Joseph Ziegler, Heredity and Physiognomy

Physiognomy, the science which causally links bodily shape and men- tal characteristics and personality traits should be a natural locus for hereditary thought. This paper scans key contributions to this science from 1200 to 1500 placing the emphasis on assertions regarding heredity and parental transmission of traits. It emphasises the highly materialistic approach adopted by medieval philosophers and physicians when seeking to explain the linkage between bodily shape and personality traits. The physiognomers regarded the physical context at the period of conception and the early embryonic stage as a crucial factor determining bodily shape and character. But at the same time this paper shows that there was a lack of any systematic discussion of ethnicity (physiognomy of groups), or of parental transmission of bodily form and character. Medieval and early renaissance physiognomy was highly materialistic yet utterly individualistic and regarded every case as independent from the influence of family or ethnos.