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The prediction of personality functioning from facial appearances and expression.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Do "sciences" such as phrenology, physiognomy, and the medical arts present "fixed" truths, or are their proclaimed truths always relative?
Differential inclusion inevitably seems to include those whose approximation of the physiognomy of whiteness has attained a degree of mimetic efficacy through markers of race and class.
The Asahi Glass Foundation has decided to award the prize to James Speth, founder and former president of the WRI of the United States, and to Harold Mooney, a physiognomy professor at Stanford University.
Elaine Griffiths is editor of Here's Health magazine which includes a full guide to physiognomy in its current edition.
The science of Physiognomy and the disciplines influenced by it might appear to be an answer to that thesis in so far as they assert precisely the opposite, namely that one's physique and comportment are reliable guides to the interpretation of one's feelings and character.
Dryden may have been attracted to Porta's theory of physiognomy because of its humoral approach.
One of Croatia's practical problems is its awkward physiognomy, a tenuous finger which turns into a broad fist further north, making transport of materials and access to skilled labour just one of its many near insurmountable problems.
Mortimer's amazement notwithstanding, it should come as no surprise to any aficionado of detective novels that the genre's supreme practitioner of analytical reason has such an eminently Greek physiognomy. Sherlock Holmes, after all, personifies the ideal of scientific progress since classical antiquity, and so it seems only fitting that he bear the visage of the Apollo Belvedere as a vestige of his great ancestors.
Among the topics are of masks and men: thoughts on masks from different perspectives, whether deities can be impersonated: the question of the use of masks in ancient Egyptian rituals, Face of Death and the Face of Baal: masks from the southern Levant Stone Age and Bronze Age, masks in the Old Testament: masks in ancient Palestine/Israel, Iron Age Persian masks and protomes from Tel Dor, the king's godly image as the perfect physiognomy of the holder of the kingship: royal ideology during the Neo-Assyrian Period, and encountering the heroic prosopeion in fifth-century theater performance.
His colleagues firmly disagree: "You're a crazy man with crazy hair." 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 mask was made with a high precision in a way that shows the physiognomy in a very realistic and creative way, Deputy Director of Labs and reader of ancient inscriptions at the Archeology and Museums General Directorate Mahmoud al-Sayyed said.