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The temperament influences facial expressions and even bone structure[1]

Elements, temperaments and humours

Modern astrology takes many of its insights on personality from the field of psychology. Traditional astrologers of the past, in contrast, considered the four elements of Antiquity and their qualities as these manifested in human health and behaviour. The four temperaments are:

  • Choleric (hot and dry) equates to the fire element and the signs Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.
  • Sanguine (hot and moist) refers to the air element and the signs Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.
  • Phlegmatic (cold and moist) connotes the water element as well as Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.
  • Melancholic (cold and dry) indicates the earth element, and Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn.

The four temperaments in traditional medical astrology also refer to the four humours of Antiquity, or bodily fluids believed to govern health and disposition. The most commonly described fluids were:

  • Fire: "yellow bile" could promote anger or peevishness.
  • Air: blood symbolized courage and optimism.
  • Water: phlegm made the disposition calm and placid.
  • Earth: "black bile' made people sad ("melancholic") or irritable.

If the patient's four humours got out of balance, doctors believed that illness or personality disorders could result. Temperament had further associations, such as with the seasons and planets. The sun, for example, is hot and dry while the moon is cold and moist. Belief in astrological influences over the humours, health, and personality was one reason why the predominant Christian authorities permitted medieval and renaissance medical students to study astrology even in times and places where the church banned astrology for predictive purposes.

In reality there is only one kind of bile but its colour varies. The four personality types still retain some currency in the English language. For example, sang as the French root for "blood" appears in the English word "sanguine", meaning optimistic. The aruvedic medical system of India retains a similar system of astrological correspondences. Traditional astrologers today look at temperament as an alternative to psychology in analysing people's dispositions.

Melencolia I[2]

See also



  • Dorian Gieseler Greenbaum, 2005, Temperament: Astrology's Forgotten Key, The Wessex Astrologer, Ltd. ISBN 978-1902405179 Excerpts Review

Notes and References

  1. According to an eighteenth century book on physiognomy (Johann Kaspar Lavater, ca. 1775)
  2. From Albrecht Dürer, 1514. Latin i! means Get away (, melancholy)!