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The Humours of Hippocrates: Which one are you?

by July 10, 2019

The Four Humors Illustration

Four Humors Drawing by Granger

If you had assumed that the theory of ‘humours’ had been unanimously relegated to the ‘didn’t work’ shelf of ancient philosophy, then… perhaps you’d be wrong. It appears that Hippocrates’ concept of a four chemical system that affect behavior is enjoying a bit of a revival.
Recently the New York Times posted an article called, “Could Ancient Greek Philosophy Help You Work Smarter and Better”, advocating “Humourism” and apparently it’s making the rounds. For those who want a recap, Humourism or humoralism, conceives that there are four basic fluids in the body; blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile, and that different levels of these fluids, or humors, affect our personalities.
While Hippocrates (460 – c. 370 BC) is usually credited with the theory, the concept has more ancient roots, including ancient Egypt and perhaps even Mesopotamia. Specifically, the medical theorist Alcmaeon of Croton (C. 540–500BC) outlined the idea, though with many substances, and the Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Empedocles (c. 494 – c. 434 BC) believed that there were only four temperaments composed of natural elements like water, air, fire and earth.
Bust of Hippocrates

Engraving by Peter Paul Rubens, 1638, courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Hippocrates, and later Galen (129–201 AD), suggested that if there is any imbalance in these fluids, then temperament is affected. Moreover, The imbalance of humors, or dyscrasia, was thought to be the direct cause of all diseases. The qualities of the humours, in turn, influenced the nature of the diseases they caused. For instance, Yellow bile caused warm diseases and phlegm caused cold diseases. The diseases were all combinations of hot/cold and wet/dry.
It’s important to note that while today we associate temperament with just psychological dispositions, the ancients felt it also referred to bodily dispositions. Indeed, a person’s emotional and behavioral inclinations determined their susceptibility to particular diseases.
The Hippocratic Bench

A drawing of a Hippocratic bench from a Byzantine edition of Galen’s work in the 2nd century AD

One of the treatises attributed to Hippocrates, On the Nature of Man, describes the theory as follows:
“The Human body contains blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. 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.”

Table outlining the temperaments

So, what are the exact four temperaments caused by these unfortunate unbalances? These include:

Blood was believed to have come from the liver, exclusively. Too much of it resulted in a sanguine nature, which is described as enthusiastic, active, social and extremely talkative. ‘Sanguines’ tend to be extroverted, enjoy being part of a crowd and find being social, outgoing, and charismatic easy to accomplish.

Yellow bile/Choleric
Too much yellow bile resulted in a ‘Choleric’ nature, which was believed to produce aggression. On the positive side, ‘Choleric’ temperaments are described as independent, decisive, goal-oriented, and ambitious. In Greek, Medieval and Renaissance times, they were thought of as violent, vengeful, and short-tempered, though apparently they also make natural leaders… who would have thought?

Black bile/Melancholic
The excess of Black bile was believed to cause depression, and indeed, the word “melancholy” derives from Greek μέλαινα χολή (melaina kholé) meaning ‘black bile’. As a temperament description, Melancholics have a predisposition to be deep thinkers, feelers, analytical and detail oriented. They can be introverted, anxious and reserved… as well as a perfectionist.

Phlegm was thought to be associated with apathetic behavior, as can be seen in the word “phlegmatic”. On the upside, they are considered relaxed, peaceful, quiet, easy-going, as well as empathetic. Interestingly, the phlegm of humorism is far from the same thing as phlegm as it is defined today…

Illustration of four temperaments

18th-century depiction of the four temperaments, Phlegmatic and choleric above, Sanguine and melancholic below

