Personality per the ancient Greeks

kachina_paper dolls 4 copyMany of the current personality tests are built on older theories—sometimes much older theories. Around 2400 years ago, the physician Hippocrates described his idea that human moods were caused by an excess or lack of basic body fluids. Too much blood and you became giddy and talkative, too little and you would become morose. Feeling lazy? Blame it on too much phlegm. He probably borrowed this ideas from someone before him whose name we no longer know.

Although this was not a sound medical observation, the idea of four different temperaments caught on and has hung on for millennia. The word temperament comes  from the same word as tempera paint and means to mix. So philosophers, physicians and psychologist kept mixing four different factors to obtain their palette of personalities.

According to the ancients Greeks these were:

  • Choleric—ambitious, energetic, aggressive, even tyrannical.
  • Sanguine—charismatic, impulsive, pleasure loving and self-indulgent.
  • Phlegmatic—observant, steady, calm sometimes to point of plain laziness
  • Melancholic—independent, cautious, moody and the most often depressed

Think about modern ways of categorizing human traits—the Five Factor analysis has four “normal” factors and one to determine how “neurotic” a person is. The Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory uses four factors expressed in opposing pairs. There is also the Four Color personality sorter, and DiSC which stands for four dominant traits. That’s the one we will look at more closely.

In the early twentieth century psychologist William Moulton Marston created his own personality theory from observing prison inmates, and he also created a cartoon character (Her name is Wonder Woman). His theory has been changed into one that is known by the initials DiSC. Marston’s four quadrants were originally called Dominance, Inducement, Submissive and Compliance. The last three titles have been changed to more pleasing names—Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness—so that a modern company can provide psycho-metrics for businesses with more acceptable descriptions.

Marston’s original theory does have something interesting to say about the creative  personality. He theorized that creativity resulted as a combination of Dominance and Compliance. This would be exhibited by a person alternately showing aggression or compliance to the aggressor. Sounds a bit like the moody melancholic, doesn’t it?

Finally, Marston decided that the extreme aggression of the highly dominant person could be caused by the excess of a substance in the human body, not exactly a fluid, but a hormone transported in body fluids. If you want to find out more about Marston’s theory read his book. Emotions of Normal People is available on Internet Archive—free, a lot cheaper than an original Wonder Woman comic.

Art work by S.L. Listman
This entry was posted in Creativity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Personality per the ancient Greeks

  1. knlistman says:

    Reblogged this on Write about what? and commented:

    Where dis this idea actually start?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s