Sunday, April 26, 2015

1500s The Four Houmors or Complexions & what are they??



The Four Complexions After Georg Pencz 1530-62 Choleric

The Four Houmors or Complexions evolved from a theory that the human body was filled with 4 basic substances, called 4 humors; which are in balance, when a person is healthy.  The “humours” gave off vapors which ascended to the brain; an individual’s personal characteristics (physical, mental, moral) were explained by his or her “temperament,” or the state of theat person’s “humours.”  The perfect temperament resulted when no one of these humours dominated. All diseases & disabilities resulted from an excess or deficit of one of these 4 humors. These deficits could be caused by vapors which were breathed in or absorbed by the body. The 4 humors were identified as black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, & blood. Greeks & Romans, & the later Muslim & Western European medical establishments that adopted & adapted classical medical philosophy, believed that each of these humors would wax & wane in the body, depending on diet & activity. When a patient was suffering from a surplus or imbalance of one fluid, then his or her personality & physical health would be affected. This theory was closely related to the theory of the four elements: earth, fire, water & air; earth predominantly present in the black bile, fire in the yellow bile, water in the phlegm, & all four elements present in the blood.


The Four Complexions After Georg Pencz 1530-62 Flegmatic

Greek philosopher & pupil of Aristotle, Theophrastus, (c 372 bc-c 287) & others developed a set of characters based on the humors. Those with too much blood were sanguine. Those with too much phlegm were phlegmatic. Those with too much yellow bile were choleric, & those with too much black bile were melancholic. The idea of human personality based on humors contributed to the character eventually became part of the literature of the day.  By 1600, it was common to use “humour” as a means of classifying characters; knowledge of the humours is not only important to understanding later medieval work, but essential to interpreting some Elizabethan drama.


The Four Complexions After Georg Pencz 1530-62 Melancholy

Through the neo-classical revival in Europe, the humor theory dominated medical practice, & the theory of humoral types made periodic appearances in drama. Complexions engaged the attention of philosophers & musical theorists from ancient times right through to the Renaissance & beyond, in relation to the most favourable balancing of the 'qualities' or elements in order to heal and invigorate the soul: from Pythagoras and the musical theorist Aristoxenus, through Plato's dialogue Phaedo, Aristotle, Saint Augustine in his thesis on music, & Aquinas; & into the Florentine Renaissance, Marsilio Ficino in his work on the immortality of the soul, the Theologia Platonica.

The Four Complexions After Georg Pencz 1530-62 Sanguine

Many references to complexions filter through into Shakespeare's plays and sonnets derived from this body of thought; particularly in the description of important characters, and to the power of music above all to 'charm the savage breast', adjust the elements, and restore the equilibrium and balance, the 'harmony' of the soul: his characters call for music and are spellbound or restored by it, and in elevated mood, may hear it in the air, or sense its immortal harmonies everywhere.


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