From Animal Bodies To Human Souls: (Pseudo-)Aristotelian Animals in Della Porta’s Physiognomics

in Early Science and Medicine
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This article analyses the role that animals play in Della Porta’s method of physiognomics. It claims that Della Porta created his own, original, method by appropriating, and yet selectively adapting Aristotelian and pseudo-Aristotelian sources. This has not been adequately reconstructed before in previous studies on Della Porta. I trace, in two steps, the conceptual trajectory of Della Porta’s physiognomics, from human psychology to animal psychology, and ultimately from psychology to ethics. In the first step, I show how Della Porta substantially adapts the physiognomic principle of the body-soul relationship as found in the pseudo-Aristotelian Physiognomonica.In the second, I demonstrate that the real aim of Della Porta’s physiognomics is a practical one, namely understanding how to live a good life, and I explain why he refers to Aristotle in order to ground this conception.

From Animal Bodies To Human Souls: (Pseudo-)Aristotelian Animals in Della Porta’s Physiognomics

in Early Science and Medicine




 Ibid. See also JütteAge of Secrecy360. On the religious legitimacy of chiromantia see Roberto Poma “Les erreurs de la main. Regards croisés sur la chiromancie naturelle de Giambattista della Porta” in Die Hand: Elemente einer Medizin- und Kulturgeschichte ed. Mariacarla Gadebusch-Bondio (Berlin 2010) 117-33.


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    The animal ‘simia’ in Della Porta’s Fisonomia (1610), in comparison with a human head featuring ‘monkeyish’ characteristics. Giovan Battista Della Porta, De humana physignomonia (Vico Equense, 1586), 96. [This image is in the public domain: , with the following original source: Historical Anatomies on the Web (U.S. National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health: )].

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