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Aristotle on Goats

Everything that the Philosopher (so he is called) has written on the topic of goats. Updated irregularly as new research comes in. I have included only remarks that pertain specifically to goats, rather than e.g. to quadrupeds or to hooved animals generally; and only remarks that concern goats themselves, rather than, say, human customs in relation to goats.

From Inquiries Concerning Animals, trans. D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson:

Book I

Furthermore, there is a portion of the head, whereby an animal hears, a part incapable of breathing, the ‘ear’. I say ‘incapable of breathing’, for Alcmaeon is mistaken when he says that goats inspire through their ears.

Book II

Now some animals produce not only enough milk to rear their young, but a superfluous amount for general use, for cheese-making and for storage. This is especially the case with the sheep and the goat, and next in degree with the cow. Mare’s milk, by the way, and milk of the she-ass are mixed in with Phrygian cheese. And there is more cheese in cow’s milk than in goat’s milk; for graziers tell us that from nine gallons of goat’s milk they can get nineteen cheeses at an obol apiece, and from the same amount of cow’s milk, thirty.

Book III

He-goats, if they be fat, are more or less unserviceable for breeding; and this, by the way, is the reason why country folk say of a vine when it stops bearing that it is ‘running the goat’. However, if an over-fat he-goat be thinned down, he becomes sexually capable and generative.

Book IV

With goats the shepherds appoint no bell-wether, as the animal is not capable of repose but frisky and apt to ramble.


Sheep and goats are graminivorous, but sheep browse assiduously and steadily, whereas goats shift their ground rapidly, and browse only on the tips of the herbage.

Sheep are healthier than goats, but goats are stronger than sheep.

Book IX

If you catch hold of a goat’s beard at the extremity—the beard is of a substance resembling hair—all the companion goats will stand stock still, staring at this particular goat in a kind of dumbfoundedment.

You will have a warmer bed in amongst the goats than among the sheep, because the goats will be quieter and will creep up towards you; for the goat is more impatient of cold than the sheep.

Sheep and goats lie crowded together, kin by kin. When the sun turns early towards its setting, the goats are said to lie no longer face to face, but back to back.

Wild goats in Crete are said, when wounded by arrows, to go in search of dittany, which is supposed to have the property of ejecting arrows in the body.