Little Men in Sperm
By Holly Tucker
Something major happened during the scientific “revolution” of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries. Telescopes, barometers, blood circulation, air pumps, vacuums, early calculating devices, discovery of planetary systems…yes, yes, we know all about that.
The discovery of the egg and the sperm in 1672 and 1677 changed the way people understood babies–and how. Heated debates took place about whether possibly, just possibly, humans existed preformed in either the egg or the sperm. Animaculists argued that shrinky-dink-sized beings lay wait in the head of each sperm.
Ovists argued that tiny humans sat in each egg. At the end of the day, the ovists won out. One of the most difficult aspects of spermist theory to reconcile was the knowledge that there are millions of sperm in a single ejaculation. Surely God would not allow the genocide of all of those beings in a single embrace! And imagine what they had to say about going solo…
IMAGE: Antonio Vallisnieri, Histoire della generazione dell’uomo e degli animali