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The prediction of personality functioning from facial appearances and expression.



in the science of antiquity and of certain later periods, the study of the direct connection between the outward appearance and character of a person or an animal.

Physiognomy is rooted in the ancient practice of incorporating experience of life into folklore and the lore of sorcerers, fortune tellers, and the like. Physiognomic observations became part of the cultures of the ancient East; in the classical era they were systematized in the same way as other scientific disciplines of the time. Proportions of the face and body, characteristic gestures and facial expressions, and types of posture, build, and carriage of the body were described and classified.

In antiquity physiognomy was associated with the theory of temperaments and with Hippocrates’ theory of the dependence of an individual’s or a people’s physical and mental makeup on climate. Physiognomy was also related to the system of moral types (“characters”) worked out by Theophrastus and other students of Aristotle and to the use of types in classical literature, as exemplified by the character masks in New Comedy and the techniques of verbal portraiture in classical rhetoric, historiography, and biography.

Physiognomy was based on the notion prevalent in antiquity that the actions and behavior of every person are rigidly determined by his inborn character. According to Heraclitus, a person’s character was his “demon,” that is, his fate; similar statements were made by Epicharmus, Democritus, and Plato. It was believed that every person’s association with a moral type was just as clear and obvious, just as tangible and biological, as his physical features.

The classical tradition of physiognomy was reflected in the culture of Byzantium and of medieval Western Europe; it had a particularly strong influence on Arab science and on the cabala of Jewish mysticism. Some Western European scientists, for example, G. della Porta in De humana physiognomonia (1586), resumed the study of physiognomy between the 16th and 18th centuries. However, the establishment of new scientific criteria in the 17th and 18th centuries relegated physiognomy to the realms of common sense and artistic intuition. In his Physiognomical Fragments (1775–78), J. K. Lavater failed in an attempt to restore physiognomy to the status of a science. Similar attempts by such epigones of German romanticism as R. Kassner and L. Klages also failed to achieve acceptance. Klages’ graphology and characterology may be mentioned in this connection.


Scriptores physiognomonici graeci et latini, vols. 1–2. Edited by R. Foerster. Leipzig, 1893.
Evans, E. C. Physiognomies in the Ancient World. Philadelphia, 1969.


References in periodicals archive ?
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Schrauwen here satirizes the ancient pseudoscience of physiognomy (re-popularized in the eighteenth century by Johann Kaspar Lavater), which held that signs of character could be read in the features of the face and head.
The writer did not mean to deal with psychologycal analysis as he believed--just like other writers of such novels--that he had discovered another method, the analysis of the physiognomy.
For Austen's contemporary readers, the fact that it is a profile portrait would have held special significance: this format was associated with the pseudo-science of physiognomy, the judging of character from facial features.
Standop combines the ancient Greek technique of Physiognomy and the Chinese version of Siang Mein.
Wegenstein demonstrates how Lavater's theory made implicit gendered links: a man's physiognomy connects an inner self which is by and large devoted to action, whereas the woman's physiognomy is connected with chastity, devotion, and reproduction.
The ancient art of physiognomy gets entertaining exposition in "The Face Reader," though it's the vicious but gripping court intrigue that shapes this South Korean costume drama from maverick helmer Han Jae-rim.
In his first book, The Religion of a Physician, he used the term physiognomy, which is nowadays defined as "The supposed art of judging character from facial characteristics" the operative word being "supposed.
His book unites the grim determinism of physiognomy (it is not the beady eyes of Criminal Man we must fear, but the malformed brain of The Psychopath) with the cheerful optimism of phrenology (yes, but most of them aren't really evil).
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