Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical.
Related to Temperaments: choleric


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The theory of temperaments, or complexions, incorporated four basic qualities: hot, cold, wet, and dry. These four qualities varied by season, gender, age, and person. The ideal of Hippocrates was to lead a balanced life, because if the body is balanced, then disease is less likely to take hold. The method of creating balance combined diet and regimen, and encompassed such lifestyle issues as frequency and type of exercise, time of eating, and sleep patterns.

The entire ancient scheme was based on the four qualities: hot, cold, wet, and dry. Hot and cold were one pair; wet and dry the other. From a behavioral perspective, hot is exactly what one would expect from the common parlance: someone who reacts vigorously to anything even remotely perceived as an attack. “Hot under the collar” is exactly on target. A cold type is basically lethargic, or slow to react, often perceived as being unemotional, but “slow to react” would actually be closer. The expression “cool under pressure” is also a good fit.

Dry represents anything with a discrete shape or structure, while something wet adapts its shape to the container. Dry thinking is characterized by making distinctions, while wet thinking sees connections. A new example of wet thinking is “hyper-linking”; the World Wide Web is a good example. A dry thinker is more easily swayed by intellectual argument than by passion. A wet thinker fits emotion into the picture. Dryness is the position that a moment is unique, that reality can be objectively known. Yet one other way to contrast the two is to say that the epitome of dry thinking is clarity, and the epitome of wet thinking is ambiguity. And yes, the very process of attempting to explain the concept is dry!

Each of the four qualities actually represents a cluster of concepts. For example, the qualities hot and cold do not represent extremes of a temperature continuum, as one might define them. They represent qualities of energy, where hot represents high energy or physical heat, and cold represents low energy or physical cold. But these qualities are opposites in a critically different way from the way one normally envisions them. Take temperature: From a purely chemical perspective, molecules in a hotter gas vibrate more rapidly on average than molecules in a colder gas. Mixing hot and cold gases will produce an intermediate result. In other words, the cold portion is completely canceled out by a portion of the hot component. But this is not how it works—at least as far as the qualities, and not chemistry, are concerned. Opposites do not cancel each other out.

Thus, people have hot and cold qualities simultaneously. In fact, having “half and half’ would be to manifest equal quantities of each, not to have a “zero-sum state” in which hot cancels cold, perhaps producing lukewarm.

Finally, this is where astrology comes into the picture. Hippocrates put forward a workable theory of qualities, but other than general distinctions of age, gender, and physical appearance, he had no way to classify a person as having a particular make-up. But by using the chart, modern astrologers can actually calculate the temperament type. Further, this result can then be used in many ways, including to establish a diet and exercise plan that truly supports well-being. Astrology eventually became the preferred mode for distinguishing the general constitution from its components, or humors.

There are several possibilities for the computation of the temperament type. The general definition includes the following components (the method of computation comes from John Gadbury’s Genethlialogia, or The Doctrine of Nativities Together with the Doctrine of Horarie Questions and William Lilly’s Christian Astrology:

  1. Sign of ascendant
  2. Planet ruling ascendant
  3. Planets aspecting ascendant
  4. Moon sign and phase
  5. Planets aspecting Moon
  6. Quarter of year
  7. Lord/Lady of Geniture
  8. Lord/Lady of Moon

Each component is assigned qualities as follows:

1. Signs:

Fire: Hot and Dry

Air: Hot and Wet

Earth: Cold and Dry Water: Cold and Wet

2. The Moon is classified by phase.

New to 1st Quarter: Hot and Wet

1st Quarter to Full: Hot and Dry

Full to Last Quarter: Cold and Dry

Last Quarter to New: Cold and Wet

3. Seasons are classified as follows:

Spring: Hot and Wet

Summer: Hot and Dry

Fall: Cold and Dry

Winter: Cold and Wet

4. Lord/Lady of the Geniture:

This is a compound Almuten for the hylegical points and angles: the Sun, Moon, Part of Fortune, Ascendant, and Midheaven.

This actually gives nine temperament types, not four. The reason is that often two of the qualities are often in balance, or so close as to have little dominance. These nine types are:

Hot and Wet: sanguine

Hot and Dry: choleric

Cold and Dry: melancholic

Cold and Wet: phlegmatic

Hot: sanguine-choleric

Cold: melancholic-phlegmatic

Wet: sanguine-phlegmatic

Dry: choleric-melancholic

All: balanced

What may appear to be the simpler states, the single-quality ones, are actually more complex. The reason is that the single-quality types are in fact mixtures, because qualities do not cancel out. Having close to an even ratio of hot and cold or wet and dry means that it is easy to become out of balance: stress, the change in season, or even too much to drink.

—J. Lee Lehman, Ph.D.


Gadbury, John. Genethlialogia, or The Doctrine of Nativities Together with the Doctrine of Horarie Questions. London: J. Cottrel, 1658.
Lehman, J. Lee. Classical Astrology for Modern Living. West Chester, PA: Whitford Press, 1996.
Lilly, William. Christian Astrology Modestly Treated of in Three Books. London: T. Brudenell, 1647.
The Astrology Book, Second Edition © 2003 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is.
His sanguine temperament was disclosed in the deep color of his cheeks.
It was the creation of such worlds as these that seemed to Dorian Gray to be the true object, or amongst the true objects, of life; and in his search for sensations that would be at once new and delightful, and possess that element of strangeness that is so essential to romance, he would often adopt certain modes of thought that he knew to be really alien to his nature, abandon himself to their subtle influences, and then, having, as it were, caught their colour and satisfied his intellectual curiosity, leave them with that curious indifference that is not incompatible with a real ardour of temperament, and that, indeed, according to certain modern psychologists, is often a condition of it.
This master of the fine art was a personage and nothing more; but, as I have said, there was an infinite diversity of temperament amongst the masters of the fine art I have known.
We lack temperament; we don't know how to live; nous ne savons pas vivre, as they say here.
The more or less depends on structure or temperament. Temperament is the iron wire on which the beads are strung.
That fellow was always making me do things in subtle discord with my meditative temperament. No wonder that I had but a qualified liking for him.
He was not to blame for having been born with his unbridled temperament and his somehow limited intelligence.
He will write a page or two, giving evidence of that accumulated power and attainment which, with a more strenuous temperament, might have sufficed for an effective volume.
Everything would be fine if he didn't think it necessary to tack on the artistic temperament to his painting.
Everybody knows that England is the world of betting men, who are of a higher class than mere gamblers; to bet is in the English temperament. Not only the members of the Reform, but the general public, made heavy wagers for or against Phileas Fogg, who was set down in the betting books as if he were a race-horse.
It requires the feminine temperament to repeat the same thing three times with unabated zest.