Galen, On Temperaments

LCL 546: 2-3

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Galen’s De temperamentis (On Krasias, Temperaments, Mixtures) is unquestionably among his most important and influential works, providing as it does an account of one of the foundational concepts in his theory of medical practice. Krasis, arguably best left untranslated, is seen as a unique blending of the four elemental qualities that form the structural basis of the bodies of all animals, and indeed of all matter, both animate and inanimate. Disorders of krasis—dyskrasias1constitute one of the three of Galen’s classes of disease. In his two great practical works, The Method of Medicine (De methodo medendi) and Hygiene (De sanitate tuenda), the diagnosis and treatment of dyskrasia and the maintenance of a good (normal)

  • 1According to Garcia Novo, Galen: On the Anomalous Dyskrasia, the first use of the term was by Theophrastus in relation to diseases in plants (De causis plantarum 5.8.2). There he writes, on the origins of diseases in plants: “From without, whenever spells of cold or heat are excessive, or rains or dry spells, or some other dyskrasia of the air” (LCL 475 [B. Einarson and G. K. K. Link, 1990], 86–87). The term remains in medical use today and is defined in Stedman as follows: 1. A morbid general state resulting from the presence of abnormal material in the blood, usually applied to diseases affecting blood cells or platelets. 2. An old term indicating disease. The OED of 1933 defines it simply as “bad temperament” of body, air, etc.


krasis—eukrasia—occupy, respectively, substantial parts. His De temperamentis is the theoretical basis of such endeavors. In his Art of Medicine, he writes:

  • There is one book, On the Elements According to Hippocrates. Following this, there are three books in the treatise On Krasias—two of these concern krasias in animals while the third is about krasias in medications. On this account also, the work On the Nature and Powers of Simple Medications cannot be understood properly without carefully reading the third book of the treatise On Krasias. And there is another small book which follows these first two on krasias, and was written on the non-uniform dyskrasias. Similar to this there are also two other small books: On the Best Constitution of Our Body and On Good Bodily State.2

A very similar statement is made in Galen’s On the Order of My Own Books, where he adds: “These three very short works were written for friends at their behest and subsequently published by them. Certainly, since the force of these is covered in the work on hygiene, in which the differences of the constitution of our body...”3

The De temperamentis is essentially a theoretical work. The clinical relevance and applications of the concepts contained within it are to be sought in the practical works referred to. There is, however, a summary of the applications of the concepts of krasis, eukrasia, and dyskrasia to

  • 2Ars Medica, I.407–8K.
  • 3De ordine librorum suorum ad Eugeniam, XIX.56K. (There is a lacuna following “body.”)
DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.galen-temperaments.2020