About the four humours and temperaments, and what we can conjecture from them

One of the most interesting chapters in astrology is the assessment of temperament. Unfortunately there are no so many original texts at disposal of students of our Art, so I decided to translate – I don’t know for the rest, maybe in the future-  some pages from “La fisonomia dell’homo e la celeste”, The physiognomy of the man, and the celestial one”, published in Naples in 1610 by Giovanbattista Della Porta , one of the most important Italian thinkers of Renaissance and a member of the first Accademia dei Lincei .
I also added  some case study chosen by me, one for temperament-  of  natives that for chart and temperament and life can be a good example of what we were talking about.

There are four humors of our body: blood, phlegm, and one and the other cholera, the yellow and the black.

The source of blood is the heart. Galen says that the blood is the reason of the many things occurring to the animals, so in their behavior  as in their senses. The reason is this, that blood is the material of our body, and being the food our material, and the blood is the ultimate food: it is very different whether it is hot or cold, or thin or thick, or turbulent or clear.
The signs of the sanguine temperament are the fat body, the incarnated color, that is  white mixed with red, of flowery and vague face, vermilion; sanguine are of a happy and cheerful nature, simple and pleasant. But well said Hippocrates, the reason why these are happy and sad the others, it’s because those who are of sincere and pure blood are always cheerful. But Homer said to occur  because of the plenty of heat.

Aristotle in the book about the Parts of the animals: some animals  have  a fluid blood, and it can not coagulate, like in the deer and hare, and these animals are fearful because they have a cool and watery blood, and others have it thick and earthy, which immediately freezes, like the bull, and it is still full of fibers, and all these animals are bold and brave because for the earthy and hot blood. While that blood which is colder and more liquid gives strength to the mind, and this difference we see in those animals that even not having blood, have something which is very similar to this kind of blood;  like the Bees, and the  similar insects, which are more ingenious than others which have real blood, and indeed between those who have blood, the opposite ones  which have it cold and delicate, are more ingenious . But those who have it warm, sincere and thin, win on everybody, because they are strong and worth of talent.

Pliny taking from him: those animals which have thick  blood and in abundance, are short tempered,  and the grosser they have they are stronger and the thinner more intelligent, the lesser  they  are more  shy and the more foolish. Bulls’ blood immediately hardens, and therefore it kills those who drink it. The blood of wild boars, deer, goats and cattle does not freeze, the asses have it very thick, and the man thin.

In  man the force of blood moves in every moment and movement of the soul: shame, anger, fear. But in shame and fear in several ways, because in a way in wrath and in another in shame. They are reddish in color, that is that light red, not that dark one, because that one comes from some other cause.

The learned school of Salerno has restricted the signs and the nature of the blood and other humors, which we repeat here for those who want to be reminded.

The sanguine are fat and very benign, and are light and red colored; Fables and short stories they willingly hear, they like conversation and Venus and Bacchus. They are happy, and of sweet words, but of talent are skilled in many arts: or easily they move to anger; cheerful, unsparing, singing and laughing they like, and they are strong and bold.

They says fat; but not of that tallowish fatness which comes from frigidity, but the fatness of flesh that derives from blood. Avicenna means that the abundance of the flesh and the healthy glow derives from warmth and moisture, of which consists the blood. And Galen means that the abundance of the flesh comes from the abundance of blood. They are merry, so they gladly laugh, for no other cause than the good blood. They are made happy because their clear and perfect spirits provoke them to laughter. The pedantic Lidus regrets, in Plautus, that being so old was without blood, and therefore he had no strength at all; Pistoclerus, his young disciple, because of his plenty of blood was more vigorous, so he could not punish him: My student is full of blood, he punishes me, that I am almost died.

The sanguinesshot-2020-02-13-[16-16-29]

sshot-2020-02-13-[16-21-05]Margot, daughter of Caterina de Medici and Henry II, wife of Henry of Navarre. It is written of her: what attracts our attention in her oval face with healthy cheeks, are the  brown eyes, the eyes of a cunning and intelligent she-cat…..She has a noble  and vast forehead, white as marble.
Even if as all the Valois she received a very good education, she had no special gift for it, and always prefers to dedicate her time to pleasures, music and dance.
Both Moon and Ascendant are in hot and moist signs; Venus ruler of the Ascendant is moist and hot being vespertine and the Moon which is leaving the synod with the Sun and it is in its first quadrant is again hot and moist. The Spring Sun is hot and moist too.
No doubt about her temperament.

