Four humors

Four bodily juices (blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile) whose balance or imbalance in the body was commonly regarded in Ancient Greek medicine as the source of health or disease.

The doctrine was made influential for later thought by Galen (129-C.AD 199), though its origins are much earlier in the Hippocratic tradition (see the treatise On the Nature of Man in, for example, volume 4 of the Loeb edition of the Hippocratic Treatises).

The four humors are linked to the four elements (fire, air, water, earth, or hot, cold, moist, dry – stuffs and qualities were not properly distinguished until the time of Aristotle in the 4th century BC), which first appear as such in the cosmology of Empedocles (5th century BC).

G Sarton, A History of Greek Science, 1 (1953)


I found the following quote which contains some discrepancies with the table.

Source: Whiting, J. (2006). Hippocrates: Biography From Ancient Civilizations. Mitchell Lane Publishers. (Amazon, search inside).

Quote: As a result of his observations, [Hippocrates] formed a theory involving the four humors. He believed that the human body contained four fluids, or humors. These were blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Each humor was associated with a particular organ and emotion. Blood came from the heart and helped make people cheerful. Phlegm was centered in the brain and aided in calmness. The spleen was the home of black bile, which could lead to depression and a gloomy outlook. Yellow bile, from the liver, led to anger, a hot temper, and courage. (p. 12). Bmarmie 14:56, 18 October 2006 (UTC)

A Supporting Quote (Source: Oxford English Dictionary (1971). Oxford University Press.): “Black bile, ‘a term anciently used for an imaginary fluid, thick, black, and acrid,’ supposed to be secreted by the renal or atrabiliary glands, or by the spleen, and to be the cause of melancholy (Syd. Soc. Lex.); hence: Melancholy, spleen” (s.v. ‘atrabile’). – 08:24, 19 October 2006 (UTC)

The table is useful, but I found a similar type table with conflicting information on this website: The four humors don’t match in the same way within their columns to the other categorizations found there. –Jen1234 03:06, 2 August 2006 (UTC)

I am currently doing research on the four humours and i am finding this information useful

I created the table; i’m glad you find it useful =) if you have any questions i have a good handle on where to find information on these topics –Alterego 18:21, Feb 7, 2005 (UTC)

Hmm, I find it rather strange that the four totem spirits do not correspond to the elements (normally, salamanders are for fire, gnomes for earth, etc) – I’d expect that Paracelsus would have had his totem spirits fit Hippocrat’s humours, no ? If they didn’t, I’d expect them to be pretty irrelevant here 😛

I’d be in favour of taking the totem spirits off this page, they make things confusing. Or, adding information as to why they don’t fit their elements. (I can see this comes from Keirsey’s book, I wonder if he gives any extra explanation on these totem spirits)

Flammifer 03:06, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

The bottom half of the table is totally inappropriate to an encyclopedia. It has no factual or scientific basis whatsoever. The items with historical dates are quite different: they are clearly appropriate because they are labelled as important historical views that influenced the thinking of millions of people, and help us to understand the development of ideas.

I agree with you and have restored the table to my factual and initial version. –Alterego 03:00, September 13, 2005 (UTC)

The table has some incorrect information;: the characteristics field is wrong: courageous, hopeful, amorous is sanguine, NOT choleric calm, unemotional is phlegmatic NOT melancholic despondent, sleepless, irritable is melancholic, NOT sanguine easily angered, bad-tempered is choleric, NOT phlegmatic

What color is phlegm associated with? White? Green? I assumed it couldn’t be yellow because of yellow bile…

table presentation of sets of 4

This is my first time reading the article. Found it very informative. One issue I had though is the tabular presentation of some of these sets. For one thing I’m not clear about what the relationship of these modern sets are to the sets of Greek influenced medicine (other than they are all sets of 4). However, I’m especially unclear what information each column is meant to convey: especially after the first several rows. If the more recent sets are relevant to the article, it might be better to remove them from the table and just present them as lists. If they each column has some connection between the elements, perhaps that could be made more clear in the article or — even better— naming the columns in some descriptive way that captures the common trats of the elements in the column. Just a suggestion. I don’t have the background to contribute the answer myself, but as a casual reader this was a problem in interpretation.

