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Colloque La physiognomonie à la Renaissance / The Arts and Sciences of the Face 1500–1850

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Physiognomony in classical antiquity: a medical chimera?
Vivian Nutton (University College London)

13 décembre 2007

L’héritage et son interprétation - session Physiognomonie et philosophie classiques présidée par Marwan Rashed (Paris).

Medieval Arabic physicians traced their interest in physiognomy back to Galen of Pergamum (129-216), and through him to the great Hippocrates (fl. 400 B.C.). Modern scholars are more cautious. Although Galen knew some physioognomical writers, he is careful to distinguish his use of similar information from theirs.Others clearly disagreed with this austerity, labelling some passages in the Hippocratic Corpus, and interpreting them in physiognomical terms. Galen also equivocates. In the Late treatise, The soul’s habits follow the body’s temperament, he comes very close to accepting the premiss that one could tell traits of character from physical appearance, and in his Art of medicine he repeated again and again that the doctor should be able to interpret physical indications of conditions that we today would call either physical or mental. Even if his Greek followers maintained a separation between the two disciplines, their occasional convergence in Galen’s abundant writings offered ample opportunity for others to develop a theory of physiognomy based on his observations.

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Vivian Nutton Vivian Nutton (University College London)