Hippocrates and the theory of essential moods in humans

Hippocrates and the theory of essential moods in humans

The history of Hippocrates and the theory of essential moods date back almost four centuries to our era.It is considered one of the first approaches to psychology, a new science that was born twenty centuries later.

Hippocrates is called "father of medicine" because he was the first in the West to systematize the available knowledge on health and disease.He also proposed an explanation for these phenomena and therapeutic means to treat them.

"It's much more important to know which person is suffering from an illness than to know what illness the person is suffering from."


Hippocrates theory of essential moods was assimilated and used by the majority of doctors until the mid-nineteenth century.This gives us an idea of ​​the solidity of the foundations of Hippocrates. In fact, we continue today to cite some of the postulates of this theory.

The theory of essential moods

The theory of Hippocrates' essential moods suggests, to summarize, that the human body consists of four substances. These substances receive the name of moods. They must maintain a perfect balance between them. When they lose it, the disease appears, both in the body and in the mind.

Any deficiency or illness meant that the balance of moods had changed. Therefore, to cure them, it was necessary to find a way to restore the lost balance.

According to the theory of essential moods, the substances that make up the human body are: black bile, yellow bile, blood and lymph.Each of these moods is directly related to an element of the universe and to an atmospheric quality. The relationship would be:

  • Black bile:earth-bound, dry and cold
  • Yellow bile:fire-related, dry and hot
  • Blood :linked to the air, moist and warm
  • Lymph:related to water, wet and cold

Moods and personality

Hippocrates has never seen illness as an exclusively organic theme.He kept a conception in which the mind and the body formed only one reality.Therefore, what was happening in the mind had effects on the physical organism and vice versa.

The pupils of the peripatetic school brought a new element to the theory of essential moods. They suggested that the predominance of one of the moods leads to a specific temperament in people. Later, Galien completed these ideas.He pointed out that the imbalance of mood affects our way of being, feeling, thinking and acting.

It was Galen himself who eventually established the existence of four temperamentsfrom the theory of essential moods. Here they are :

  • Melancholy.He characterizes one who has a predominance of black bile in his body. People with this temperament are sad, quite likely and oriented towards artistic activities.
  • Choleric. It represents those who have a large amount of yellow bile. This leads to a passionate temperament, with enormous vitality and a tendency to get angry very easily.
  • Blood.In this case, the mood of the blood predominates. The traits of the blood temperament are self-confidence, joy, optimism, expressiveness and sociability.
  • Phlegmatic.It characterizes those who have a predominance of lymph in their body. Phlegmatic people are thoughtful, just, quiet, with little commitment and a little lazy.

Hippocratic approaches in today's world

Hippocrates, Galen and all their followers created and completed the theory of essential moods based on observation. They did not apply any scientific method.With the birth and consolidation of the formal sciences, all this theory has fallen into disuse.Today, it is not given any objective validity: it is considered only as a historical reference.

However, the theory of essential moodshas the merit of having been the first serious effort to classify the different types of temperaments.The fact that these illustrious doctors were able to understand that emotions also have physiological consequences is also very interesting.

In fact, the first psychologists were inspired by the theories of Hippocrates and Galen.In one way or another, these thinkers have shown a great deal of intuition. Their classifications are similar to the different types of personality defined by researchers, almost 2000 years after these precursors of the health sciences.

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