Four Humors

There are four kinds of people. At least that’s what everyone seems to think, and when I say everyone, I mean from Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, to J.K. Rowling, to Corporate America.

Ancient Theories

The Human body contains blood, phlegm, yellow bile (Urine) and black bile (feces). These are the things that make up its constitution and cause its pains and health. Health is primarily that state in which these constituent substances are in the correct proportion to each other, both in strength and quantity, and are well mixed. Pain occurs when one of the substances presents either a deficiency or an excess, or is separated in the body and not mixed with others.


Many of the beginnings of western medicine come from this idea, that your body’s health is based on the proportions of these four substances (that’s why leeches were used, to lower your blood level). How does this relate to your personality? Later, it was theorized by Greek Philosopher Galen, that everyone is naturally a little unbalanced, and that is the reason people have personalities in the first place.

  • If you have more blood, then you are sanguine, or talkative, enthusiastic, social, and active. You enjoy being in a crowd, and enjoy more “risk-seeking behavior.”
  • If you have more yellow bile, then you are choleric, or independent, decisive, goal-oriented, and ambitious. Natural leaders, but could also tend to be more aggressive and violent.
  • If you have more black bile, then you are melancholic, or detail-oriented, deeply emotional, or deep thinkers. Tend to be introverted and self-reliant.
  • Lastly, and excess of phlegm means you are phlegmatic, or relaxed, peaceful, and easy-going.
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Of course, everyone has a little bit of each within them, but you probably most identify with one of those.

Pop Culture

In one of the greatest cartoons ever, Avatar: The Last Airbender, all peoples of the world are split up into one of four groups, Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. Many people see these as the four base elements of the world, and so did Hippocrates. He tied each element to each Humor (Blood:Air, Yellow:Fire, Black:Earth, and Phlegm:Water). If you look at the characters, of the show, you can see parallels between their personalities/cultures, and their elements.

  • The Air Nomads, such as Aang, were very active and social, and I would say that flying through the air is a very “risk-seeking” behavior.
  • The Fire Nation were very ambitious, wishing to rule the entire world, and showed more instances of strong leadership, but definitely fell into being more aggressive and violent. The only Firebender we see not falling to violence, was Uncle Iroh, who made it a goal every day to be more in touch with his emotions and caring for others. His temperament wasn’t natural, but intentional. Even then, he was the perfect leader that Zuko needed.
  • The main character in the show from the Earth Kingdom was Toph, who we see before meeting the Aang Gaang, is very much self-reliant, in that she was a champion in a gladiatorial style bending competition. She was not quick to make friends in the show, but she was fiercely loyal to those she cared for.
  • Lastly, the Water Tribes. They were pushed for war by the Fire Nation, but in the moments in between, were very peaceful people. They had strong emphasis on family, friendship, and enjoying life.
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Ask anyone under the age of 30, chances are they know their Hogwarts house more than they know their blood type. There is such a strong tribalism to Hogwarts houses, and House-Theory has been expanded on by the fandom over the years. At it’s base, stereotypes, it’s safe to say

  • Gryffindors are social, active, and are willing to take risks
  • Slytherins are decisive, ambitious, but perhaps a bit aggressive.
  • Ravenclaws are detail-oriented, and deep thinkers.
  • Hufflepuffs are peaceful, and easy going.
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Again, there is a lot more nuance to the Hogwarts houses, because it’s set in such a living world, but at it’s base you can describe the houses that way.

Even within Dungeons & Dragons, there is the alignment chart you’ve probably seen. It technically has nine options, but five of them include “neutral” which is really more of a mix, depending on the situation. So the four alignments are Lawful Good, Lawful Evil, Chaotic Good, and Chaotic Evil. While these don’t follow the Humor pattern, it does follow the idea that there are, in essence, four types of people.

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Moving on to four-person teams, one of the most popular are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I could go through and explain them for you, or you can watch this old Cracked video where they do so, and in a much funnier fashion.

Personality Tests

Lastly, generic personality tests. While I don’t know enough about them to compare them directly to the original four humors, they are still divided into four groups.

One of the most popular tests that Corporate America likes to administer, is the DiSC test.

  • D – Dominance
  • I – Inducement
  • S – Submission
  • C – Compliance

The other major personality test is the Myers Briggs test, which instead of dividing into four groups, divides into sixteen, which is just four, four times.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I’m not saying that just because you are an Air Bender, doesn’t mean you are a Gryffindor. People are fluid creatures, and are obviously more complex than one of four options. Even more than one of sixteen options. I’m only saying that in life, people are quick to categorize themselves and each other, and it always seems to be into four categories. It’s interesting seeing the similarities in multiple different systems and schools of thought.

What is your House/Element/Alignment/Myers-Briggs? Let us know in the comments below!

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