Elements, Qualities, & Humours
The world, to Renaissance scholars, was made up of the four
Elements: Fire, Air, Water, and Earth. The elements were
produced by the mingling of the four Qualities, heat, cold,
moisture, and dryness. Heat and dryness made Fire, while heat
and moisture made Air. Cold and dryness made Earth, with cold
and mositure combining to form Water.
The Qualities, in fact, were basic to everything, including
the basic building-block of the physical and spirtual person,
the four Humours:
Blood: the combination of heat and mositure, the progenitors of
Air, in creatures made Blood. This humor, if dominant in a
creature, gave that person the positive, “sanguine” nature.
Strongest in the Spring, and from 12:00 midnight to 6:00am.
Choler: The combination of heat and dryness, the progenitors of
Fire, in creatures made Choler. This homour, if dominant in
a creature, gave that person the negative, angry, “choleric”
nature. Strongest in Summer, and from 6:00am to 12:00 noon.
Melancholy (Black Bile): The combination of cold and dryness,
the progenitors of Earth, in creatures make Melancholy.
This humour, if dominant in a creature, gave that person the
negative, brooding, depressive, “melancholy” nature.
Strongest in Autumn, and from 12:00 noon to 6:00pm.
Phlegm: The combination of cold and moisture, the progenitors
of Water, in creatures make Phlegm. This humour, if
dominant in a creature, gave that person the repellently
dull and apathetic, “phlegmatic” temperament. Strongest in
Winter, and from 6:00pm to 12:00 midnite.
The four Humours blended togehter in a person, and they produced
both the physical and the emotional substance of that person.
Thus, when a “sanguine” person began to grow cross or angry –
especially if the behavior contined over a number of days – it
was thought that their humours wer out of balance, in particular
that their Choler was gaining dominance over their more normal
Of course, at different times of the year, and of the day,
different humours became stronger, as shown above, so that, the
best times were Srpring Mornings, while the worst were Winter
Evenings — hardly inconsistent with reality.