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Historical Background of Unani Medicine

The word 'Temperament' used as noun literally means "characteristic combination of physical, mental and more qualities, which together constitute the character of an individual and affect his manner of acting, feeling and thinking". Its adjective, 'Temperamental', besides relating to temperament means the variable or unaccountable moods. In modern medical terminology 'Temperament' means "the peculiar physical character and mental cast of an individual". Thus we see that the "moral qualities" are excluded from the total characteristic combination of a man in modern medical science. The concept of the 'Temperament' in all the eastern sciences, however, is 'holistic' and embraces all the qualities of a man, whether it be physical, mental, moral or spiritual.

Before discussing the temperamental theory in the Unani sciences of treatment, it is expedient to trace its origin and determine the actual purport of the term 'Temperament'.

The ancient Greeks held a variety of opinions about the elemental composition of nature. Anaximonas of Miletus (6th C.B.C.) believed that water was the only element. Hippocrates (C469 - C357 B.C.) is supposed to have believed in two elements - air and water, as he owes a treatise on "Air, Water and Places" as the first book on physiotherapy to his credit. But Empedocles (490-430 B.C.) who was born in Argentum, Sicily, and was the disciple of Pythaqoras and Permenides, had a philosophy that attempted to combine the technique of the Eleatic school with the doctrine of Heraclitus (573 B.C.). He believed that the universe is a compound of four basic elements - earth, air, fire and water, which combined in various proportions form different things. These elements are thought to be related to one another through four qualities, viz., coldness, wetness, hotness and dryness, which also gave the elements their 'characteristics'. It was thought that one element could be transformed to another by changing their qualities. Thus the qualities or characteristics of the four elements can be termed as the basic concept of 'Temperament'.

But historically the concept of 'Temperament' originated with the Hippocratic school of Medicine and was based upon a theory of varying proportions of the four body humours or excretions in the body -

(Latin "tempero" to mingle "compound in definite proportion"). These four fluids - blood, phlegm, black bile or melancholy and yellow bile… produce according to their degree of predominance the sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic and choleric temperament. The various mixtures of these humours in different men determined their 'complexion' or 'Temperament'.

After the fall of the Roman Empire all knowledge and learning were transferred to the Arabs. But the journey of 'Temperament' again took its course in Europe after the 10th century, which continued even after the renaissance upto the 17th Century. During this period, a rapidly growing number of classical medical texts were translated from Arabic to Latin. Islamic works such as the "Canon" of Avicenna and clinical treatises of Rhazes were also translated. The theory of four 'humours' and 'qualities' remained the basis of explanation of health and diseases. John of Gaddesen (1280-1361 A.D.) the pattern of the "Doctor of Physick" in Geffrey Chaucer's (1340 -1400 A.D.) Canterbury Tales, was one of the English students there, and he relied upon 'astrology' and upon the 'humours', which is evident from Chaucer's description.

Well could he guess the ascending of the star,
Wherein his patient's fortunes settled were,
He knew the course of every malady
Were it of cold, or heat or moist or dry.

In the Vedic philosophy of India also, health was viewed as a balance of elements, the 'dhatus' and a happy mental state called 'prasana'. Disturbance of this equilibrium brought illness and forced the healer to investigate the causal factor, especially the status of three internal waste products or 'doshas' - wind, bile and phlegm. The goal of Hindu medicine was holistic. Restoration of the 'tridosha' and 'dhatu' balance with diet and drugs, while eliminating the accompanying mental anguish. In the language of Hindu philosophy the three primordial elements air, fire and water stand for the three 'doshas' - vat, pitta and kapha, respectively. The elements according to Hindu philosophy are earth, fire, water, air and ether (akash).

It is therefore evident, that the theory of elements, humours and temperament is existent in all the ancient sciences. As for Homeopathy which was introduced by Christian Friedrick Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843 A.D.) it is aimed mostly on his "minute dosage rule". The Hahnemannean concept of psora, syphilis and psychosis as the cause of every disease does evidently take the place of humours. And the varying potencies of drugs can be termed as a correspondence to the varying temperament of disease or patients in treating diseases. In addition to this primary concept, there is a classification of drugs suited to various medicinal temperaments in Homeopathy. Moreover, the late Dr. Binoytosh Bhattacharya (1897-1964 A.D.)of Naihati (W. Bengal) has very dexterously introduced the Ayurvedic principle of 'Tridosha' or three humours in Homeopathy which is now gaining worldwide popularity.

With the gradual expansion of the Islamic Empire, however, a comprehensive body of Greco-Roman medical doctrine was adopted together with extensive Persian and Hindu medical practices. In accordance with basic religious and philosophical ideas, healing involved both body and soul, and human health could only be achieved through harmony with the entire cosmos. Unani therefore, is a balanced synthesis of all the existing medical sciences known at that time, and is still incorporating the new practical knowledge suited to its own temperament, but most evidently it is generally Greco-Islamic science.

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Introduction of Unani Medicine
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