Galen says that those thin, dark, hairy, of large veins are very easy to become melancholic, like those that are fiery red. Elsewhere: they are of gloomy appearance, sad and annoying of soul, protruding eyes and fat lips (they are fat for fatness of the spirits), dark colored because the humor runs to the skin, hairy for the abundance of their droppings. Fast tongued, and stuttering, thin voiced for the incontinence of the tongue, because from the fat spirit are the movements of the tongue. He makes them smart, greedy, shy, melancholic, seditious, and envious. Some easily become like that for many sleepless nights, or excessive fatigue, too much concern, or for  little food. The same Salernitan school teaches the ways of recognize them, and their properties:

The melancholic are black, and this humor makes them joyless and very  malicious, friends of the silence, they hate the sleep. they are shy and lovers of studies, tubborn in their intentions, envious, greedy, desirous and full of deceit, yellow, and swollen of great spirit.

Their malice comes from malignancy of the melancholy, which is’ the worst of all. They are of little words, because they are of cold temperament, and the fluency of speech comes from the plenty of heat. They are annoying because the humor is subtle. They always desire to be alone, and do not sleep much because they are dry in the brain, and the melancholy fumes, smiting in the brain, moving their horrible phantoms, and wake them up. They are firm in their intentions , and never forgive, and this comes from dryness, which is not tractable. They are fearful for the black spirits, who constantly torment them. They are envious and covetous, because of this humour. But the black cholera is of two lots, one of which is called natural, the other comes from being burning. The natural is the most dense and dried part of the blood. But the burnt humor is divided into four parts: one is made from natural melancholy, the other from the first part of the blood, the third from the combustion of yellow choler, the fourth from the corrupted phlegm. From all these four parts derive a lot of damages to the soul, like furies, flasters, stupidity and foolishness. The only natural black choler is the one which is favorable to the judgement. But this should not be understood in an absolutely way, because if it is black, and very dense, gives nonsense, if it is mixed with phlegm, stupidity; if that will be little and the blood, the yellow choler and the spirit are lacking, it gives an erratic mind and transient and ephemeral memory, but if it exceeds, it will be just enough because of such weakness. But Heraclitus said well that in the dry light harbors a prudent soul. Aristotle in his Problems says: all men who were of brilliant intelligence and surpassed the others in Philosophy or in the Government of the Republic, in writing verses or in different arts, all were melancholic, and therefore all these were tormented from diseases of the black choler. Hercules suffered transient disease. Lysander Lacedaemonius, before he died, became infected of different ulcers, deriving from atrabile. We should add Ajax and Bellerophon: one became totally insane, and the other was usual to wander in the the woods in solitude: but when Bellerophon came to be hated by all the gods, he wandered all desolate and dismayed upon the Alean plain, gnawing at his own heart, and shunning the path of man .  Indeed many of the illustrious order of Heroes have been attacked by the same illness as it is told in the ancient histories, and in the following years Empedocles, Socrates, Plato, and many others illustrious men and poets, all were attacked from the same infirmity. It was certainly of the great Eurylochus, famous for his  illustrious mind, as all those harassed by this black choler.  Favorinus the Philosopher calls it the  Heroes’ Disease, whose nature is hot and cold temperament. The black choler can become very hot and very cold, even not  in the highest point, but in the core is really cool; if excessive, makes a man fool, dazed, numb, anxious and shy, but if  it is warmed, makes the heart happy and urges to sing, to be crazy, and gives birth to many sores. For those consisting of very cold black choler, those are stunned and coward, but those which are composed of abundance of hot choler, are ingenious, lovers, inclined to anger and to desires, and to talkativeness. Many go mad, like all those which are estimated to be tempted by Demons, which is not natural if not for Distemper. Marcus of Syracuse was an excellent poet, when became mad. Plato  says in his book  about Sciences that  the only ones that can be very intelligent, those are inclined to become mad and furious. And in his Phaedrus he says that the gates of Parnassus rarely are knocked without insanity. And Democritus said that the most ingenious ones generally become crazy. But those  where heat is more modest, are very prudent, and surpass the others in the study of letters, in war, in the Government of the Republic, and this encourages the man to expose himself to great danger, because  they have confidence in themselves more than usually, as occurred to King Archelaus of Macedonia. In conclusion, then we will say that melancholics are of different types, different one from the other, because the humor can become hot and dry, and because it is very important and has the great strength to good morals (because morals we have are caused by the heat and cold), and so it makes a man of various morals; and when some temperate humor becomes hotter or colder, the melancholic, not because illness but by their nature are of peculiar intellect.
Hippocrates writes to his friend Damagetus, that going to visit Democritus to cure him, found him in the country under the shadow of a plane tree in bare legs, leaning against a rock with a book in his hands, and around him there were many dead animals opened to see the anatomy; in astonishment, Hippocrates asked him why he needed those animals, and what he was doing. He replied that he was looking for the humor which does the man so precipitous, cunning, double and fraudulent, and in the anatomy of these wild beasts he had found to be entirely because of choler, et having such a bad property, and that in revenge to fraudulent men, wished to do in those, what the Fox did, in the snake and the monkey. The burned and inflamed choler teaches to our soul how to weave betrayals and deceptions; even among the brute animals, so there is no one involved of this humor more than the snake. Therefore Scripture says that  the snake is full of malice and deceit.

