Thursday, April 11, 2013

O Tempera, O Tempers

We’re rather fascinated by classification schemes of all kinds around here, not least personality types that go back a long time to such categories as the humours. Here I show a very nice graphic provided by Wikipedia (link). It shows four personality types based on the predominance of four humours, each in turn linked to the four elements as viewed in ancient times. Going clockwise, yellow is choleric, black is melancholic, blue is phlegmatic, and red is sanguine.

Very few people are so predominantly or consistently only one of these, personalities are thought of as mixtures—as Brigitte and I discovered the other day when discussing temperaments and Brigitte, as is her wont, wondered about the etymology of that word. We were both a little taken aback, lacking Latin, as it were. My only association was with tempera, a kind of egg-based paint. Could it have to do with color schemes used long ago to classify personalities? Let’s by all means go to the basement and look it up.

Temperaments are mixtures. But in the case of personality types, the mixing is of the various biles—whereas, in tempera, the mixing is of colors. The Latin for “to mix” is temperare. What is your mixture and your color, and are you wet, dry, hot, or cold? Or does it all change hour by hour, day by day? On this, the fifth day of unrelenting dark grey skies and steady rain, color me dark blue. And I am definitely cold.

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