The Four Temperaments: Melancholia - Black Bile
Melancholy: from the Greek melas-, meaning “black” - the same root found in melanin -, and kholé-, or “bile”
An overabundance of black bile in the system was believed to cause introversion, with a strong tendency towards depression, moodiness, and “the vapours”. Later, while this trait was believed to be easily imbalanced, it was not believed to be entirely negative - “melancholics” were thought to be studious and perfectionist in their works, and good at observation.
People with a chronic overabundance of this bile were believed to be possessed by the devil by Hippocrates, but by the age of Galen (500 years later), that belief was no longer considered accurate. The failure to re-balance the humours was at that point believed to be because of an insufficiently considered diet, and a predisposition towards a certain set of traits.
Facets of Melancholia:
- Element: Earth (cold and dry)
- Season: Autumn
- Planet: Saturn
- Direction: South
- Organ: Gallbladder
- Opposing humour: Blood
- Characteristics: Introversion, perfectionism, retention, guarded nature, despondence, sleeplessness. Balance between feminine and masculine.
- Associated diseases: Myriad, including nearly all non-schizoid mental disorders, paralysis or stiffness of joints, cachexia, slow digestion, and cancers. Disorders associated with a lack of blood, such as ischemia (restricted bloodflow to an area, often causing tissue damage), were also associated with black bile.
To re-balance black bile, warming and moist herbs and herbal tinctures were the most common cure. Adding “bulky” (fibrous) foods and eliminating nightshade vegetables (such as tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes) was a common later suggestion, during the 18th century.
Stewed meat and blood-benefiting (so as to counteract the black bile) foods such as nettle were also suggested by Avicenna.
In the past few decades, the United States and the Soviet Union have accomplished something that — unless we destroy ourselves first — will be remembered a thousand years from now: the first close-up exploration of dozens of other worlds. Together we have found much out there that is magnificent, instructive and of practical value. But we have found no trace, no hint of life. The Earth is an anomaly. In all the solar system, it is, so far as we know, the only inhabited planet.
We humans are one among millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for one hundred fifty million years, the dinosaurs became extinct. Every last one. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And humans, the first beings to devise the means for their own destruction, have been here for only several million years.
We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. We have an obligation to fight for life on Earth — not just for ourselves but for all those, humans and others, who came before us and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent than to survive to eliminate on a global basis the growing threats of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse and mass starvation. These problems were created by humans and can only be solved by humans. No social convention, no political system, no economic hypothesis, no religious dogma is more important.
The hard truth seems to be this: We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We would prefer it to be otherwise, of course, but there is no compelling evidence for a cosmic Parent who will care for us and save us from ourselves. It is up to us.