This individualistic system of describing human behavior and temperament was hugely influential. It was not only adopted by the Greeks, but also by Roman and Islamic physicians. In fact, this theory dominated Western medical thinking for more than 2,000 years and dictated the view of the human body among European physicians until at least 1543, when it was first challenged. However, the underlying belief in it continued right through the eighteenth century, as evidenced by practices such as bleeding a sick person or applying hot cups. (Tactics that are still employed in many places in the world even today.)
So, perhaps with that in mind, it isn’t so surprising that folks are looking at this theory of human behavior again.
Lifecoach and author of the aforementioned Times article, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, explained how understanding your own temperament can help your work flow…and goes so far as to provide tips on how your temperament can be best ‘harnessed’.
Sanguines, for instance, need to break projects into bit-sized chunks. Cholerics should trust more in their co-workers and exercise patience. Melancholics are instructed to limit the time they take on each task while phlegmatic are advised to partner with other temperaments…
There is even a quiz that you are welcome to take here before reading her suggestions.
While the description of the personalities, and perhaps even the advise on how to best navigate them, seem quite alluringly accurate, it may be an indication of the Barnum Effect (one of the biases we described not too long ago). That is for you to decide.
Either way, the fact that these ideas have persisted so long may indicate that the Greeks did an excellent job of understanding human personalities…even if the science behind it may not be quite as convincing.

The Colosseum: A Symbol of Gory Glory

by May 29, 2019

By Mónica Correa, contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Panorama of the Coliseum at dusk

While the Roman Empire bequeathed us many splendid structures, from the Pantheon in Italy to the Maison Carrée in France, there is one architectural wonder that is no doubt, the most famous of all Roman creations. The Colosseum, with its architecture, detailed structural elements and impressive history, manages to inspire awe to this very day.
Also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, it is the largest amphitheater ever built and, interestingly, has only been called “the Colosseum” since eighth century.
Construction started under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72, with the opening ceremonies taking place under his son Titus in 80. The inaugural celebrations lasted 100 days and thousands of men and animals were slaughtered. While the Colosseum was being used it regularly housed massive performances and events that satisfied the Roman taste for savage entertainment.
Painting of gladiators

Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1872

The Colosseum’s Construction
The location of the Colosseum is very significant. Vespasian decided to build it on the grounds of Nero’s Golden House as a sign of the emperor’s fall from grace. The spot also had the added benefit of being in the center of Rome.
It took a decade to build the Colosseum and the cost of construction is unknown. However, an inscription found on the site states that funding came from Rome’s military conquests. Although its architects and builders are unknown, some records suggest that workers may have been prisoners of war.
Rome Map

Map of Rome during Antiquity

The inside of the arena measured 278 by 177 feet and was originally surrounded by seating in four separate tiers which could accommodate, according to one late Roman description, 87,000 spectators.
The seating was arranged according to the stratified nature of Roman society. Special boxes providing the best views of the arena were located at the north and south end for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, respectively. Flanking them at the same level was a broad platform or podium for the senatorial class, who were allowed to bring their own chairs. The names of some fifth century senators can still be seen carved into the stonework, presumably reserving areas for their use.
Illustration of the Colosseum

Cross-section from the Lexikon der gesamten Technik (1904)

 Diagram of the levels of seating

Diagram of the levels of seating

The non-senatorial noble class or knights (equites) occupied the maenianum primum, the tier above the senators. The next level up, the maenianum secundum, was originally reserved for ordinary Roman citizens (plebeians). This was divided into two sections, with the lower part (the immum) for wealthy citizens, and the upper part (the summum) for poor citizens.

Later on a gallery was built for women and slaves. Some groups, however, were never allowed into the Colosseum. These included gravediggers, former gladiators and, of course, actors.
The Colosseum’s Expansion
While most of the Colosseum was finished before Vespasian’s death in 79, his sons and successors completed the structure.
Coin commemorating the inauguration

Sestertius of Titus celebrating the inauguration of the Colosseum (minted 80 AD).

