8 Health and Wellness in Antiquity through the Middle Ages One of the most fundamental ideas in the Hippocratic Corpus is the notion that health requires balance, while disease results from imbal- ance in the body. According to the humoral theory, imbalance was nor- mally conceived of as an excess of one or more humors, and it might be systemic (affecting the entire body) or localized (in a specific part of the body), depending on the disease. Fevers were viewed as diseases of the whole body, while diseases like catarrh (a respiratory infection accompanied by a cough) and podagra (gout, an infection in the feet) resulted from an excess of one humor in a specific area of the body (in the chest and feet, respectively). During the Middle Ages, each per- son was thought to have his or her own individual healthy balance of humors, referred to as one’s temperament or complexion, in which it was possible for one of the humors to predominate. For example, a person whose healthy balance of humors contained a little more blood than the other humors would be referred to as being sanguine, one with a little more yellow bile was choleric, one with more phlegm was phlegmatic, and one in whom black bile dominated was melancholic. The different temperamental types might be more prone to different kinds of diseases and may require slightly modified forms treatment. The exact nature of the imbalance might be diagnosed by careful observation of a number of signs or symptoms, but following Galen, doctors specifically examined the pulse and the urine. Treatment of disease would aim at restoring balance in the body by purging excess humors (e.g., through bloodletting or inducing vomiting) or counter- ing the excess with pharmaceutical remedies. Numerous factors might influence an individual’s humoral balance, and physicians emphasized that health could be restored through the careful adjustment of those factors. Beginning with Galen, medical scholars emphasized the importance of the six “non-naturals,” envi- ronmental, physiological, and psychological conditions that affected health and over which the individual would have some control. The non-naturals are the surrounding air, exercise and rest, sleep and wak- ing, food and drink, retention and excretion, and the “accidents of the soul.” The environmental influence of the surrounding air would include exposure to any areas of stagnant, putrescent, or foul-smelling airs found near swamps, crypts, or other places with close proximity to decaying matter. The other non-naturals existed in a state of balance in which the individual would be expected to adjust his levels of activity (including coitus) and rest as well as diet and excretion. Likewise, the individual should control the “accidents of the soul,” which included the passions and emotions, to maintain an appropriate mental balance. If these conditions were not sufficiently regulated, then shifts in the humoral balance would lead the body to succumb to a contra-natural
Previous Page Next Page