Physiognomy (or Physiognomancy) is the interpretation of outward appearance, especially the features of the face, to discover a person's predominant temper and character.


Derived from the Greek phusis ('nature') and gnomonia ('interpretation')


Physiognomy has been practiced in cultures all over the world. In China, 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, Physiognomica (English: Physiognomics). The volume is divided into two parts, conjectured to have been originally two separate works. The first section discusses arguments drawn from nature or other races, and concentrates on the concept of human behavior. The second section focuses on animal behavior, dividing the animal kingdom into male and female types. From these are deduced correspondences between human form and character.

Many figures in medicine and philosophy such as Plato, Pliny, Galen, and Avicenna addressed physiognomy. Throughout the Renaissance and before, physiognomy was usually linked with chiromancy and astrology.

However, by the 17th century, physiognomy became separated from its more occult elements and the practice leaned more towards the scientific when a Swiss pastor named Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) wrote several profusely illustrated volumes about the subject. Lavater's Essays upon physiognomy were first published in German in 1772 and gained great popularity. His essays upon physiognomy were translated into French and English and were highly influential.

Lavater based his ideas on the writings of the Italian Giovanni Della Porta (1535-1615) and the English physician and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82). In his work, Religio Medici, Browne discusses the possibility of the discernment of inner qualities from the outer appearance of the face.

Sir Thomas Browne is also credited with the first usage of the word caricature in the English language. Browne was influenced by the writings of the Italian Giovanni Della Porta. Della Porta's work Of Celestial Physiognomy argued that it was not the stars but the temperament which influences both man's facial appearance and character. In his pseudo-Aristotelian work De humana physiognomia (1586), Porta used woodcuts of animals to illustrate human characteristics. Porta's works are well-represented in the Library of Sir Thomas Browne.
The popularity of physiognomy grew throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century. It influenced the descriptive abilities of many European novelists, notably Balzac. Meanwhile, the 'Norwich connection' to physiognomy may be discerned in the writings of Amelia Opie and George Borrow, as well as in the descriptive passages of characters in the novels of Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy.
A February 2009 article in the New Scientist reported that: “…the field is undergoing something of a revival. Researchers around the world are re-evaluating what we see in a face, investigating whether it can give us a glimpse of someone's personality or even help to shape their destiny. What is emerging is a “new physiognomy” which is more subtle but no less fascinating than its old incarnation.”


The schools of physiognomy are following a guideline that will enable a beginner to recognize some of the most important of things to consider such as:

Always remember to judge nothing in isolation. One tendency may be outweighed by a stronger, opposing one. Most important, always look for harmony or the lack of it. Harmony, even of individually negative features, can bespeak the strength of character to overcome difficult tendencies. Begin with the most obvious. The feature that you notice first is likely to be the dominant one.

Consider the skin. Is it fine and delicate? Or is it thick and coarse? The skin is the major form of protection against the elements. One who is “thin-skinned” is naturally more refined and sensitive, more easily hurt, less able to survive the pressures of a highly competitive job or to be content in the rough atmosphere of a farm or factory. Women with fine skin like delicate surroundings. The men have gentleness about them. The thick-skinned man, one the other hand, probably would make a good foot-in-the-door salesman; opinions of others just bounce off him. He is well protected and therefore could be said to be insensitive. A thick-skinned woman tends to be outdoorsy, hearty, plain-spoken, energetic, and physical.

Observe the hair. It gives an indication of a person's nervous system and resilience.
Baby-fine and wispy: low tolerances
Coarse: high tolerances, more resilient
Very curly: always running on nervous energy.
Coarse and curly: can bounce back
Lank and lifeless: has poor health, is low on energy and lethargic
Straight and bouncy: easygoing and controlled.

Chinese Physiognomy

The Chinese divide the face into three zones. The upper zone, from the hairline to the eyebrows, is the indication of a person's intellect; the middle zone, from eyebrow to tip of nose, indicates temperament; the lower zone, from the tip of the nose to the chin, indicates the physical nature. A person with all three zones perfectly balanced and equal in length will be a confident, well-adjusted, effective individual. Great achievers and geniuses are seldom well balanced, however. Philosophers and scientists may have overlarge foreheads. Large, prominent noses usually belong to people who can cope with anything; Aristotle chose as generals for Alexander the Great men with long Roman noses. A short lower zone indicates a loner, while a heavy-jawed, wide-mouthed person tends to be family-oriented, earthy, and affectionate. A look at the major features, zone by zone, should yield much information.

A high, wide forehead indicates intelligence; a low, narrow one shows a more intuitive nature. A broad forehead reveals more self-confidence and outward-directedness than a narrow one. Uneven hairlines belong to individuals who have had difficult childhoods. They are usually rebels or neurotics. Wrinkles that are deep but broken show lack of perseverance. Deep wrinkles toward the browline show and emphasis on family and everyday life; toward the hairline they show concern with the spiritual and the intellectual. Vertical lines reveal a worrier. The larger the eyes, the more emotional the person. Wide-set eyes (think of cows) mean a person is easygoing; closely set eyes (think of a snake hypnotizing its dinner) indicate someone more calculating and exacting in nature. Pick for your figures clerk someone with narrow-set eyes; for your den mother, someone with wide-set ones. “Laugh lines” indicate a good-humored person. Eyebrows set high above the eyes indicate a formal, stand-offish nature. A person whose eyebrows are set low is more accessible.

Noses are a good indication of a person's interests. The breadth gives an indication of breadth of vision. Narrow-bridged noses belong to the more selective, while broad bridges show a wide span of activities and awareness. A person with a broad-bridged, even nose would be an entrepreneur, while a narrow-bridged person would be the specialist. A long nose indicates tendencies toward the spiritual and aesthetic; a short one, toward impulsiveness, without direction. Wide-flaring nostrils show a tendency to temper, while bulbous-tipped noses belong to kindly, open people. Roman noses belong to strong, acute, sometimes harsh individuals, often to great businessmen; turned-up noses incline more toward service.

Ears placed higher than the eyebrows indicate great perception; very low-set ears-below the eyes–show dullness. Ears protruding forward indicate a forward-oriented, curious individual. If they are set back on the head, the person is easy to incite (think of a dog with its ears flattened back). Small ears indicate selfishness.

Mouths are a giveaway. Wide mouths indicate generosity, full mouths sensuality. Tight mouths give little away. Thin lips show a cool and calculating nature. Small, fine mouths tend to selfishness. Downturned mouths are pessimistic; upturned, optimistic.

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