Timeless Traits

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 26 2012 @ 7:11pm

Jenny Diski discusses "the humoural theory of the Greeks: the four ‘humours’ that coursed through the body and in various combinations caused one of four main personality types: phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine and melancholic." As a lifelong depressive, she notes a pattern:

The longer I look into modern theories of mood disorders, the more they start to look strangely similar to the old humoural theories and remedies. Too little of this, increase that. If that doesn’t work, try some hellebore. … Remembering his time living with the Azande people of north central Africa, the anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard said after he returned to England that he thought their habit of studying of chicken entrails was as good a way as any he had come across in his life of making decisions. I have a feeling that Galen’s and Hippocrates’s humoural imbalance theories are in much the same relationship with modern monoamine imbalance depression theory. And perhaps that’s even a bit of a relief.