Titus, the eldest son who ruled from 79 to 81, finished the construction for the grand opening in 80. Domitian, who succeeded him and ruled from 81 to 96, was responsible for the fourth floor, a wooden story mainly used for storage, as well as another seating gallery.
The most significant addition made by Domitian, however, was the Hypogeum, an underground complex beneath the arena. It was designed and built around two years after the Colosseum was inaugurated. Animals, performers and stagehands used this important structure, navigating the tunnels when something or someone was needed in the arena. Workers could use rudimentary elevators and trapdoors covered by sand access the stage. The Hypogeum was dark, lit only by smoky oil lanterns.
The hypogeum

The Colosseum arena, showing the hypogeum now filled with walls. The walls were added early in the Colosseum’s existence when it was decided it would no longer be flooded and used for naval battles

Also constructed after inauguration, the awning was added as a canopy that could cover a large section of the bleachers. Its goal was to shade audiences, protecting them from the sun.
The Colosseum’s Deterioration
In 217, the Colosseum was badly damaged by a major fire that was caused by lightning, according to Dio Cassius. The inferno destroyed the wooden upper levels and it was not fully repaired until about 240. It underwent further repairs in 250 or 252 and again in 320, but never again returned to its former glory.
Colosseum's fall

Interior of the Colosseum, Rome (1832) by Thomas Cole, showing the Stations of the Cross around the arena and the extensive vegetation

In the following centuries, earthquakes damaged its structure. The most significant occurred in 134, causing the outer wall on the south side completely collapsed.
The Colosseum’s Modern Symbolism
In the beginning, this structure had one important goal: to be the stage of the gladiatorial games. However, as the society and culture evolved, so did the significance and purpose of the Colosseum.
From 1928 to 2000, a fragment of its distinctive colonnade was displayed on the medals awarded to victorious athletes at the Olympic Games, as a symbol of the modern Games’ ancient reference.
Lights on the Colosseum

The Colosseum lights up in protest to the death penalty.

The Colosseum has also become a symbol of the international campaign against capital punishment. As a gesture on their position against the death penalty, authorities change the color of the Colosseum’s illumination from white to gold whenever a condemned person gets their sentence commuted or is released, or if a jurisdiction abolishes the death penalty.
Today, receiving thousands of tourists from around the world, the Colosseum stands as a powerful reminder of the ancient world, its glory… and gory history.

The 13 Most Important Buildings in Ancient Alexandria, Egypt

by May 27, 2019

An important center of Hellenistic civilization, Alexandria was the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt, Roman and Byzantine Egypt for almost 1,000 years. The city was founded around c. 332 BC by the Macedonian King, Alexander the Great, during his conquest of the Achaemenid Empire.
A famous Macedonian drinker

Mosaic of Alexander the Great

At one point, Alexandria became the largest city in the world and, for some centuries more, was second only to Rome. It became Egypt’s main Greek city, with Greek people from diverse backgrounds, as well as the largest urban Jewish community in the world.
Estimates of the total population range from 216,000 to 500,000 making it one of the largest cities ever built before the Industrial Revolution and the largest pre-industrial city that was not an imperial capital.
As one can imagine, such an important and large ancient center warranted important and large structures! Fortunately for us, the historian Strabo described the principle constructions, as seen from a ship entering the great harbor.
Harbor of Alexandria, Egypt

Artist rendition of ancient Alexandria, Egypt

So without further adieu, here are the 13 Most Important Buildings in Ancient Alexandria, Egypt:
1. The Royal Palaces. They filled the northeast part of town and occupied the ridge of Lochias, which shut in the Great Harbor on the east. Lochias (the modern Pharillon) has almost entirely disappeared into the sea, together with the palaces, the “Private Port,” and the island of Antirrhodus. Unfortunately this is the result of land subsidence and massive sinking which occurred throughout the northeast coast of Africa.

2. The Great Theater. This was used by Julius Caesar as a fortress, where he withstood a siege from the city mob after he took Egypt after the battle of Pharsalus.

