When it comes to ancient European ways of healing, you will find many similarities in how modern medicine still embraces some of the approaches of the past. Today, herbalism has gained an increasing following in Europe. In some countries, it is not uncommon to encounter traditional medical practitioners taking the lead from prominent herbalists. In this article, we will explore its origin.
Each ancient civilization had their own way of interpreting medical problems and understanding the way the body responded to different kinds of treatment. In Europe, a popular theory centered on the ‘four humors’ , a way of thinking that continued well into the 17th century. The man behind the foundation of thought concerning this theory was Galen (131 , 201 AD), who served as the doctor to Marcus Aurelius , infamous Roman emperor.
Galen was born in Pergamum, where he would derive a great deal of his medical experience while treating gladiators that lived in the city. This delivered the perfect opportunity to learn about the ins and out of anatomy, as well as experiment with the best remedies that packed the most potent healing power. As a result, Galen was able to write hundreds of books on the subject, becoming an inspiration and teacher to many to come after him. He also shaped European and herbal medicine in many different ways. To pay homage to the great researcher, some plant medicines are occasionally referred to as ‘Galenicals’ in an attempt to separate them from synthesized drugs.
Exploring the Four Humors Theory
By scanning the texts of Hippocrates (460 , 377 BC) and Aristotle (384 , 322 BC), Galen began to form ideas that had already been shaped by ancient Egyptian and Indian beliefs. With Hippocrates, he had taken the early belief that the world was comprised of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. He started to classify herbs as hot, cold, dry, and moist by taking a look at their primary properties.
Aristotle on the other hand, developed and spread the word regarding the four humors. The theory centered on the notion that four principle fluids existed within the body. The fluids were also given the name of ‘humors’ and included black bile (melancholy), yellow bile (choler), phlegm, and blood. It was believed that an individual was dubbed ‘ideal’ when all four of the humors were present in the body in equal amounts. Yet, most people will show that one or more humors dominate their system, which can create fluctuations in character and disposition. For example, let’s say that your brother possesses too much choler. He is most likely to exhibit behavior consistent with a short-tempered, ambitious, and vengeful individual.
In Part II of ” Ancient European Healing,” you will encounter interesting facts concerning the influence of classical herbalists, as well as more information pertaining to the humors.