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What are they?
The four humours, or liquids, inside the body were identified
by the Ancient Greeks. They were:
· Blood
· Yellow bile (vomit)
· Phlegm (watery liquid when your cough or sneeze)
· Black bile (we think this is blood in vomit, which makes it black)
It was thought that everyone had their own balance of these
humours, and you became ill if this balance was disturbed. The
humours were the cause of visible signs of illness too ­ if you
went red and were hot, you had too much blood.
Each humour was associated with a season, an element and a
quality, and had different names from what we call them now.…read more

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How was they treated?
There was a different way to treat an excess of each humour.
Blood was removed by cutting a vein and letting the liquid
pour out. This could be very dangerous ­ not only because of
the loss of blood, but because the knife could give you blood
The body naturally expelled yellow bile and black bile through
vomit. Being sick was seen as a good thing.
Phlegm was also naturally expelled through sneezing, or could
be blown out of the nose. We still do this today.…read more

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Galen's Theory of Opposites
This theory was supported by Galen, a 2nd century Roman
doctor. Though he supported bloodletting, he thought the
imbalance in humours could be reversed by eating something
with the opposite quality.
For example, too much phlegm (wet & cold) could be reversed
by eating chillies. A temperature could be brought down by
eating cucumber.
Because he'd written this theory into his 350 medicinal texts,
linked with existing beliefs, his system seemed very complete.
Many people believed there was no point in further research.
Hippocrates, a Greek doctor, disagreed. He thought illness
should be treated with rest and diet.…read more

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Galen & The Middle Ages
These beliefs continued into the Middle Ages. Salerno, the first
European medical school, taught them rather than offering
students medical experience.
Treatments were based on bloodletting, purging (making
people sick) and the Theory of Opposites.
Physicians also prescribed herb- and plant-based medicines
mixed with minerals or bezoars (stones from Persian goats'
Many people in the 12th century believed in astrological
medicine. These ideas were linked with Galen's theories. For
example, operations on the head should be avoided when the
moon is in `Aries'.…read more

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Vade Mecum
This was a book used by physicians. It included zodiac charts,
to tell them when to use certain treatments, and charts, with
which they could compare the patient's urine to determine the
illness they had. `Vade Mecum' is Latin for `go with me'.
There were also books intended for more educated people,
such as the Compendium of Medicine by Gilbertus Anglicus
(`Gilbert the Englishman'). It was written in Latin, because all
educated people spoke Latin. It had a similar use to Vade
Finally, Herbals, describing plants and their medicinal uses,
were used in folk remedies, were in English, so that ordinary
people could read them.…read more

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