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The Body in Balance

The Body in Balance: Humoral Medicines in Practice

Peregrine Horden
Elisabeth Hsu
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    The Body in Balance
    Book Description:

    Focusing on practice more than theory, this collection offers new perspectives for studying the so-called "humoral medical traditions," as they have flourished around the globe during the last 2,000 years. Exploring notions of "balance" in medical cultures across Eurasia, Africa and the Americas, from antiquity to the present, the volume revisits "harmony" and "holism" as main characteristics of those traditions. It foregrounds a dynamic notion of balance and asks how balance is defined or conceptualized, by whom, for whom and in what circumstances. Balance need not connoteegalitarianism or equilibrium. Rather, it alludes to morals of self care exercised in place of excessiveness and indulgences after long periods of a life in dearth. As the moral becomes visceral, the question arises: what constitutes the visceral in a body that is in constant flux and flow? How far, and in what ways, are there fundamental properties or constituents in those bodies?

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-983-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
    Peregrine Horden and Elisabeth Hsu
  5. Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    Peregrine Horden

    This collection of studies offers a path through the world’s major systems of thought about the nature of health and the causes of disease.² They are systems that have flourished across the globe at various times during roughly the last two millennia. We believe that studying them through historical evidence and modern ethnography can promote illuminating comparisons. Such study may also suggest the urgent need to reformulate the categories through which the global story of medicine and healing should be told.³

    The systems we shall look at can be characterized in a preliminary way by their explanation of health and...

  7. A Body of What?

    • Chapter 1 Female Fluids in the Hippocratic Corpus: How Solid was the Humoral Body?
      (pp. 25-52)
      Helen King

      In this chapter I want to begin by setting out the current position in scholarship regarding humours in the Hippocratic corpus, although I will also refer to the later Graeco-Roman medicine that developed their use. I will concentrate on the classical world in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, demonstrating that, rather than a single humoral system being dominant, many different ideas about the body were in existence.¹ These often involved notions of hot and cold, wet and dry, and of health essentially as a matter of balance, with the fluids that left the body being used as a guide...

    • Chapter 2 Fluxes and Stagnations: A Physician’s Perception and Treatment of Humours in Baroque Ladies
      (pp. 53-68)
      Barbara Duden

      The opportunity to explore notions of imbalance in a medical practice embedded within humoralism is a precious one. It allows me to review a theme I started to explore many years ago and have gone back to again and again. Here I put forth a thesis, which began as an intuition, developed into a hypothesis, and by now is a conviction that orientates my reflections about experienced and lived ‘bodies’ in the West prior to the end of the eighteenth century. It is an insight gained from the perspective of the historian of the experienced and lived body. My aim...

    • Chapter 3 When Money Became a Humour
      (pp. 69-86)
      Shigehisa Kuriyama

      Can Money be a Humour? The notion may seem bizarre. Humours are part of the human body, and we commonly conceive the body and money as distinct and unrelated sorts of things. We identify human beings with warm blood and feeling flesh, and perhaps a soul, whereas we associate money with cold, dumb coins and inanimate bills. We suppose inquiry into money to be as useless for mastering physiology as the study of physiology is, presumably, for comprehending finance. We imagine doctors and economists as experts of utterly separate worlds.

      Many in the past, however, have seen the two realms...

  8. A Practice with What?

    • Chapter 4 Were the Four Humours Fundamental to Medieval Islamic Medical Practice?
      (pp. 89-106)
      Emilie Savage-Smith

      The concept of four humours – what historians today call humoral pathology – is found not only throughout the Greek-based formal medicine of the medieval Islamic world (as exemplified by theQānūnof Ibn Sīnā, known to Europeans as Avicenna), but also the pre-Islamic medicine attributed by Muslim scholars to the Prophet Muhammad and his immediate followers (Pormann and Savage-Smith 2007: 43–45). The latter form of medicine was recorded by religious scholars in treatises known as ‘prophetic medicine’ (al-ṭibb al-nabawī الطب النبوي). Treatises of this type were composed as early as the mid ninth century, but they became particularly popular in...

    • Chapter 5 Complexio and Experimentum: Tensions in Late Medieval Medical Practice
      (pp. 107-128)
      Peter Murray Jones

      In the half century between 1270 and 1320, scholastic medicine both achieved its most brilliant intellectual feats and made a great breakthrough in persuading governing elites in Western Europe of its critical importance in health care. Teaching medicine in the universities of Italy, France and England was less than a century old by 1300, so this double triumph of the doctors was the culmination of a meteoric rise. The great scholastic medical authors, Taddeo Alderotti, Arnaldde Villanova, Pietro d’Abano, Bernard de Gordon, and Henri de Mondeville, to name the most famous, were university teachers but also medical practitioners of high...

