The physiognomist's kidney in the fifteenth century

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Physiognomy, the art of deciphering a person's character and potential behavior by his or her external appearance, is an ancient body of knowledge which was gradually revived in the Latin West in the twelfth and particularly in the thirteenth century. This is a philological study of the scientific discourse about the physiognomy of the kidney in physiognomic sources from Pseudo-Aristotle's Physiognomonics (third century b.C.) through Pietro d'Abano's Liber compilationis phisonomie (ca 1295) to Rolandus Scriptoris's Reductorium phisonomie (ca 1430). Fifteenth-century learned physiognomists devoted specific chapters to the kidney. The physiognomists analyzed the fleshiness of the body-surface outside the kidneys (i.e. the loins and their vicinity). Firm loins denoted boldness, agility, and good fighting capacity and vice versa. The pre-modern kidney was of interest not only to physicians and surgeons wishing to treat kidney conditions and other pathologies arising from the urinary system. There were learned physicians who examined the body not to diagnose disease, but to decipher their patient's personality. When engaged in this activity the kidneys, that is, the loins or the external area of the kidneys, were one of the body parts that could provide vital physiognomic information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)600-604
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Nephrology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2004


  • Physiognomy
  • Pre-modern kidney

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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