In other articles I’ve read on scientific thought in this period: concepts are often presented in some polar form. So presenting each of these four sets would be on a circle or square: sometimes combined to consider the various combining influences of each trait. From my reading here and elsewhere that seems more in keeping with the thinking within these fields and would provide a clearer presentation of the concepts. To see what I’m referring to you could look at the following: Pythagoras, Pentagram, Hindu astrology, Gnostic circle . Just a thought. –Cplot 03:16, 23 June 2006 (UTC)

I am confused by the four totems. I would have expected (just in terms of how these creatures are presented in mythology) that the following would hold: Salamanders (Fire), Sylphs (Air), Nymphs (Water, Gnomes (Earth). However I defer to more thorough research of the topic. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk • contribs) .
This content borrows quite heavily from this page: with some notable miscategorizations, as the above comment suggests.

Fifth temperament?

The section I had added to the page and was deleted by Toh (as “non-germane to the topic”, and suggested a separate article) 12 Sep 05 I felt was a very significant discovery:

In the 1980’s, the National Christian Counselors Association, Inc. conducted extensive research and developed the Arno Profile System, named after its founders Richard G. and Phyllis J. Arno.
It is a system of calculating a person’s temperament based on a questionnaire. Each temperament is divided into three categories: Inclusion (social orientation and intellectual energy), Control (one’s decision making abilities and/or need to control others), and Affection (how we respond in our deep personal relationships). All of the temperaments, except the Phlegmatic, can also be “compulsive.”
During the Arnos’ research, a fifth temperament was discovered which identified a category of people who did not really fit into the other four temperament categories. Some researchers suspected it existed, but only as a “wounded [passive] Sanguine.” The Arnos found the missing link, a fifth temperament. This newly identified temperament was called the “Supine,” which means “with the face upwards,” like a servant looking up to his/her master. The Arnos refer to it as “the serving temperament,” because the Supine “feels” that their only value is to serve others. Supines like and need people; however, they have a fear of rejection and do not initiate.
Supines are identified by strengths such as: a desire to serve, liking people, and having a gentle spirit. Their weaknesses include: expecting others to read their mind, harboring anger as “hurt feelings,” and feelings of powerlessness. They are generally open to receiving affection, but have trouble initiating.
In some respects, the Supine can be considered as the opposite of a Choleric just as the Melancholy is opposite of a Sanguine.

I had recently been thinking that it should have its own article. But this is by the research of one person (Mr. Arno), which it took me some time to realize. And he seems to be a bit protective of his “discovery”, which he has copyrighted, I think. (I had to run the text through him, and he edited it to the way he saw fit before I posted it). I would have to go to him to post any further articles, and my wife, who is the one getting her Counseling license though him, is a bit nervous about me bothering him so much posting all of this information on my own.

But his discovery is quote significant! [Another important point that should have been included]: Temperaments are determined by a scale of a person’s “responsiveness” to other people’s approaches (“Wanted” behavior) in the above three areas of interaction, and their need to approach other people for those interactions (“expressed” behavior). A melancholy in control has a low need to control others, and also a low tolerance of control by others. A choleric, however, has a high need to control others, but a low tolerance of others controlling him. A sanguine “swings” between control and dependency.

But there were some sanguines who scored high in Response, (as normal) but low in Expressed (like Melancholies). Instead of swinging from control to dependency, they seemed to alway be dependant, and in the area of “inclusion” and “affection”, they had a high need to socialize and receive affection, like other sanguines, but were not as open and outgoing as the others –looking a lot like melancholies on the surface. (This leads to what is called “indirect behavior”). These were the “passive” class of sanguines that had been detected in earlier studies. But in Arno’s system of scoring, since a separate “temperament” is detemined by a high or low score in expression and response, it follows that someone high in response and low in express is just as much a separate temperament from sanguine, as choleric (which is high in expressed and low in response) is. This was how the temperament of Supine was discovered.

And to those of us who have participated in this analysis, it is so accurate! It perfectly explains to us ourselves, as well as our close friends and loved ones! I, for instance, am “supine” in inclusion, and “choleric” in control. The Supine wants to serve the world and share something good, and the Choleric is what took on the task of trying to expose this theory (even though it may have been seen as impinging on someone else’s turf). I think this guy should go for a Nobel or something. But IIRC, he may be choleric as well, so my wife cautions me about pushing him.

Anyway, I guess the deletion of the information provides a good excuse to go and speak to him again, about giving his theory its own article. So I’ll leave it off for now, and I hope to contact him soon.

Here, for now is Arno’s own website:

Arno Profile System

Eric B 17:10 28 Dec. 2005

You know what; slept on it, and I guess there would be no harm is making a new article called “Supine (Temperament)” with the text in question right now. I always did fear all of that was a bit much to tack on to this article, but didn’t think to mak a separate article, so I apologize. Eric B 8:45 29 Dec. 2005

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