Map of the city

Map of Ancient Alexandria, Egypt

3. The Poseidon, or Temple of the Sea God, close to the theater.
4. The Timonium built by Marc Antony.
Bust of Marc Antony

Bust of Marc Antony

5. The Emporium (Exchange).
6. The Apostases (Magazines).
7. The Navalia (Docks), which were west of the Timonium, along the seafront.
8. Great Caesareum, behind the Emporium by which stood the two great obelisks, which become known as “Cleopatra’s Needles.” (These were eventually transported to Paris, New York City and London). This temple became the Patriarchal Church, however some ancient remains of the temple have been discovered. Parts of the actual Caesareum that were not eroded by the waves are under the houses, lining the new seawall.
Cleopatras Needle

The “Cleopatra’s Needle” in London, Cleopatra’s Needle, Central Park, New York City, Cleopatra’s Needle, Paris, France

9. The Gymnasium and the Palaestra are both inland in the eastern half of the town; sites unknown.
10. The Temple of Saturn; alexandria west.
11. The Mausolea of Alexander (Soma) and the Ptolemies in one ring-fence, near the point of intersection of the two main streets.
12. The Musaeum with its famous Library of Alexandria (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) and theater in the same region; site unknown.
Library of Alexandria

Illustration of what might have been the Musaeum.

13. The Serapeum of Alexandria, the most famous of all Alexandrian temples. Strabo tells us that this stood in the west of the city. Recent discoveries place it near “Pompey’s Pillar,” which was an independent monument erected to commemorate Diocletian’s siege of the city.
While a few other public buildings on the mainland are known, there is little information as to their actual position. None, however, are as famous as the structure that stood on the eastern point of Pharos island. The Great Lighthouse, another of the seven wonders of the ancient world, stood at 138 meters (453 feet) high. It took 12 years to complete and served as a prototype for all later lighthouses in the world.
Lighthouse of Alexandria

Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt

The Pharos lighthouse was destroyed by an earthquake in the 14th century, making it the second longest surviving ancient wonder, after the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Ptolemy, the Man who Reached the Stars

by May 17, 2019

By Mónica Correa, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The study of the earth, stars and space started millennia ago. With a lot of observation and subsequent writings, men such as Ptolemy built the foundations of our understanding of the universe that surrounds us.
Today we know that his name was, in fact, Klaudios Ptolemaios. He probably lived in or near Alexandria, Egypt during the times of the Roman Empire. Better known as Ptolemy, he made astronomical observations between the mid 120s and the early 140s of our era. Some have identified his method as Aristotelian, as while there are no records of his education, he regularly quotes Aristotle. This can give us hints regarding his methods.
From math and geography to music and optics, Ptolemy bequeathed us decades of work that are still a reference today.
Painting of Ptolemy

Ptolemy with an armillary sphere model, by Joos van Ghent and Pedro Berruguete, 1476, Louvre, Paris

Ptolemy’s Career
Sciences, as we know them today, have come a very long way. Over the centuries the broader categories have branched out into specific groups, which, of course affects the way we relate to ‘knowledge’.
According to Ptolemy, physics and theology are conjecture, while mathematics alone yields true knowledge and has the ability to contribute significantly to what we today consider the study of physics. This assertion was unprecedented in the history of ancient Greek philosophy.

Early Baroque artist’s rendition of Ptolemy

While reading his work, it’s important to remember that Ptolemy does not distinguish the terms astronomy and astrology as we do. What we call astronomy explains and predicts the configurations and movements of celestial bodies; what we call astrology studies and predicts physical changes caused by the powers emanating from celestial bodies. For Ptolemy, these were one and the same.
Ptolemy’s Known Work
Ptolemy lived in the second century C.E. in or around Alexandria and developed astronomical models that served as the western world’s paradigm in astronomy for approximately 1400 years. Lasting straight up to the Scientific Revolution, Ptolemy’s ideas have been arguably referred to longer than any one else’s.
Quite a bit of his work is fortunately extant; some exist in their original versions, while others are translations. Harmonics, Geographia and Almagest are the best kept today.
Geographia by Ptolemy