    • Chapter 6 Yunani Tibb and Foundationalism in Early Twentieth-Century India: Humoral Paradigms between Critique and Concordance
      (pp. 129-148)
      Guy Attewell

      Although there are countless discussions of humours in Arabic, Persian and Urdu sources ontibb(medicine) there is no autochthonous construct of a humoral theory or pathology as representative of this stream of medical thinking before it appears in Urdu and English at some point in the nineteenth century. Humours (akhlat) are but one dimension of a matrix of the so-called ‘foundational principles’ (usul al-tibb or usul-i tibb, orkulliyat).¹ Yet, there is scarcely a book, article or website on the history or practice of Yunanitibbwhich does not refer to the theory of four humours as one of...

    • Chapter 7 Hot/cold Classifications and Balancing Actions in Mesoamerican Diet and Health: Theory and Ethnography of Practice in Twentieth-Century Mexico
      (pp. 149-168)
      Ellen Messer

      Humoral-based understandings of food, health, environment and cosmology have a controversial history in Latin America. Disagreements centre on whether humoral ideas, which have been reduced to the hot/cold idiom, are indigenous or European-introduced, and how central these ideas are to nutrition, preventive medicine and curing practices. Most historical and ethnographic studies of diet, health and healing find evidence of the utilization of the hot/cold principle and classifications in diagnostics, health maintenance and therapeutics. Hot/cold reasoning enters also into evaluations of human body states and pathologies, foods and medicines, all of which are related also to the hot/cold dynamics of the...

  9. A Balance of What?

    • Chapter 8 Balancing Diversity and Well-being: Words, Concepts and Practice in Eastern Africa
      (pp. 171-196)
      David Parkin

      I argue in this chapter that many and perhaps most healing methods in sub-Saharan Africa are premised on an idea of relational balance. Some Muslim healers in Africa work from Arabic texts and some incorporate biomedical methods in their treatments. But many so-called indigenous healers in much of Africa work not from texts but from long-term experience and from knowledge and practices handed down to them by tutor healers, who are often family members. It is on these latter healers that I here focus.

      Such healers will not therefore normally turn to texts for information on precise criteria of sickness...

    • Chapter 9 ‘Holism’ and the Medicalization of Emotion: The Case of Anger in Chinese Medicine
      (pp. 197-217)
      Elisabeth Hsu

      If ‘holistic’ health care contrasts with ‘medicalized’, reductionist and therapy-oriented interventions, this chapter concerns a seeming paradox.¹ It claims that a social process of ‘medicalization’ made Chinese medicine ‘holistic’, namely the medicalization of the emotions. Rather than appraising holism as an aspect of embodiment, this chapter critiques it from the perspective of the body politic. In doing so, the chapter draws on a well-researched sociological concept, ‘medicalization’ (see, e.g., Foucault 1989), and transposes it into premodern times, as did others (e.g. McVaugh 1993), when discussing social processes that resulted in the expansion of medicine’s jurisdiction.

      The notion of balance that...

    • Chapter 10 Aiming for Congruence: The Golden Rule of Āyurveda
      (pp. 218-234)
      Francis Zimmermann

      A common Sanskrit phrase summarizes the ‘principle of balance’ according to which contrary qualities compensate for one another: ‘Contraries [are counterbalanced] by contraries’ (viparītā viparītaiḥ).¹ Its meaning seems unambiguous to anyone familiar with Galenism in the West: more of this leads to less of that; it seems to be a matter of proportion. Advocating a different approach to Āyurvedic medicine, however, I would like to make a distinction between two different understandings of the concept of balance. When calculating in terms of degrees and quantities, to strike a balance means to reach a suitable ratio between two contrary components in...

    • Chapter 11 Harmony or Hierarchy? The Mindful Body and the Sacred Landscape in Tibetan Healing Practices
      (pp. 235-256)
      Patrizia Bassini

      In this chapter I examine the notion of balance in Tibetan healing following three lines of enquiry. In order to explain these levels, I start by using Millard’s (2010) identification of two different types of knowledge: first, the paradigmatic mode of knowledge, which makes vast reference to Tibetan medical texts; second, the narrative mode of knowledge, which emphasizes people’s life events that articulate suffering. To these two modes of knowledge I add a further important process that shapes human experience and this is to be found at the level of practice.

      Scholarly Tibetan medical knowledge has traditionally been practised in...

  10. What Next?

    • Chapter 12 What Next? Balance in Medical Practice and the Medico-moral Nexus of Moderation
      (pp. 259-280)
      Elisabeth Hsu

      The medical traditions discussed in this volume became known, first, by the term humoral pathologies and, later, as the Great Traditions of medicine based on the technology of literacy. More recently, they have been studied as reflective of cognition grounded in so-called correlative thinking, or microcosm–macrocosm homologies. Such characterization of the medical learning in question dates to the heyday of the rationality debate. When world history saw the consolidation of the former colonies’ independence, it was a matter of national pride to celebrate scripture-based ‘medical systems’ as traditional sciences. Research interests of a very different era are reflected in...

  11. Index
    (pp. 281-288)