In the 1940's, Balanchine made a ballet called The Four Temperaments, loosely inspired by the ancient idea that each of us is comprised of four temperaments, or humors: sanguine - capricious, sociable; choleric - dominating, ambitious; melancholic - creative but sensitive; phlegmatic - calm, shy. The humors are mixed, from the Latin temperare, but some say that one humor dominates. The language of the body may betray one's inner balance: learning elocution and poise has saved many from slouching or being overbearing; mumbling, or talking too loud.
I have a friend who believes that we can never really move away from the essence of our being, our main humor, whatever it is. We may refine it, but not change it completely.
And we would never have spoken about humors had I not asked why it is that not everything is up to us in life. For example, how it is possible that self-restraint could not be up to a person. His view is that the wish to be moderate is not the same thing as having the will to live that way at all times. Having a strong will, in his view, depends on a person's humor.
Yet according to the science of humorism, there is a way to keep the humors in balance. A system of correspondences was drawn up in ancient times to explain, diagnose, and cure exaggerations. This system is not unlike 五行, Wu Xing, which, among other things, can prescribe the right foods and temperatures to people whose emotions are uneven.
These correspondences are much more profound and scientific than Baudelaire's Corréspondances - whose volume Fleurs du Mal begins with the spleen, which corresponds to the choleric. Baudelaire would seem to prove my friend's theory: his exaggerated sentiments lead him to an imbalanced end, not without first straying, searching in that wild yet limited modern way, lured by intoxicating wine, anonymous city crowds, physical pleasure - all leading him to despair and death. How different and differently- named his poems would have been had he treated his yellow bile.
Ideals, Baudelaire shows us in Spleen et idéal, are not enough - they are to be tempered by the perfectionist sensitivity of melancholy, which may pick up on the beginnings of mistakes, not wanting to make any.
But without foods and classical elements to better our awareness of our personalities, perhaps we forget to strive for balance. Also, just because the humors may not be actual substances, per se, does not make them any less real. As far as I am concerned, it is a fact that certain foods have their effects - foods like ginger, or warm corn congee, or cold water.
I have been doing a lot of running and thinking lately (hence the reference to the cold water, never a good idea) and one morning, as I looked up at someone's balcony, I saw the same mobile in the window as I used to see in a 72nd street apartment. I had that feeling again that life depends so far less on externals, including even country of abode, than it does on our inner state. The person at harmony with themselves is better able to look up and out - to see those little signs of personal significance - that help us solve the riddle of ourselves, even when we are not so lucky to get standing room tickets to watch ballerinas act it all out for us below.
Maybe too much energy from within can catapult us out of our own orbits. But hopefully if we do not run away with ourselves, we will find ourselves again, and balanced may be restored.