In Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), we find this sentence:

Man erzählt von einer edlen Art Pferde, die, wenn sie schrecklich erhitzt und aufgejagt sind, sich selbst aus Instinkt eine Ader aufbeißen, um sich zum Atem zu helfen.

Translation (R.D. Boylan):

Naturalists tell of a noble race of horses that instinctively open a vein with their teeth, when heated and exhausted by a long course, in order to breathe more freely.

In Victor Hugo's The Rhine (1842) we find this :

si les chevaux gênés par le sang s’ouvrent eux-mêmes une veine de la cuisse de derrière;

Translation (1845):

if the horses, too full of blood, open the vein of their thigh;

What is the origin of this bit of folklore? I think it is unrelated to the blood-sweating horses of China, I know it is unrelated to the bloody-shouldered horses of Arabia, and I haven't been able to find anything else even remotely close via Google searches.


1 Answer 1


Here is the original Goethe text: http://www.deutschestextarchiv.de/book/view/goethe_werther02_1774?p=24

Man erzaͤhlt von einer edlen Art Pferde, die, wenn ſie ſchroͤklich erhizt und aufgejagt ſind, ſich ſelbſt aus Jnſtinkt eine Ader aufbeiſſen, um ſich zum Athem zu helfen.

I would translate it as:

One tells of a type of noble horses, that, when they are terribly heated and roused, they themselves out of instinct bite open an artery, for to help themselves to breath.

Or in an easier to read colloquial English: “One tells of a type of noble horses, that, when they are terribly heated and roused, they bite themselves open an artery out of instinct, [so as to] make their breathing easier.”

Here is my stab at the question.

A search on Google.de for “Pferd Ader selber öffnen” brings up many German references. In the book Allgemeines Lexicon der Künste und Wissenschaften etc. Neue verb. Aufl, Volume 1, Hartung, 1748” on pg. 19 it is described that “humans learned this cure from animals, in that the Hungarian horses themselves through a bite open an artery, and the American animal came upon a sharp reed and cared to wound itself, that blood wherewith they felt themselves overburdened, to let off.


Aderläße, Aderlassen, Venae sectio, eröffnung einer blutader, mit einer flieten oder lancetten, das verderbte oder überflüßige geblüt abzuzapffen, und den adern lufft zu machen. Diese cur haben die menschen von den thieren gelernet, indem die Ungarischen pferde ihnen durch einen biß eine ader selbst zu öffnen, und das Americanische thier dante an einem scharffen schilff-rohr sich wund zu stossen Pflegt, das blut womit sie sich überladen fühlen, abzuzapffen. Die alten haben die aderlässe sparsam gebraucht.

The folklore possibly comes from these Hungarian horses.

There are many other references to the old practice of blood-letting in horses by people.

See below.

J. Clark's” Abhandlung von Verhütung der Pferdekrankheiten, 1790, pg. 141

Oeconomus prudens et legalis, oder allg. kluger und rechts ..., Volumes 1-2, pg. 1098.

Handbuch der thierärztlichen Operationslehre, Eduard Hering, 1866, pg. 42.

  • 1
    If you add some of these other references you mention at the end of your answer, you have my upvote.
    – Rodia
    May 16, 2018 at 23:05
  • 1
    ok, links added. May 17, 2018 at 1:15

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