Geography by Ptolemy, Latin manuscript of the early 15th century

Ptolemy’s Harmonics is about music theory and the mathematics of music. It contains three books, though unfortunately the last three chapters, 3.14-16, no longer exist; only their titles remain.
Almagest is a systematic treatise in thirteen books in which Ptolemy deduces the structure and quantitative parameters of geometrical models for the heavenly bodies from empirical evidence, including specific dated observations. The Almagest uses models to derive tables for calculating the positions of the heavenly bodies on any given date, together with other phenomena, such as eclipses and planetary first and last visibilities. In Almagest, Ptolemy treats Hipparchus as his only legitimate predecessor in theoretical astronomy.
Almagest is so important because Ptolemy presents a series of astronomical models, which aim to account for the movements of the stars and planets, including the sun and moon. The models are both demonstrative and predictive, which was a breakthrough at the time.
Geometric models

Geometric construction used by Hipparchus in his determination of the distances to the Sun and Moon

Another known work is Optics, however, some scholars have questioned Ptolemy’s authorship of this book. There, he explains how the eye emits a visual flux in the form of a cone, which is resolvable into a collection of rays traveling in straight lines. As in the case of the Harmonics, sections of the Optics have disappeared.
In the book On the Kritêrion, Ptolemy examines the criterion of truth, the method by which humans gain knowledge, and the nature and parts of the human soul. Similar to Optics, some scholars have questioned Ptolemy’s authorship of this book. Others prefer the idea that this could be one of his first writings.
The books On the Elements and On Weights have also been attributed to Ptolemy, but are completely lost.
Ptolemy’s Legacy
While many of Ptolemy’s theories and ideas have been updated, his contributions cannot be understated. For instance, in Geographia, he acknowledged a spherical world and offered coordinates for over 6,000 places in the ancient world.
Unlike many other scholars, Ptolemy divided the world into 360 degrees, as well as into minutes and seconds. This could potentially give him credit for the first recorded treatise on geo-positioning.
Ptolemy's map

A 15th-century manuscript copy of the Ptolemy world map, reconstituted from Ptolemy’s Geography (circa AD 150), indicating the countries of “Serica” and “Sinae” (China) at the extreme east, beyond the island of “Taprobane” (Sri Lanka, oversized) and the “Aurea Chersonesus” (Malay Peninsula).

Of course, he did make a few mistakes. For instance, he exaggerated the length of the Mediterranean by about 30% and he ended his world in the middle of China. However, this can be forgiven as he only worked with astronomical observations without any sophisticated equipment.
Ptolemy’s works were later studied by Asian and Arabian cultures and as such, have survived until this very day. With them we are able to see and reflect on our path and evolution as humankind… as well as learn a little bit about our universe.

The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World “Reconstructed” with GIFs

by May 7, 2019

Finally technology is being put to good use!
The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World was a list of must-see sites for Ancient Greek tourists. Compiled by Antipater of Sidon, a poet in 2nd-century-BCE Greece, with later contributions by figures such as the mathematician Philon of Byzantium, the list remains an important piece of intangible heritage today.
Sadly, only one of those ancient wonders is still standing. Fortunately technology has come to the rescue so that modern classics-lovers can have the chance to visit the structures that Antipater first recommended.
Check out the reconstructed the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, so you can see how the ruins originally looked:
A feat of ingenuity and engineering and served as a Rhodian symbol of victory. The Colossus of Rhodes was erected in 280 BCE but was toppled by an earthquake in 226 BCE.
2. The Great Pyramid of Giza
The oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex bordering present-day El Giza, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.
3. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
An ascending series of tiered gardens containing a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and vines, resembling a large green mountain constructed of mud bricks, and said to have been built in the ancient city of Babylon, near present-day Hillah, Babil province, in Iraq.
4. Lighthouse of Alexandria
A lighthouse built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom, during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (280–247 BC), and was estimated to be 100 metres (330 ft) in overall height. For many centuries it was one of the tallest man-made structures in the world.
5. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
A tomb built between 353 and 350 BC at Halicarnassus (present Bodrum, Turkey) for Mausolus, a satrap in the Persian Empire, and his sister-wife Artemisia II of Caria. The structure was designed by the Greek architects Satyros and Pythius of Priene.
A giant seated figure, about 13 m (43 ft) tall,[1] made by the Greek sculptor Phidias around 435 BC at the sanctuary of Olympia, Greece, and erected in the Temple of Zeus there. It represented the god Zeus on a cedarwood throne ornamented with ebony, ivory, gold and precious stones. Lost in the 5th AD.
7. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
A Greek temple dedicated to an ancient, local form of the goddess Artemis (associated with Diana, a Roman goddess). It was located in Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey). It was completely rebuilt three times.
Pretty exciting results!
Of course to get these excellent images, researchers commissioned by budgetdirect had to find extensive visual and written information on each wonder; including when it was built, which civilization built it and for what purpose. They gathered information around the specific features of each wonder; such as building materials, measurements and key architectural features. These details were then backed up with hi-resolution images of drawings, sketches or any other available imagery in the archives. Once this research was compiled, it was passed along to architectural design duo Keremcan Kirilmaz and Erdem Batirbek, under the guidance of NeoMam’s art director.
The final Photoshop files were sent to motion graphics artist Fractal Motion, who were in charge of creating the animations. This complex process involves dividing up the images, then animating them using a tool in Cinema 4D software called Polyfx before refining it all in After Effects.

