History and Information on Physiognomy Part 1

About the ancient science Physiognomy or reading lines and contours in a person's face and head to reveal their character, history and information about the practice.


What Is It?

Physiognomy is the art (some have called it a science) of reading in the lines, contours, and proportions of the face and head the aspects of a character revealed there. From the observation of these details, a master physiognomist can deduce many elements of a person's past and future.


In some form, physiognomy has been practiced in cultures all over the world from antiquity to the present day. It shares the obscure beginnings of many folk arts, but in China, where it still holds an important position in everyday life, records of the works of master physiognomists can be found dating from the start of the Han dynasty (202 B.C.), and references to its practice and theory existed centuries before that.

In the West, Hippocrates furnished an early treatise on the subject, and Aristotle wrote a book about it in the 4th century B.C. In contrast to physiognomy in China, where a vast body of reference works and a long tradition of teaching have been built for centuries, the art has never had a continuous line of development in the West. It has faded in and out of popularity since Hippocrates' time.

Many figures in medicine and philosophy addressed the subject, among them Plato, Pliny, Galen, and Avicenna. Throughout the Renaissance and before, physiognomy was usually linked with chiromancy and astrology, but by the 17th century, when a Swiss pasto named Lavater wrote several profusely illustrated volumes about the subject, physiognomy became separated from its more occult elements and the practice leaned more towards the scientific.

Current popularity in the West has been partly due to the work of psychologist William Sheldon, who established a scientific basis for the idea that bodily build and features are linked to character and expression. Another reason is the establishment of the University of Personology in San Francisco by master physiognomist Dennis Whiteside. It is clear, however, that physiognomy has long been practiced unconsciously, as evidenced by common phrases like "shifty eyes," "an honest face," "highbrow," and many more.

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