Four Humours

Humorism, or humoralism, is a discredited theory of the makeup and workings of the human body adopted by Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers. From Hippocrates onward, the humoral theory was adopted by Greek, Roman and Islamic physicians, and became the most commonly held view of the human body among European physicians until the advent of modern medical research in the nineteenth century.

The four humors of Hippocratic medicine were black bile (gr. melan chole), yellow bile (gr. chole), phlegm (gr. phlegma), and blood (lat. sanguis). A humor was also referred to as a cambium (pl. cambia or cambiums).

Essentially, this theory held that the human body was filled with four basic substances, called four humors, which are in balance when a person is healthy. All diseases and disabilities resulted from an excess or deficit of one of these four humors. These deficits could be caused by vapors that were inhaled or absorbed by the body.

Humour Season Element Organ Qualities Ancient Name Modern Name Ancient Characteristics
Blood Spring Air Liver Warm and moist Sanguine Artisan Courageous, hopeful, amorous
Yellow bile Summer Fire Gall bladder Warm and dry Choleric Idealist Easily angered, bad tempered
Black bile Autumn Earth Spleen Cold and dry Melancholic Guardian Despondent, sleepless, irritable
Phlegm Winter Water Brain and/or lungs Cold and moist Phlegmatic Rational Calm, unemotional
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