Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Temperaments And Personality Types, Part Two - Medieval Times

When we left off in Part One, Aristotle had just defined our four temperaments in terms of what makes them happy. Subsequently, Humorism and its corresponding Personology was quietly incorporated into the corpus of Western thought. To again quote David Keirsey's account in Please Understand Me II:
"We see Geoffrey Chaucer (in 1380) describing a Doctor of Physic as knowing 'the cause of every malady, And where they were from, and of what humour.' [...] Shakespeare points out dozens of times what he called the 'spirit of humours' in his enormous gallery of characters: a soldier's sanguine appetite or a Countess's sorrowful melancholy a lover's impassioned choler or a physician's phlegmatic detachment. Moreover, Shakespeare's contemporary Ben Jonson developed a whole style of play he called the 'Comedy of Humors,' creating his characters according to a formula he articulated in 1599: 'Some one peculiar quality Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw All his affects, his spirits, and his powers In their confluctions, all to run one way,'" (23-24).
The work of Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Galen persisted throughout the Middle Ages without any substantive contributions until we come to the Renaissance physician Paracelsus:
"[Paracelsus] proposed four totem spirits which symbolized four personality styles, and which ran parallel to the temperament types of Galen and the character types of Plato. Paracelsus characterized human beings as 'Salamanders,' impulsive and changeable; as 'Gnomes,' industrious and guarded; as 'Nymphs,' inspired and passionate; and as 'Sylphs,' curious and calm," (24).
Paracelsus was kind of a strange fellow, happily intermixing traditonal science and philosophy with the occult and alchemy. But that wasn't really uncommon in those days, as we know from the most famous Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci. Nevertheless, his contribution to the topic at hand is not without merit, adding one more level of clarity to our understanding of the four temperaments. Nodding to Aristotle's "sources of happiness," Paracelsus calls his Sylphs "curious," indicating that they seek knowledge and rational understanding. Likewise he refers to his Gnomes as "industrious," in that they seek material goods. He refers to Plato's intuitive Idealists when he calls his Nymphs "inspired."

Interestingly, though, his Salamanders, which correspond to Plato's Artisans, he calls "changeable," rather than "sensitive" or something of that sort. But isn't that what it means to be sensitive? To allow oneself to conform to the world around oneself? That's part of what makes an artist an artist. He is better able to receive impressions from things in the world, seeing them more clearly and deeply, and thus able to recreate them more completely and beautifully. Likewise, by choosing Slyphs (which are similar to Angels) to represent Rationals, more than referring to their rationalistic and logical tendencies, he has indicated that they are more spiritual and abstract, more "head in the clouds" in general, than other types.

While not explicit in Keirsey's works, a correlation can also be seen in the four Feudal Castes. Plato's Guardians becoming the Peasant/Soldier class, Artisans becoming the Merchant/Craftsman class, Idealists corresponding to the Clergy, and Rationals to the Nobility, seeing as they were the only ones with access to education and the ones Plato wanted to run the kingdom. Maybe the Medieval World would have fared better in the long run had its leaders actually been intelligent philosopher-kings. Of course, these castes likewise correspond to the four French suits of cards that originated in the Middle Ages and the numbers 1 through 4.

Even more interestingly, though not traditional as far as the West is concerned, the Middle Ages in India saw the rise of the Bhakti movement, which emphasized a personal and loving God and required our reciprocal devotion and service. The Bhakti movement distinguished four "yogas," or paths of salvation, that one can follow in order to devote oneself rightly to God, and which correspond well with the four temperaments we've been outlining.

Combine everything we've looked at so far and we can put together a new chart:

Next up: What Christianity has to say on the topic.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very interesting. Can you share where you got the information in the above table that shows the relationship of the card suits to their respective columns?


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