Complexio / Complexion. Categorizing Individual Natures 1250-1600
The Moral Authority of Nature, The University of Chicago Press (2003)
In an anecdote widely used and retold between the 13th and the 16th century, pupils of Hippokrates brought the portrait of their famous teacher to Physionomyas (or Philemon, in other accounts), the supposed founder of the discipline of physiognomy. Asked for his opinion about the man in the picture according from the outward signs of his appearance, Physionomyas/Philemon replies: “He is a wrangler, lecherous and rude.” The young men angrily rebutt his claims and return to Hippocrates, who explains that the diagnosis was indeed very correct; but that (I quote here from an English version of 1528) reason in me ouercometh and ruleth the vyces of my complexion. A German version of the tale published in 1536 nicely differentiates between physionomey (the portrait) and physionomi (the art of deciphering the signs of the body), the latter enabling Philemon to read, in Hippocrates’ words, “the true tendencies of my nature” (die neiglichkeit meiner natur) in the first.