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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The four humors and the four personalities

Primitive societies attempted to understand the natural world around them, and created theories to explain what they observed and experienced.  Two common theories that were recorded by Ancient Greek writers were the four elements and the four humors.

Aristotle was the among first to record the four elements as:
  1. Air
  2. Water
  3. Fire
  4. Earth
Everything around us was made of these four elements, including the human body.  That the human body was based on these four elements was described by the Hippocratic writers around 400 B.C. as the four humors.  These humors were based on the four elements as follows:
  1. Blood -- Air
  2. Phlegm -- Water
  3. Yellow Bile -- Fire
  4. Black Bile -- Earth
The four humors are prevalent in the human body as follows:
  1. Blood is red, and is considered the sanguine humor
  2. Phlegm is the clear plasma and is considered the phlegmatic humor
  3. Yellow Bile is present in biliruben, a yellow tint, and is considered the choleric humor
  4. Black Bile is dark blood caused by clots, such as dark bile, and is considered the melancholy humor.  It's black magic. It's cold and dry.
Diseases were considered to be caused by imbalances of these four humors.  For example, an excess of phlegm is believed to be responsible for asthma/ dyspnea.  To resolve this disease (the symptom was the disease) the humors must be balanced by proper diet or by some medical procedure, such as bleeding.

The humors also determined your personality as follows:
  1. Sanguine:  An excess of blood promotes a feeling of joy, mirth, optimism, enthusiasm, affection and well being. They are your socializers, they embellish facts, they yell and shout in public, they demand attention, they want attention, they are cheerful and are notorious for being late and unorganized.  They love to party and have fun.  They talk a lot and make a lot of promises because they think it's the right thing to do. Then they often don't follow through on their promises.  They tend to over-react, get very emotional.  They laugh to excess, or cry to excess.  They are very showy that way.  Because they get along with everyone they can get you excited about things.  They are your salespeople, anchormen, actors, extroverts, etc. They marry cholerics because they need discipline. They cannot be relied upon to get things done.  In groups they are the entertainer, the class clowns, etc. Bill Clinton is a famous sanguine, as he was often late and tended to embellish facts.  He was a socializer. They may get irritated with the melancholy person who is very punctual (always on time) and likes to get things done right and be organized.  Sanguines tend to bounce from one idea to the next and lose patience easily, so lists won't work for them.  They simply go through the day based on whatever whim occurs to them that day. 
  2. Phlegmatic:  An excess of phlegm induces passivity, lethargy, subjectivity, devotion, emotionalism, sensitivity and sentimentality.  They are relaxed and easy going; equanimity.  They take their shoes off, put their feet up, and tend to chill.  Things rarely get them roused.  They don't upset people, avoid trouble, and don't get worked up over trivial matters.  They are relaxed and easy going.  They are easy to get along with.  They create a milieu of relaxation.  They often need someone to motivate them as they tend to be procrastinators.  He is neutral.  He doesn't over react, in fact he generally under reacts.  He doesn't get emotional.  In fact, their indifference may upset people.  They do not or cannot make decisions.  In fact, they probably cannot take the test to decide what personality they are because they cannot decide on the answers.  They usually marry a melancholy because they need organization. John Goodman is a good phlegmatic. They care about people and harmony. They get irritated with cholerics who insist things get done now and take everything too seriously. They can also be coupled with cholerics because they like to be told what to do.
  3. Choleric:  An excess of yellow bile provokes, excites and emboldens the passions.  Being inflammatory, irritating and caustic, it provokes anger, irritability, boldness, ambition, envy, jealousy and courage. They are decisive, stubborn, and are notorious for making lists.  They will insist things get done right now.  They are dominant, strong and very decisive.They are arrogant. Doctors are often this type because they can retain lots of information and are quick to make decisions.  They are quick to get angered when you don't do things their way.  They are focused on the task and work on it until they get done.  Sure, this can be annoying to other personalities.  They are tense. They marry sanguines because they need someone to help them put down the task and have fun. They get irritated with phlegmatics who don't seem to get things done.They may be coupled with a phlegmatic too so they can relax and enjoy life. However, the more commanding the choleric becomes the more indifferent the phlegmatic may become. 
  4. Melancholy:  Too much black bile, or black magic inside, makes one pensive, melancholy and withdrawn.  It encourages prudence, caution, realism, pragmatism and pessimism.  A melancholy person is believed to be dark, gloomy, and filled with black magic.  They have a cold, dry personality.  They are your thinkers, assessors, organizers, writers, and artists.  They are your talented people.  They come up with many ideas because they spend hours reading, writing, and thinking.  They are the creators, inventors.  Yet they aren't always fun to be around.  They are well organized, meticulous.  They often carry on their possession everything they might need in a day: notepads, pencils, tissues, etc.  And these will be orderly and organized on their possession.  Their hair is neat, beard and mustache trimmed neat, nails done nice.  They may have nervous tendencies like smoking, biting their nails, tapping their fingers, playing with their hair, etc.  They are taciturn, generally quiet. You often have to invite them to have a seat or to join the conversation.  However, when you involve them, once they are comfortable, they have a plethora of wisdom to share and are eager to talk about what they are interested in. They usually marry a phlegmatic because they need to relax. They are introverts. They make lists and are intent to get things done, and may get upset with sanguines who don't seem to worry. George W. Bush was a good melancholy because he was prompt to meetings as compared to Bill Clinton who was notoriously late.
These four personality are essential for normal interactions during the course of life.  You need one of each personality for a business to work, as you'll need the organizational skills of the melancholy, the insistence on timeliness of the choleric, the social skills of the sanguine, and the relaxation and harmony skills of the phlegmatic.

In this way, a good mix of these personalities are essential for movies.  Examples of good mixes are the Flintstones, The Honeymooners, Seinfeld, Cheers, MASH, Everyone Loves Raymond, etc.  An understanding of these personalities also helps you to understand the people around you so you can learn to get along with others. 

Surely this is just a theory, although it seems to work pretty well as far as the personalities go.  The four humors are interesting to read about, and they do seem to shed some light on why people act the way they do. 

I highly recommend that everyone read Personality Plus.  I think it's essential that you know what you're dealing with in your RT Cave.  It was this book and others like it that really helped me get along with the personalities I generally have a conflict with, such as the cholerics.  This makes sense considering I'm a phlegmatic/ melancholy.  Oh, I forgot to write above that most people have one dominant personality and one secondary personality.  Mine is phlegmatic and melancholy.

Take the Personality Plus test here.  If you end up with 25% of every personality like I did, that means you're probably a phlegmatic and you'll need a melancholy or choleric to help you decide on the right answers.  It's kind of funny but it's true.  My coworker Jane Sage had the same thing happen to her, so I'd assume it's true: phlegmatics can't answer questions about themselves; they can't decide. 

  1., "The Four Humors."
  2. Littauer, Florence, "Personality Plus," Fleming H Revel, 1983,

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