Four humours

From ArticleWorld

The four humours (or humors) are the four fundamental fluids of the human body: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood. Greek thinkers in Antiquity connected them with the four elements theory and associated them with medical science.

Hippocrates and Aristotle

Around 400 B.C., Hippocrates formulated his theory about the humors. Yellow bile was seen as associated with the summer and the fire, symbolizing the liver and allowing one to be easily angered and bad tempered. The black bile was associated with autumn and earth, symbolizing the brain and lungs. It was seen as making persons despondent and irritable. Phlegm, associated with winter and water, symbolizing the ball bladder, was the one that made persons calm. The blood, associated with the spring and air, was symbolizing the spleen and was responsible for the courage.

Aristotle saw these humors as characterizing the sensuous pleasure, the acquiring assets, the moral virtue and the logical investigation respectively.

Importance in medicine

The four humors were considered to be of a high importance in medicine for a long time. Early scientists considered an imbalance in these humors (dyscrasia) to be the cause of all diseases, and the state of general health was determined by a state of balance in these humors (a state called eucrasia). This has left serious marks in common practice. For example, blood letting and purges were still mainstream in the 18th century, as they were considered to regulate the balance of humors. An abnormalities or disease of the blood is often referred to as a blood dyscriasia.

In fact, the four temperaments described by Galen in the 2nd century were based on these humors, and it is still used, along with other similar classifications. Originally, they did not refer to psychological characteristics, but to body conditions and predispositions to various states, caused by these humors. It is important to note, however, that the perception about the influence of these humors has changed dramatically in time.