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History of Physiognomy

History of Physiognomy


They say that an image is worth more than a thousand words.

So, if images can convey information much more effectively than words, then how much can a face tell you about a patient's personality? For millions of years, humans have looked at faces to Understand each other's emotional state. However, Physiognomy (also known as "Face Reading") is a controversial science that goes beyond reading facial gestures to study how a face can accurately portray someone's personality.

Despite experiencing many ups and downs during its long history, Physiognomy has been around for 4,000 years and it doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Although the practice of "reading faces" dates back at least to the Paleobabylonian period (Jensinson, J., 1997) - where diviners used it to interpret facial abnormalities like moles its birth as a codified science began in Ancient Greece.

It was the Ancient Greeks who cemented Physiognomy's relation to medicine using it to diagnose illnesses and predicting a person's behavior although they never broke off completely the ties with divination that they shared with the Babylonians. The Greeks, like the Babylonians, believed that a person's temperament was dictated not just by his physical features, but also by the four humors (blood, phlegm, bile, and black bile) each of which corresponded to a particular type of personality.

Physiognomy which comes from the ancient Greek, physis (nature) and gnomon (character) was first developed as a theory by Zopyrus and it became so popular that even Aristotle, the father of logic, hinted at his acceptance of the theory in several of his works. However, it was Pseudo-Aristotle -a member of Aristotle's school -who wrote the first physiognomic treatise. In his Physiognomonica, Pseudo-Aristotle discusses the concept of human behavior and explains how to read a patient's personality by considering the character of the animal he resembles the most, the ethnic group which he belongs to, and the interpretation of his transient facial gestures (Jensinson, J., 1997).

Physiognomonica was an instant sensation and it influenced many other physiognomists like Polemo of Laodicea (2nd century AD) and Adamantius the Sophist (4th century). Medieval transformation and decline Physiognomy survived the fall of Rome and continued to be accepted and practiced throughout the Middle Ages However Unlike classical Physiognomy, which focused on the study of the relationship between physical traits and character in both animals and humans, medieval face reading was more interested in astrology and how the stars could supposedly influence human behavior.

Interest in the naturalist school of physiognomy began to grow again during the 12th century, with the translation of Greek and Arabic works on the subject. Despite the supposed rigid religious character of the era, physiognomy was widely accepted and even the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Il wrote his own book on the subject (Liber physiognomies).

Physiognomy was also popular in England, where the educated classes called it 'fisnamy.' The literature of the period indicates that physiognomy was taught in universities and understood doctors, merchants, aristocrats and even the lower class- for example, in The Tale of Beryn, an addition to The Canterbury Tales, a character accuses another of having the physiognomy of a thief!

The popularization of physiognomy became something of a double-edged sword, though, as the science mixed with superstition, magic, and divination practices, to the point where King Henry VIII of England outlawed it in 1530 after declaring it had become the realm of beggars and tricksters. Systematization and heyday The Renaissance brought a renewed interest in humans as a study subject and with it a revival of Physiognomy as a natural science.

Physiognomy became separated from astrology and in 1585 the Italian physiognomist Giambattista Della Porta (1535-1615) published the first illustrated accounts of the theory in his De Humana Physioanomonia.

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