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date: 02 February 2023



  • M. Michela Sassi


Physiognomy, the art of observing and making inferences from physical features of the body, was practised from c.1,500 bce (when it is mentioned in Mesopotamian handbooks on divination). A focus on personal character (and a reflection on the relation between physical and psychical facts) seems to be a Greek innovation. *Aristotle attempted to give an inductive basis to assertions of the interdependence of body and *soul (An. pr. 70b7); and the Historia animalium provided empirical evidence that corroborated early ideas about moral types among animals. In the first extant treatise on the subject, the Physiognomonica (a Peripatetic work of the 3rd cent. bce long attributed to Aristotle), the comparison with animal, racial, and gender types presupposes that moral perfection is embodied in the (free) male Greek citizen. This treatise is the forerunner of a tradition embracing M. Antonius *Polemon (4) in the 2nd cent. ce and Adamantius in the 4th, as well as medieval and modern writers.


  • Science, Technology, and Medicine

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