Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Humors in Renaissance Philosophy

  • Malcolm Hebron
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_930-1

Abstract

The Renaissance inherited the classical doctrine of the four humours (Greek chymoi), the essential fluids of the human body. The humours were blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. A healthy body was characterized by the balance between the humours. Illness was perceived as an interruption of that balance. The relative disposition of these four humours was believed to determine the physiological health and temperament of humans and animals. The humours formed part of a wider explanatory model of the natural world. They were connected to the four elements, the four temperaments, the four seasons, and the four ages of man. Each humour was governed by a particular bodily organ (Table 1).
Table 1

Correspondences

Humour

Temperament

Element

Qualities

Age

Season

Organ

Blood

Sanguine

Air

Warm, moist

Infancy

Spring

Liver

Yellow bile

Choleric

Fire

Warm, dry

Youth

Summer

Spleen

Black bile

Melancholy

Earth

Dry, cold

Adulthood

Autumn

Gallbladder

Phlegm

Phlegmatic

Water

Cold, moist

Old age

Winter

Brain, lungs

Through this series of connections, the humours integrated the human body into a scheme of the wider natural world: in humoural theory, man is intrinsically a part of the natural order, not separate from it. The passions of the mind and aspects of character cannot be meaningfully understood apart from the physical body. Psychological as well as physical conditions are traceable to natural causes. As a materialist approach to diagnosis, humoural theory fits well with the Aristotelian tradition; Platonic interest in the spirit, and astrological and occult explanatory models of physical and emotional states, fall largely outside the theory of humourism (Arikha 2007).

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References

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Online

  1. BBC In Our Time podcast on The Four Humours. 2007. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008h5dz. Accessed 2 Mar 2017.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Winchester CollegeWinchesterUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Matteo Valleriani
    • 1
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany