Sunday, May 19, 2013

Which Temperament Are You?

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the world was made of four elements: Air, Earth, Water and Fire. Many of them also believed that human beings were full of liquids or HUMOURS that matched up with these elements.

Use of dry-cupping to suck "bad humours" out of a man in San Francisco  

The ancients (and some moderns) thought that everybody tends to have more of one 'humour' than the others. This excess could determine your TEMPERAMENT. Knowing which of the four 'temperaments' you were would also help ancient doctors prescribe a cure when you were sick. They could 'balance your humours' by either taking away the excess humours (through bleeding, vomit, enema, dry-cupping, etc.) or by building them up through diet. For example, if you had too much mucus they might prescribe a hot, dry baked rooster!

Here are the FOUR HUMOURS. 

Blood = Sanguine temperament = AIR
Black Bile (found in poo) = Melancholy temperament = EARTH
Phlegm (mucus) = Phlegmatic temperament = WATER
Yellow Bile (found in vomit) = Choleric temperament = FIRE

Try this Roman Mysteries Questionnaire to see which of the Four Temperaments you are:

(To download this questionnaire, go to my DORMOUSE page)

If you mainly ticked “a” then you are SANGUINE, like FLAVIA with extra BLOOD.
Enthusiastic but overbearing, you are often impulsive and take risks. You are cheerful, energetic and optimistic but you can also be impatient. You get bored easily and sometimes find it hard to stick to one task, flitting from one thing to another. Although you are apparently friendly, your friendships can be superficial.
Fun Fact about Sanguine Temperament: Ancients believed the extra blood often gave you PINK CHEEKS.

If you mainly answered “b”, you are MELANCHOLIC like JONATHAN, who often has too much BLACK BILE.
You are likely to be a perfectionist who overthinks things. You spot all the mistakes and errors in a plan and so you can seem critical. You can be stubborn, reserved and aloof. On the good side, you are sensitive, thoughtful and often creative. You are also grounded. People might call you a pessimist, but like Jonathan, you maintain you are a “realist”!
Fun Fact about Melancholic temperament: In medieval times people thought CATS were melancholic!

Did you mainly tick “c”? Then you are PHLEGMATIC like NUBIA and your extra "humour" is MUCUS.  Those of a phlegmatic temperament were considered to be patient, calm, nurturing, thoughtful, loyal and non-demanding. The downside is that – like Nubia – you can be overwhelmed the force of stronger personalities.

Fun Fact: Mucus makes you brave and steadfast. According to Pliny the Elder, some soldiers in ancient times drank a concoction of bull mucus and goat mucus to calm them down before a battle. This mixture was called SNORTEUM.

If you answered mainly “d” then you are CHOLERIC like LUPUS.
People of a choleric disposition are often hot-tempered. They can be pushy, bold, insensitive and risk-takers. On the plus side they are adventurous, enterprising and brave. Natural leaders, cholerics are often too independent to accept help or advice.
Fun Fact: The ancients believed that CURLY HAIR was one mark of the choleric temperament.

Sanguine Pooh Bear!
Don't worry if you don't fit easily into one of these categories. The ancients believed your temperament could change throughout the course of your life and even in the course of one day!

And don't try balancing the humours yourself, especially through bloodletting, vomiting or laxatives!

P.S. There is a great summary of the four humours by Christopher Hedley. He matches the four humours with characters from Winnie the Pooh! Winnie-the-Pooh = Sanguine; Eeyore = Melancholic; Piglet = Phlegmatic; Tigger = Choleric. And here's my riff on the humours in super heroes (below)!

Caroline Lawrence writes time machine books which will transport you back first century RomeWestern America in the early 1860s and Roman Britain. For more information, visit

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