Important Candy People: Aelius Galenus

In noting the famous people surrounding candy, most will be specific to candy itself. This is unsurprising, I know. But Aelius Galenus really should be considered famous for every bit of Western Food history between 100 AD and 1800 AD, not just for candy. For it was he who helped create a typology of human temperaments, expanding upon the work of Hippocrates.

I’ve talked about the work of Galen before. I’m bringing him up again because, quite frankly, candy would be quite different without his influence.

Aelius Galenus made many contributions to medicine, from defining anatomy and pathology, to being a top notch surgeon. But from my perspective, it is his promotion of the idea that imbalances between humors corresponded with a particular human temperament. If you were heavy in blood, you would be sanguine. Melancholic? Too much black bile was stated to be in your system. Yellow bile meant you were choleric, while an extra amount of phlegm made one phlegmatic. Each of these categorizations were based off of heat (or lack there of) and moisture (or lack thereof). Sanguine meant you had an excess amount of heat and moisture. Melancholic meant you were excessively cool and dry.

As his topology took off, foods were also categorized as being part of the humor system. Certain kinds of food were promoted blood production, others make you phlegmatic. When one was ill, it was believed that one of the humors was out of whack, and one way to correct that imbalance was to counteract it with a food of the opposite humor. Thus every food consumed was believed to have an effect upon the humoral system.

Sugar was considered hot and moist, or sanguine. For those individuals who demonstrated an overly melancholic (cold and dry) symptoms, it was suggested that they partake of sugar in order to balance their system.

During the Dark Ages, a fair bit of Galen’s work was ignored or dismissed due to his work initially not being translated into Latin. But those in history who had access to Greek archives and could read the language, Galen’s influence increased. This would include the Muslims of the late first millennium.

It was the Muslims who furthered pharmacology and brought their knowledge into Europe during this time period, also bringing with them granulated sugar that was used in many of their medicines. Because sugar was available in minimal amounts, varying amounts of sugar was added to these concoctions, depending upon how out of balance the patient was determined to be. If a patient was deemed to be choleric (hot and dry) or phlegmatic (cool and moist), then small amounts of sugar were added to their medicines. If a patient was melancholic? An excessive amount of sugar was given.

Often the sugar was given via syrups. But as the knowledge of sugar increased, pills and lozenges were created with varying amounts of sugar. And what are lozenges? At their core, they are candies made from sugar and herbs.

All of this is due to Galen, who helped promote the humoral system with his typology of human temperaments indirectly affected the evolution of candy. This is something to consider next time you suck on an Altoid.