Humor theory

From ArticleWorld

Greek and Roman philosophers and physicians, most notably Hippocrates, believed that the body was composed of four substances called humors. Humor theory posited that the balance of the four was essential to maintain good health and happiness. The substances – blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile – were believed to correspond to the natural elements, earth, fire, water, and air.

Through the course of a person's life, depending on activity and diet the humors waxed and waned, affecting the person's personality and health. It was thus essential that the substances be kept in balance. Since it was believed that a person contained a finite amount of any humor, imbalance was thought to be correctable by blood-letting until as late as the 18th century in Europe, and to this day some communities believe, influenced by humor theory and religious doctrine that masturbation by men leads to loss of valuable fluid and is therefore inadvisable.

The humors were seen to determine character to a large extent, and Theophrastus devised a classification of character based on this. For example, those with too much black bile were melancholy, those with excessive blood sanguine, those with with phlegm, phlegmatic, and those with an extra dose of yellow bile choleric.The first three are used to this day in the English language as adjectives to describe personality, and much has been made of them in drama through the 19th century.