The melancholic



It is the same Ficino who gives some details of his chart in one of his letters. He says: I was born on the 19th October 1433. About my birth time, my father, a doctor, does not mention it, but according my mother’s words I believe it was the 21st, and the middle of Aquarius was rising. Saturn in Aquarius ruled the eastern angle, while Mars ruled the prison in the 12th. The Sun was in Scorpio, Mercury in the 9th house, the Moon in Capricorn, Jupiter in the 7th house, in Leo, Venus in Virgo, in Aries the Part of Fortune.
And the same Ficino who assesses his temperament in another of his letters.  About my  many fears, for which  sometimes you  scold me, I believe derives from my melancholic temperament, which would be very hard, if I could not soften it with the frequent use of  cithara.  That melancholy impressed on me from the beginning by Saturn, configured at the middle of Aquarius with my Ascendant, which in the same Aquarius receives Mars, as in Capricorn receives the Moon, beholding with a square aspect Sun and Mercury in Scorpio, which are in the 9th house. To this melancholic nature maybe resist a little Venus in Libra and Jupiter in Cancer.
Here we have a hot and moist sign rising at the Ascendant, the other significator of the temperament, the Moon, is in Capricorn. Saturn, rising at the Ascendant rules both, the first for domicile, the second for domicile and triplicity.

Effects of yellow bile are, as described by Losso, the inclination to wrath and  anger.

The Salernitan scholars describe it like this:

Choler is the only humor which is convenient to those furious, impetuous, ardent. They are thin and dry, and all full of hairs, I’m talking about the one tending to the dark yellow one. They grow, they easy learn, and eat a lot. They desire to be the first ones in every place, and are magnanimous and liberal, in fact in giving they are generous and hasty;  bold, strong, cunning and shrewd.

Choleric are dashing for the excessive heat that is in that humor. Avicenna wants that their furious motions come from the heat, and arrogance from the same reason, so they always desire to have the first honors. They quick learn because of the subtlety of choleric humor, because states Avicenna that the vivacity and perspicuity of the intellect comes from the hot temperament. They eat a lot, because the heat digests very well, and where it is very hot, there is plenty of liquefying faculty, and the same humor gives the quick growth. They are of great soul, and they cannot stand injuries. And from the same cause  derives  being impatient. The have many hairs, because the heat opens the pores and facilitates the release of impurities to the skin. So they are short tempered, bold, shrewd and fraudulent from the same temperament.

