Several thousand years ago Hippocrates, who is considered today to be the father of modern medicine, first developed the theory of each of us having four humours that were required to be equally balanced in our bodies for continuing good health. His four humours were blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm – lovely! These corresponded with the four elements – air, fire, earth, and water – or the seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
This theory was later expanded further to conclude that if someone naturally has an excess of one of these humours in their bodies, it sets their temperament. These four temperaments were Sanguine (too much blood), Choleric (too much yellow bile), Melancholic (too much black bile), and Phlegmatic (too much phlegm). And this basic categorisation continued to underpin medical understanding for centuries.
So for example when we watch period dramas on TV and someone has a fever and is bled from a cut in their arm into a bowl, or leeches are applied, this was done in the belief that their high temperature was linked to an excess of ‘hot’ blood, and reducing the amount of blood was the prescribed method used to recreate a balance in the humours within the body.
Drastic by today’s standards it may be, and these very non-scientific categories may well have no recognised place in today’s theories of physiological and psychological health, but to be honest I find the idea behind their holistic approach to treating the whole body/ mind continuum together as one entity refreshingly modern in thought.
And I would be the first to recognise myself as being a Melancholic person – I’m sensitive and creative and very much grounded temperamentally in the cold autumnal earth – even though I recognise my normal psychological state has absolutely nothing to do with my internal levels of bodily fluids and so a purgative of any kind is most definitely not a cure for my decidedly melancholic nature! 🙂