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Volume 7, No. 2
Astrological physiognomy from Ptolemy to the present day
Physiognomy, the art of judging character or destiny through physical appearance, has had a long and varied history. Although not strictly astrological in all its forms, it is usually found combined with astrology, numerology, palmistry and other popular forms of fortune-telling; and, like all of these, it is unlikely to become extinct despite being ridiculed by modern science. Equally, attempts to legitimise and modernise it in recent times, usually for the purposes of identifying criminals or other social undesirables, are unlikely to render it wholly respectable either.
For the greater part of its history, between the classical era and the eighteenth century, physiognomy was seen as an integral part of astrology: physical evidence and vindication of the theory of planetary influences.
The aim of this paper is to trace the principal lines of transmission for the lore of planetary physiognomy within the Western astrological tradition, with particular emphasis on the descriptions given for Mars and Saturn. Astrological tradition is highly conservative, with data passed down through centuries of use almost unaltered; but in some cases, as will be shown, the material seems to have been modified and added to in significant ways at certain stages in its history, and to have been influenced or perhaps deliberately rewritten to reflect the prevailing religious or political views of the time.