The choleric




sshot-2020-02-13-[16-24-54]Girolamo Savonarola, Dominican friar famous for his inspired sermons kept in the Florence of the  Medici family. He preached against the Church and against Lorenzo de Medici, and organized several bonfires (literally) of books and artworks (please remember who were the artist working in Italy and Florence in that period) called “bonfires of vanity.” Eventually he lost his own life, burned at stake. A life where fire was important indeed .
In his chart Aries, hot and dry sign, is rising and Mars is in the first house. The Moon in Capricorn, Mars exaltation, is culminating at MC, the hottest part of the chart. Mars, ruler of the Ascendant and planet in the first house is opposite to the Sun, so very hot for phase too.
The Moon is hot and moist for phase and the Sun cold and dry for season.

The room of phlegm is in the brain. The signs are the whiteness and softness of the flesh. Losso says that they are lazy, and whatever offense they receive, they hardly arouse to anger, because phlegm is little capable to boil by the heat. The same school lists its signs and properties:

Phlegm makes the native of white complexion, and  it makes fleshy but short in stature, great friend of the sleep and little of the study, of rough mind, lazy and slow in motion; he spits a lot, he will be of little strength.

The reason for being of little strength is because the strength comes from the heat; they are are large and short, because where there is not hot there is no possibility to extend in length, being the property of the heat going up. They are fleshy because they are cold and moist. Avicenna says that the thickness comes from the excess of heat, and moisture. Galen adds the fat part of the blood, sweating and dripping down the veins, meeting with the coldness of this complexion, freezes, and the same the thickness, because from the heat and from liquefying comes thinness. They are friends of idleness, being the wet grave, they are not inclined to move. They sleep a lot for the coldness of their brain because the sleep comes from moisture and coldness. They are of hard mind because such qualities are enemies of perspicuity. They are of white complexion, because the whiteness of the skin is caused by the lack of blood, and little blood makes white, says Avicenna.

The phlegmatic



As Wikipedia well says the spirit of Italian Renaissance, “his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote.” A genius in everything, still very lazy in his studies: we still have his pages of Latin student, where he repeats and repeats with  some effort Latin declensions.
Sagittarius – hot and dry- is rising; its ruler Jupiter is in the cold and moist Pisces with the Moon. Both are in the fourth quadrant, cold and moist. Moon is after the third quarter, again cold and moist.
As pointed out by Greenbaum, Gioconda’s enigmatic smile is the epitome of phlegmatic temperament; secret, imperturbable
, out of  the world.

Written by Margherita Fiorello, CIDA certified member, for heaven astrolabe blog @ year 2010. If you want to be notified the next time I write something, subscribe to my RSS feed.



Giovan Battista Della Porta, Della fisonomia dell’homo libri sei, tradotta dal latino in volgare e accresciuta di figure,  Napoli, 1614. 

Girolamo Cardano, Liber Centum Geniturarum in Hieronymi Cardani Mediolanensis Opera omnia tam hactenvs excvsa : hic tamen aucta & emendata : quàm nunquam alias visa, ac primum ex auctoris ipsius autographis eruta cura Caroli Sponii. (Lugduni: Sumptibus Ioannis Antonii Hvgvetan & Marci Antonii Ravavd, 1663).

Francesco Giuntini, Speculum Astrologiae, quod attinet ad iudiciariam rationem natiuitatum atque annuarum reuolutionum: cum nonnullis approbatis astrologorum sententiis. (Sumptibus Philippi Tinghi Lugduni, 1573). 

Rosanna Zerilli Horus, Marsilio Ficino  alla lente dell’astrologia, Edizioni Capone, 2010.
Ornella Pompeo Faracovi, L’oroscopo di Ficino e le sue varianti, in Linguaggio Astrale n. 124


5 thoughts on “About the four humours and temperaments, and what we can conjecture from them

  1. I have a lot of phlegm and either melan (black) or the Yellow Choler. I too hated Latin as a kid (re: Lenny Da Vinci). Sanguine’s amaze me with their view of the world. Nicely done as usual Margherita.

  2. thanks for the feedback. It’s very appreciated.
    Funny thing that Leonardo had problems with Latin. In the Italian TV I saw pages the pages he wrote with rosa, rosae….terrific!

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