, mouth, and chin attached to the neck) for male humans as being the source of semen. This evidence is offered by Susanne McCarthy, who writes:
“We would, however, have to end up analysing the Greek belief that the physical head of a man contained semen, and that impotence was thought to be relieved by making an incision behind the ears to let it flow more easily.”
So let’s analyse. Lo and behold, we find Aristotle, and his teacher, again. Francis E. Peters writes:
Plato . . . in the Timaeus, locates the rational part (logistikon) of the human soul in the head (44d) and makes the brain [i.e., ἐν- κεφαλή] the source of the reproductive powers (73c-d . . . ). But even though the question continued to be debated (see SVF II, 885; Cicero, Tusc. 1, 9, 19), it was the view of Aristotle that prevailed. Aristotle knew, to be sure, the medical assertions of the connection of the senses with the brain, but he was not convinced by the evidence (Hist. anim. 514a). What he finds more persuasive is that there is no sensation in the brain itself (De part. anim. 656a).
I’ll give a fuller quotation by Peters below, but first I want to say it’s not all Greek men who were as logical as Aristotle.
Now let’s turn quickly to that other question. Should κεφαλή be translated “intellect” when the word νεφρός is much more clearly used for “mind” in the LXX and the NT as in apparent contrast with καρδία (or “heart”)? The careful answer Michael Kruse is giving so far is “No.”
I really think Michael’s on to something, but I also suspect that καρδία and νεφρός were connected together by the ancient Hebrews first (before they were ever contrasted by Hellenes). Michael Kruse rightly turns us to “Hebrew anthropology” as he shows us “Jesus” talking in Rev 2:23. But “John,” who authors Revelation, I would venture, is there alluding to Psalms (7:9 & 26:2 & 139:1) and to the prophet Jeremiah (11:20 & 17:10). There the writers use “lib(bah)” together with “kilyah”: יבלו יתוילכ (or “reins” [i.e., “kidneys”] and “heart”). They sing and write with elegant Hebrew poetic parallelism. “Kidney” and “heart” are parallel organs, or are the inner being to be searched by God. But when the LXX translators and John (and the Holy Spirit and Jesus) translate the two parallel Hebrew words into Greek, then Hellenistic readers, perhaps accustomed to contrast, read καρδία καὶ νεφρός not as closely related metaphors of the various internal parts of the psalmist (and Jeremiah) but as distinctive physical organs representing separate abstractions. In our century, in the West, we tend to follow the Greeks too. What will Michael say next? I’m looking forward to his future blogging on this topic!
Let me stop for now just to add the longer quotation promised. And in adding the longer quotation, I’d like to add this: that the Hellene conceptions of body parts, and what they represent, evolved substantially. Despite Aristotle’s attempts at locking down the concepts by his either-or method, there remained much wiggle room, much playfulness, in the language. For all of us translators – rhetoricians and Bible scholars – there remains such word play. We neither have to believe all of Aristotle's conclusions nor use his methodology blindly. The consequences of Aristotelianism to women (as simply "botched males") may be severe; and to men (as male humans with heads full) may be painful.
from Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon by Francis E. Peters
pages 96 – 97, 167:
2. . . . In contrast there is the thymos, the spirit, located in the midriff (phrenes) whereby a man thinks and feels (see kardia [pages 96 – 97]).
3. The Homeric psyche was closely associated with motion in that its departure turned the aggregate of churning limbs that was the hero’s “body” into a soma or motionless corpse. The thymos too is connected with motion in a sense later explored by Aristotle; it is the promptings of thymos that impel the hero to activity.
1. Behind the long-standing debate on the seat of the soul that was conducted in philosophical circles there stands a prephilosophical physiology that had, in effect, decided the question and that, supported by the massive authority of Homer, tended to dominate even the accummulating medical evidence to the contrary. The Homeric hero both feels (Il. IX, 186, XIII, 493; etc.) and thinks (Il. IX, 600, XIII, 296) with the phrenes or midriff, whence the later prhonesis, thought or wisdom.
2. A great number of thinkers went along the same path, encouraged no doubt by medical theories of vital heat carried through the system by blood. The thermal theory of thought finds its chief propagator in Heraclitus who identified the soul with fire (fr. 36) and connected it with consciousness (Diels 22A16). In Empedocles the blood appears a factor linked with perception, and the seat of perception is located in the heart (fr. 105). . . Aristotle calls the heart the arche of life, movement, and sensation (De part. anim. 666a-b), and though the Eupicureans dispersed the sould all over the body (see psyche [pages 166-167]), the rational faculty (Lucretius: animus) was in the breast (Lucretius III, 141-142), as it was for the Stoics (SVF II, 879).
3. The other school of thought, which located the seat of perception in the brain (enkephalos), had its origin in Pythagorean medical circles, specifically with Alcmaeon of Crotona (Theophrastus, De sens. 26; . . . ) who maintained that there were passages (poroi) connecting the senses to the brain, a position he was said to have arrived at by actual dissections on the optic nerve (Diels 24A11) and that reappears among the philosophers with Diogenes of Apollonia. Here the phisiological reasoning is crossed with more philosophical considerations, i.e., that air (aer, q..v.) is the divine arche of all things, the source of life, soul, and intelligence (frs. 4, 5). How perception occurs we are told by Theophrastus (De sens. 39-44). Man inhales air that travels, via the various senses, to the brain. If the air is pure and dry, thought (phronesis) takes place (. . . and compare the similar Hippocratic text in Diels 64C3).
4. Socrates had heard of the brain theory as a young man and was interested in it (Phaedo 96b). He must have passed his interest on to Plato who, in the Timaeus, locates the rational part (logistikon) of the human soul in the head (44d) and makes the brain [i.e., en-kephalos] the source of the reproductive powers (73c-d . . . ).
5. But even though the question continued to be debated (see SVF II, 885; Cicero, Tusc. 1, 9, 19), it was the view of Aristotle that prevailed. Aristotle knew, to be sure, the medical assertions of the connection of the senses with the brain, but he was not convinced by the evidence (Hist. anim. 514a). What he finds more persuasive is that there is no sensation in the brain itself (De part. anim. 656a).
6. Plotinus, however, following the Platonic tradition, continues to locate the arche of sensation in the brain, or as he carefully puts it, “the point of departure [arche] of the operation [energeia] of the faculty [dynamis], since it is the arche of the kinesis of the instrument [oragon]” (Enn. IV, 3, 23).