Missing Piece of World’s Oldest Computer Discovered?

by April 29, 2019

Potentially a missing part of the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient Greek device designed to calculate astronomical positions and often considered the world’s first computer, has been found on the Aegean seabed. The section was discovered at the same wreck site where the original 2,200 year old mechanism was first located in 1901. Researchers were elated to retrieve artifacts that had survived not only the passage of time, but also the destruction havocked by looters and Jacques Cousteau. (Indeed, in 1976, the famous French explorer accidentally destroyed much of what remained of the ship’s hull.)
Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera Mechanism, Louisa Gouliamaki/Getty

The Antikythera Mechanism was initially lost when the cargo boat that it was on was shipwrecked off the coast of a small Greek Island between Kythera and Crete called Antikythera (which is why it has been named the Antikythera Mechanism).
When the Mechanism was first discovered, Greek sponge divers brought it to archaeologist Valerios Stais at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, who had no idea what they had discovered. Fortunately Spyridon Stais, Stais’ cousin and a former mathematician, was able to recognize the gears in the mechanism. With the development of advanced x-ray technology and plentiful collaboration (from Cousteau to modern historians of science like Alexander Jones), it was eventually identified to be a technologically advanced calculator.
The Gears inside

The gears of The Antikythera mechanism

For those who want a quick recap on the abilities of the Antikythera Mechanism, the second century BCE invention could calculate the movements of the sun and moon, predict eclipses and equinoxes, track movements of constellations and planets… as well as do basic math!
Not only that, but the Greek (possibly from the Island of Rhodes) creation also contains over thirty hand-worked cogs, dozens more than the average luxury Swiss watch.
Almost 50 years after Cousteau’s underwater research, a new team of archeologists excavated the site, finding hundreds of previously undiscovered artifacts, such as statues, coins, furniture, even a sarcophagus lid.
Last year they found an encrusted corroded disk about 8 cm in diameter… and recently it was revealed that the disk has an engraving of the zodiac sign Taurus the bull, which was discovered through x-ray analysis.
Discovery of a missing piece of Antikythera Mechanism

Discovery of a missing piece of Antikythera Mechanism on the Aegean sea floor Brett Seymour / EUA/ARGO

While archaeologists still do not know exactly what this new piece is, there are theories that it could be part of the original Antikythera Mechanism or a section of a second similar device. The reason for this thinking is the presence of the bull engraving, which could have been for the prediction of the constellation of Taurus.
Of course, it will be impossible to know for sure whether this discovery is a piece of the world’s oldest analog computer… or a remarkable discovery on its own terms. Either way the continued exploration and research has drawn attention to the existence of this ancient ‘calculator’ as well as to the field of archeology itself.