Aristotle developed the theory of the four humours. These were seen to be linked to the four seasons and the four elements that were then the basis of chemistry. The four humours were yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm.

When the humours were out of balance, you got ill. For instance, in winter, you had an excess of phlegm, and get colds. This is how Aristotle linked water, winter and phlegm together. This led to practicing such as bleeding and purging to get the humours back in balance.

Although there is logic behind the connections, Aristotle failed to see that runny noses, fevers and such were symptoms of diseases, not the cause.

The four humours theory was accepted by Galen and lasted right up until the 18th century, when it was finally rejected absolutely.

Early medical science believed that there were four humors which combined to form the chyle (q.v.). These were divided along two physical axes: wet-dry and warm-cold. The four humors were:

The idea balanced against that of four elements (earth, air, fire and water) and the four seasons as below:

A healthy body was thought to exhibit a mix of all four humors, with the relative strengths of each giving rise to personality and behavior. When one humor predominated, it was thought, physical or mental illness resulted.

Treatment of specific illnesses could be attempted by applying the polar opposite treatment. A fever was warm and dry, and thus an excess of choler. Applying a cold and wet treatment such as a bath or cool towel was proscribed. A cold and its resulting phlegm were treated with warmth and dryness. Simplistic though this may seem now, it was one of the first steps towards treatment based on medical diagnosis.

As BaronCarlos' writeup points out, we still use English words today for specific states of mind that derive from these ideas: specifically Melancholy, Sanguine, Choleric and Phlegmatic.


It is amusing to note that many of the "personality" analysis models used by corporate training consultants use a thinly disguised version of this same idea. If you've been through an analysis that tells you you're an "Expressive Analytic" or a "Blue with Red" or a "Dominant Inquirer" or whatever, you're seeing this same four-quadrant analysis with modern terms. They might as well tell you you're full of yellow bile and have done with it.

Around 400 BCE, the Greek philosopher and doctor Hippocrates laid out a system of classifying people based on the balance of certain fluids in a person's body. According to him, an individual's personality could be one of four: Sanguine (too much blood), Choleric (too much yellow bile), Melancholy (too much black bile1), or Phlegmatic (too much phlegm). In many ways, this corresponds to the Myers-Briggs personality type indicators: Sanguines are generally ExFx, Cholerics are ExTx, Melancholies are IxTx, and Phlegmatics are IxFx:

                 Thinkers      Feelers
              |------------|------------|
  Extroverted |  Choleric  |  Sanguine  |
              |------------|------------|
  Introverted | Melancholy | Phlegmatic |
              |------------|------------|

Although the medical basis for this theory has been discredited for hundreds of years (accepted as truth by the Catholic Church until the 18th century), it still remains a functional model of basic personality types: the popular, the powerful, the perfectionists, and the peaceful. Most people are some combination of two or more types, but one almost always dominates the others. Ben Johnson even went so far to write two plays2 about the concept.

Sanguines are the good-humored life of a party. They're cheerful and enjoy being the center of attention. When they take on a task, they inspire or charm others to join in even if they don't always see the task to completion. They're generally good at speaking in public and thrive on compliments. They sincerely care for other people and are deeply troubled if they think they've hurt anyone else. On the downside, they're generally loud and self-centered, which can sometimes drive more introverted people away.

Cholerics don't just think they're right, they usually are right. They're the CEOs, the politicians, and the crazy High School fine arts teachers. As born leaders, they dynamically seek to fix all that is wrong in the world, constantly pressing on to their goals. They're very routine and organized, not hesitating to examine the big picture and form a practical solution. They usually come across as inflexible and unsympathetic due to their lack of tolerance for trivia or dissenting opinions.

Melancholies are deep, analytical, and quiet. They're generally the engineers, artists, authors, and programmers. They're very serious and prone to genius-level intelligence, which makes them excel in music, art, and philosophy. They're always ready to make personal sacrifices to meet goals, finding creative solutions to a wide array of problems. They're neat and orderly, thriving on trivia and detail. This often gets them labelled a perfectionist, driving away some of the more extroverted types. They're incredibly compassionate and empathetic, but make friends carefully. What friends they do make, however, they're hopelessly dedicated to.

Phlegmatics are best described as calm, cool, and collected. Because of their level-headedness, they're born mediators, generally preferring to listen and form a complete opinion before sharing their thoughts. They're peaceful and agreeable, with many friends. This gives them a natural ability for administrative tasks. They tend to find the easy way out and avoid conflicts, which will come across as lazy at times, but their concern and compassion make up for their unenthusiasm.



Personality Types of Noders

I've taken care to write a small perl script that measures the balances of a person's personality type. It's located at http://www.doulopolis.net/index.pl?node_id=594. The questions all came from photocopies of a book3 my stepfather had on personality type theory. If you take it, please /msg me so I can add you to the list.

Sanguine (popular): Byzantine, Chihuahua Grub, ClockworkGrue, (darsi), dwardu, DreamVirus, edebroux, factgirl, Footprints, graceness, heyoka, JayBonci, Jethro Bodine, mr100percent, resc, qousqous, siouxsie, Tem42, toastido, and Void Ptr.

Choleric (powerful): akwardsaw, Ashigaru, beldin, Emphyrio, Eraser_, Great Neb, hashbrownie, ism, Jennifer, karmaflux, mauler, oenone, SEF, slobertje, Spilf, Starke7764, Teiresias, vladkornea, and WonkoDSane.

Melancholy (perfectionist): amnesiac, Anark, asofel, Bitriot, cahla, Carthag, cid highwind, Cletus the Foetus, codepie, dann, DataJunkie, enth, fnordian, Halspal, iandunn, icicle, Infinite Burn, jaubertmoniker, jeeves, JerboaKolinowski, kenata, liveforever, Lometa, MacArthur Parker, mofoaha, nihilanth, ophie, Professor Pi, pyrogenic, RainDropUp, ReiToei, Ryan Dallion, sakke, sauth, SophiesCat, StopTheViolins, Tandex, The Alchemist, TheChronicler, TotalRetard, Toxick, uncleozzy, wuukiee, XCthulhu, xdjio, xriso, and zophos.

Phlegmatic (peaceful): 1010011010, atesh, Bill Dauterive, Billy, bis, BlueDragon, Blush Response, ccunning, cletus the foetus, cow of doom, dinkybug, discofever, dizzy, DyRE, Invis, Hermetic, Fitch, getha, getzburg, knifegirl, legbagede, mer, narzos, novasoy, orion, Phyllis Stein, PsionicMan, pyramidhead, rio, Segnbora-t, sparkley, taschenrechner, wertperch, Wolfdaddy, and VirtualWolf



1 - Hippocrates spoke of 'black bile', but what that corresponds to in modern medicine has yet to be determined.
2 - Every Man In His Humor and Every Man Out Of His Humour.
3 - The book is old enough to be out of copyright. I'll place the ISBN here if I ever find a copy.

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