Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Four Humors

From the Greeks and Romans through the 19th century, health and wellness was thought to revolve around four "humors". When the humors were in balance, the individual was healthy. When they were out of balance, the body became ill. Thus, the thinking went, the way to treat illness was to bring the humors back into balance. They are blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.

Humour Season Element Organ Qualities


Ancient characteristics
Blood spring air liver warm & moist


courageous, hopeful, amorous
Yellow bile summer fire gall bladder warm & dry


easily angered, bad tempered
Black bile autumn earth spleen cold & dry


despondent, sleepless, irritable
Phlegm winter water brain/lungs cold & moist


calm, unemotional

This is the origin of such practices as "bleeding" a patient; if someone was thought to have too much blood (their blood humor being out of balance), by removing excess blood, health could be restored.

This could be used as the basis of a healing system in an RPG, of course. Characters could have points for each humor, and diseases or other illnesses would cause one or more of them to be out of alignment. Spells could affect specific humors, with specific results; four different types of "cure disease" spell, for example. And, of course, if magical healing is not available, a chiurgeon would use humorism as the basis for his diagnosis and treatment.

If nothing else, humorism can provide some interesting background for your medieval-themed campaign.