Black Bile Humor: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:01 Black Bile Humor
  • 0:48 Black Bile Disorders
  • 1:54 Treatment
  • 2:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chevette Alston

Dr. Alston has taught intro psychology, child psychology, and developmental psychology at 2-year and 4-year schools.

This lesson describes what humor and black bile have in common. It is interesting to know that humor in this case is not about laughing, but about physical and mental health!

Black Bile Humor

Black bile humor, in the context of this lesson, is not something that would make you laugh. It was part of a medical or mental health concept created by Hippocrates, and refined by ancient Greek and Roman physicians. Hippocrates was a physician from the Greek island of Kos, and lived from about 460 BC-370 BC. His thought was that when the human system had too much humor, the result would be some type of mental or physical illness that manifested in the body.

Humor in this context is not the type of humor that relates to a joke. Instead, humors, which consisted of black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm were then thought to be the four basic substances that filled the human body. When these were balanced, a person was thought to have good health.

Black Bile Disorders

The original thought was that each humor, or fluid, was correlated with elements of nature and body imbalances were thought to be reflective of these qualities. An overabundance of black bile was representative of Earth and identified as the cause of diseases that added weight to the body. This symptomology was also related to exhaustion, depression and other qualities that were collectively referred to as the melancholic temperament.

The word melancholy, or depression, is a combination of the root words from the Latin melan and chole meaning 'black bile' in Greek. Other dysfunctions believed to be the result of an overabundance of black bile were sexual dysfunctions and breathing difficulties.

For black bile, mood and fatigue disorders were believed to originate from the spleen. Ancient Greek doctors believed the humor would overflow into the stomach and the digestive tract. This overflow was thought to cause a variety of gastrointestinal disorders. They also believed black bile that stayed imbalanced too long could get into the skeletal system and harden, which would result in conditions relating to bone disorders.

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