The Four Humors

From the Greeks and Romans through the 19th century, health and wellness was thought to revolve around four “humors”. When the humors were in balance, the individual was healthy. When they were out of balance, the body became ill. Thus, the thinking went, the way to treat illness was to bring the humors back into balance. They are blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.

Humour Season Element Organ Qualities Ancient characteristics
Blood spring air liver warm & moist courageous, hopeful, amorous
Yellow bile summer fire gall bladder warm & dry easily angered, bad tempered
Black bile autumn earth spleen cold & dry despondent, sleepless, irritable
Phlegm winter water brain/lungs cold & moist calm, unemotional

This is the origin of such practices as “bleeding” a patient; if someone was thought to have too much blood (their blood humor being out of balance), by removing excess blood, health could be restored.

This could be used as the basis of a healing system in an RPG, of course. Characters could have points for each humor, and diseases or other illnesses would cause one or more of them to be out of alignment. Spells could affect specific humors, with specific results; four different types of “cure disease” spell, for example. And, of course, if magical healing is not available, a chiurgeon would use humorism as the basis for his diagnosis and treatment.

If nothing else, humorism can provide some interesting background for your medieval-themed campaign.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

4 thoughts on “The Four Humors

  1. I think this is a great idea. It gives some historical versimilitude and mioght over game mechanics easier to deal with than real healing.

  2. The idea of a surgeon class in ADD tickles me now. Fellow with the knowledge to heal unparralleled even by powerful clerics, but with a dark side, too.

    Knowledge of how to heal brings academic knowledge of how to hurt or torture. "Is it safe?"

    And should certainly be required to practice his skills in order to keep them in good order. Disections and vivisections on a semi-regular basis. Keeping abreast of the latest in research of his fellows. Etc.

    Hmmmm . . .

  3. For a time, foods were rated on a warm/cold, dry/moist basis. Tubers, for example, were considered dry and cold,and were usually eaten in soups (adding warmth and moisture to balance them out). Physicians would use these characteristics to proscribe diets for the sick to help bring them back in balance.

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