Method in the Madness
Classical medicine, particularly the ideas of Hippocrates (c. 460 - c. 370 BC) and Galen of Pergamon (c.129 – c.216/17 AD) formed the dominant system for understanding the body, mind and illness in the 1500s and 1600s. The human body was believed to be controlled by four fluids known as ‘humours’. These were: yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm. The humours were each thought to possess different qualities of heat and moisture, with their balance determining the body’s temperature, anatomical form and health. Blood was believed to make the body hot and wet, yellow-bile hot and dry, black-bile cold and dry, and phlegm cold and wet. Whilst this may sound alien, some of the language related to this theory persists. For instance, we still consider anger to be ‘hot’ and suggest time to ‘cool’ down. In each individual, the balance of these humours was slightly different, affecting both their physical and mental characteristics and the likelihood of their suffering with certain diseases.