Four humors


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Four humors

  1. 1. The Four Humors Based on a diagram from Isidore of Seville, Liber de responsione mundi (Augsburg, 1472). Original in the Huntington Library.
  2. 2. Greek & Roman Development of the Four Humors • The idea of the four temperaments, or humors, was established around 400 BCE by Hippocrates at the medical school on the island of Kos. Greek medicine was based on these four humors, a system which was also used to describe the human temperament, psyche and psychology. This system has found its way into our language and we still use the words phlegmatic, sanguine and melancholy to describe someone’s “temperament.” We also describe a person as being “in their element” or “in good humor.” • Romans thought that humors were formed in the body, and that foods had varying potential to produce different humors. Hot foods produced yellow bile; cold ones produced phlegm. Seasons, a person’s age, sleep patterns, geographic living area, and occupation also had an influence on humors. • The imbalance of humors was the direct cause of all disease, so good health required a balance of humors.
  3. 3. Medieval interpretations • By medieval times, scientists felt that the bodily humors gave off vapors which ascended to the brain and influenced a person’s state of mind or character. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales 14th century A Doctor too emerged as we proceeded. No one alive could talk as well as he did On points of medicine and of surgery For, being grounded in astronomy He watched his patient's favourable star And, by his Natural Magic, knew what are The lucky hours and planetary degrees For making charms and effigies. The cause of every malady you'd got He knew, and whether dry, cold, moist or hot; He knew their seat, their humour and condition. He was a perfect practicing physician.
  4. 4. Elizabethan use of the Four Humors • Renaissance thinkers viewed a human being as a microcosm (literally, a "little world") that reflected the structure of the world as a whole, the macrocosm; just as the world was composed of four "elements" (earth, water, air, fire), so too was the human body composed of four substances called "humours," with characteristics corresponding to the four elements. "Correspondences" existed everywhere, on many levels. Thus the hierarchical organization of the mental faculties was also thought of as reflecting the hierarchical order within the family, the state, and the forces of nature. When things were properly ordered, reason ruled the emotions, just as a king ruled his subjects, the parent ruled the child, and the sun governed the planets.
  5. 5. Shakespeare’s Use of the Four Humors Shakespeare relies on his audience’s understanding of the Four Humors: • • • • Lady Macbeth’s reference to blood implies Duncan’s sanguine personality of being kind and joyful. “Yet who would have thought / the old man to have had so much blood in him” (V.1.44-45) In Shakespeare's King Lear, the simultaneous disorder in family relationships and in the state (child ruling parent, subject ruling king) is reflected in the disorder of Lear's mind (the loss of reason) as well as in the disorder of nature (the raging storm). Lear even equates his loss of reason to "a tempest in my mind." Portia asks Brutus, “ . . . is it physical To walk unbraced and suck up the humours Of the dank morning?” Antony offers a eulogy to Julius Caesar using the Greek notion of balanced humors. “His life was gentle, and the elements So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world, "This was a man!“ (V.5.74 – 76)
  6. 6. Modern personality types and the Four Humors
  7. 7. The Four Humors Humor Ancient Disposition Element Season Bodily organ involved Qualities Personality characteristics Black bile Melancholic Earth Autumn Spleen Cold & dry Thoughtful, creative, seeks perfection, despondent, irritable, unsatisfied with self, preoccupied, introspective, sentimental, gluttonous, depressed Blood Sanguine Air Spring Liver Warm & moist Light-hearted, courageous, confident, arrogant, impulsive, dreamy, off-task, spontaneous, hopeful, amorous, optimistic, irresponsible, generous, manic, kind Phlegm Phlegmatic Water Winter Brain/lungs Cold & moist Calm, observant, rational, kind, shy, consistent, unemotional, dependable, resistant to change, lazy, cowardly Yellow bile Choleric Fire Summer Gall bladder Warm & dry A doer & leader, easily angered, bad tempered, ambitious, passionate, energetic, violent, vengeful