For reasons that, for once, had nothing to do with writing, I found myself researching Ancient Greek medicine the other day, specifically the Four Humours.
It was something I was vaguely familiar with from GCSE history. The History of Medicine was my favourite part of the course, and the only part I remember in any detail. I loved learning about trepanning (the practice of cutting holes into the skull to let out ‘bad spirits’) and the advances war surgeons made to the medical field. It was gory, which always helped to hold my interest, and it had absolutely nothing to do with politics, which also helped.
So, it was armed with a little foreknowledge that I dived into the internet to find a bit about the Four Humours. I knew, for instance, that Blood and Phlegm were two of the four humours, and that the others had something to do with Bile. I knew that leeches were a common treatment for ‘excess blood’ related disorders, as was blood-letting with a knife, but that was about the extent of what I remembered.
The results were fairly interesting.
There are all sorts of personality tests, it transpires, that you can use to measure which ‘Humour’ has most influence on your life. They are very simple and stereotyped – creative, spontaneous, outgoing traits on on end of the scale; calm, thoughtful, controlled on the other.
I did the test and, no real surprises here, came out as Black Bile.
The diagram above shows the sort of personality traits that fit with each ‘Humour’. I went for rule of ‘best fit’. I’m reserved, unsociable, quiet and often moody and anxious. The Boyfriend is very definitely restless, touchy, excitable and active. What a fine Emotionally Unstable pair we make!
I was taking this all with a generous pinch of salt, but the really interesting thing was the diseases we are prone to are actually a fairly consistent match with health issues we’ve had in the past.
The comprehensive list is here, but among other things I’m prone to:
Depression – I had a terrible bout of depression in my teens, and I’m still prone to feeling horrible all day for no discernible reason
Lightheadedness – I get this all the time, a symptom of my lower than average blood pressure
Poor circulation – This too – cold feet and hands.
The Boyfriend is prone to restless sleep, insomnia, anger issues… In fact this ‘Mind’ section is practically a character profile for the Boyfriend when he’s not at his best:
Mind: Anger, impatience, irritability. Forceful, agitated manner. Hypertension, stress. Insomnia, restless sleep.
It makes me wonder. The Greeks may have got a lot wrong about medicine, but they were clearly onto something.
I’m not the sort of person who believes in holistic medicine over the NHS, but perhaps next time I’m having a bad mood day, I’ll take some Valerian Root to calm nervous anxieties and purge my body of excess black bile.
Or perhaps I’ll just get on with it, like I always do.