Jul 1, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Four Temperaments

I just got back from Archipelacon, so bear with me if this post is a bit incoherent... Fantastic con, but more on that later. 

This week I started with the expressions "in a spleen" and "to vent one's spleen," and ended up researching the four temperaments. You can read about this in more detail in the wikipedia article, but here's a short summary.

 The theory of four temperaments goes back to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. He believed that different moods were caused by an imbalance of four bodily fluids called "humours," black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. These in turn led to the different temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Each also has an element associated with it.  

Sanguine from French sanguin, from Latin sanguineus, from sanguin meaning blood, is by far the best choice. Sanguine people are supposed to be artistic, lively, sociable, warm-hearted, and optimistic, but can also be flighty and changeable at times.
This temperament is associated with air. 

Choleric from Old French colere meaning "bile, anger", from Latin cholericus, from Ancient Greek kholḗbile,” this temperament was associated with fire. Choleric people were supposed to be egocentric and extroverted, passionate and aggressive. Good leaders, they are practical and good at planning things. 

An interesting side note: the English word "bilious" (angry, peevish) has its origins in this, and also the use of the word "gal" when used to mean exasperated. 

Melancholic from  Ancient Greek melankholikósatrabilious, impulsive". Atrabilious comes from Latin ātra bīlis (black bile), from āter (dark, black), + bīlis (bile). Melancholic people were seen as careful, introverted, cautious, and susceptible to depression and moodiness. This temperament is associated with earth. 

Phlegmatic from Old French fleumatique,  from Latin phlegma, from Ancient Greek phlégmaflameinflammation; clammy humor in the body), from phlégeinto burn,” phlegmatic people were seen as calm, thoughtful, caring, tolerant, and private, and they were rumoured to have rich inner lives. This temperament was associated with water.     

The ancient Greeks had some funny ideas about which organs would secrete which humours; blood was belied to be secreted from the liver, as was yellow bile, black bile is associated with the spleen, and phlegm with the brain.  

So, which personality type are you? I think I'm somewhere between melancholic and phlegmatic.


Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_temperaments

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humorism

https://en.wiktionary.org/

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