A New Sense of (Dark) Humour in Tibet: Brown Phlegm and Black Bile

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Based on a wide cross section of Tibetan and Greco-Arab medical sources, Henk Blezer argues that the articulations of the, apparently, novel category of “brown phlegm” disorders in Tibetan medicine may derive from an earlier Greco-Arab prototype of “black bile” disorders, particularly those of the hypochondriac subtype (that is, melancholia pertaining to the viscera below the sternal cartilage of the ribs, or in this case the diaphragm). The article builds on his earlier hypothesis, yet to be conclusively argued, that Tibetan canonical descriptions of “brown phlegm” disorders seem to show signs of a confluence or, perhaps, even a clash of “humoral” systems that seem to pertain to different medical epistemes (Greco-Arab and Indo-Tibetan in origin). He posits a plausible trajectory of development in the construction of “brown phlegm” disorders in Tibet, where treatises that presumably have developed later, eventually, seem to set the “brown phlegm” disorders apart as a so-called “combined disease” (that is a category of diseases in which several noxious substances, the so-called “humors”, appear together). Lastly, on a more speculative vein, the author addresses relevant surviving indications, if not traces, in Tibetan historical narratives for Greco-Arab influence on Tibetan medicine.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKnowledge and Context in Tibetan Medicine
EditorsWilliam A. McGrath
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages39
ISBN (Electronic)9789004404441
ISBN (Print)9789004401495
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameBrill's Tibetan Studies Library
ISSN (Electronic)1568-6183


  • Tibetan medicine, Greek medicine, Islamic medicine, black bile


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