The Four Humors Essay, Research Paper
Medieval doctors had quite an understanding of the human anatomy, considering their lack of equipment and knowledge. Most doctors in medieval times were philosophers more than actual medical doctors as most people know them today. Much of the knowledge they did acquire may have only been speculation, but quite a bit of it was due to concentrated observation. Many scientists studied wounds and diseases intensely and one scientist in particular, Empedocles, came to the conclusion that that body consists of four main fluids, or humors. These humors were yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood. If one of these components was out of proportion in the body, disease occurred. The imbalance was called isonomia, an idea which was also proposed by the Greek scientist Empedocles.
Empedocles followed the Pythagorean school of natural philosophers rather than the Hippocratic school as most other physicians in the time did. He felt people must use their senses, even though they are not thoroughly reliable at all times. The other schools preferred more mystic ideas as opposed to natural ones. He also hypothesized that all substances and objects were made up of air, fire, water, and earth in different proportions. His proposal of the four humors of the body was later accepted by the Hippocratic school.
Each of Empedocles? four humors was connected to one of the four seasons. Black bile was considered to be a part of autumn, blood was associated with spring, phlegm with winter and summer with yellow bile. Each humor was identified with its corresponding season due to the belief that each humor contained certain qualities. These qualities were closely related to the conditions of the seasons. Thus yellow bile was thought of as hot and dry like summer. Its opposite, phlegm was cold and moist like winter. Black Bile was cold and dry, while its opposite, blood, was hot and moist, like their counterparts, autumn and spring.
As well as being connected with seasons, the four humors were also linked to four elements of nature. Black bile was associated with Earth, blood with air, fire with yellow bile and phlegm with water. This theory of nature and the body being interrelated was also proposed by Empedocles. Also each of these was also connected with the type of personality one presented. Too much earth made a person melancholic, which meant they were very depressed and saddened often. Too much air was connected with one being sanguine, meaning confident, optimistic and cheerful. If a person was choleric, their predominate humor was fire. They were said to be hot tempered and get excessively angry. If a person?s disposition was phlegmatic, their predominate element was water. They were associated with being apathetic and indifferent.
To cure diseases, doctors would try to increase the opposite humor connected with the disease the patient had. If a disease like a fever occurred, which was a hot, dry disease caused by too much yellow bile, the doctor would try to increase the opposite fluid, phlegm by prescribing cold baths. If this did not work, doctors would then prescribe drugs, such as potent poisons to purge the body of the oppressive humor.
These ideas may seem far-fetched and radical to the medical community today, but based on the lack of information and equipment of the time, the suggestions were rather ingenious. The doctors of medieval times based their hypotheses of anatomy on the knowledge they acquired through very basic observation and dissection of simple animals. If they had not created this basis of medicine, society would not have the technology it does today.