Physiognomy attempts to assess a person’s character or personality traits based on their outer appearance, specifically the face. Today, physiognomy is seen as a pseudoscience, one that once was used to promote discrimination and scientific racism.
This form of divination has been around for centuries. It was even taught in universities, at least until Henry VIII of England outlawed it in 1531.
The link between outward appearance and inner character has been with us since the beginning. Ancient Greek poetry includes a few references. However, it wasn’t until the fifth century BC that we find Zopyrus, Athenian expert on physiognomy. Aristotle and Pythagoras also believed in physiognomy. In fact, Pythagoras once shunned a potential follower simply because of that man’s face, deemed to be of bad character.
An ancient Greek treatise by Aristotle has survived to this day. His book is divided into two sections – one section describes human behavior, while the other focuses on animals.
Physiognomy led to the later field of phrenology, the study of the bumps and fissures of the skull.