Physical Deformity in the Renaissance

Desiderius Erasmus, The Manuell of the Christen Knyght (1503), trans. William Tyndale (London: Wynkyn de Worde for Iohan Byddell, 1533):

Thinke & surely byleue that thing{is} inuysible whiche thou seest not are so excellent / so pure / so perfyt / that thinges whiche be sene in comparyson of them are scarse very shadowes representyng to the eyes a small & a thynne simylytude of them. Therfore in this outwarde corporall thing{is} what so euer thy sensyble wyttes eyther desyre or abhorre / it shalbe a gret deale meter yt the spyrit loue or hate thesame thynge in inwarde & incorporall thyng{is}. The goodly beautye of thy body pleaseth thyne eyes / thinke than how honest a thing is the beauty of ye soule.   A deformed vysage semeth an vnplesaunt thing. remembre howe odyous a thing is a mynde defyled with vyces: and of all other thyndo likewyse. For as ye soule hath certayne beauty wherwith one whyle she pleaseth god / & a defourmyte wherwith an other whyle she pleaseth ye dyuell / as lyke vnto lyke: so hath she also her youthe / her age / sicknes / helth / dethe / lyfe / pouerty / riches / ioye / sorowe / werre / peace / colde / heate / thurst / drinke / hunger / meate. To conclude shortly what soeuer is fythy in the body / that same is to be vnderstande in the soule. (“The fyfth rule. capi .xiij”)

Bartolommeo della Rocca (called Cocles), The Rebirth of Chiromancy and Physiognomy (1504), trans. Thomas Hill, as The Whole Art of Phisiognomie (London: Iohn Waylande, 1556)

The necke croked after the latytude of the bodye, fro the ryghte or leafte syde, argueth hym to be deceatfull, a wary talker, and vnfaythfull: as Arystotle affyrmeth, eschewe vtterlye hys company, whiche is wrye necked downe to the Joyning of the shoulder pointes, for such be vngraci|ous, dissemblers & deceateful, as Cocles noted the same in melancholicke parsones. (“Of the sygnyfycacions of the necke. The. xxx. Chapter”)

The shoulder poyntes crokyng inwarde: declare that man to be wary, slouthfull, secrete, ingeniouse, and a surmiser…. The shoulder poyntes vnequall, as the one greater then the other, declare that man to be slouthful, of a dul vnderstandig· of a grosse wit & feadyng· sipie, of a dul capacitie, faithful, bold, a niggard or one hard to be moued, and somtymes an vtterer of secretes, false, and not credityng one. (“Of the shoulder poyntes”)

The crokednes of the backe, declareth the maliciousnesse of condicious, and ouerthwartnesse in maners. (“Of the belly, backe, greate guttes, and haunches, with the legges to the fet. The. xxxv. Chapter.”)

The legges croked, and hollow or bending in the nether part of the legges: declare those men, to be euil. (“A conclusion or briefe rehearsall")

Thomas More, Vtopia (1516), trans. Raphe Robynson (London: S. Mierdman for Abraham Vele, 1551):

To mocke a man for hys deformitie, or for that he lacketh anye parte or lymme of hys bodye, is counted greate dishonestie and reproche not to hym that is mocked, but to hym that mocketh. (“Of Bondemen, sicke persons, wedlocke, and dyuers other matters”)

Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso (1516-32), trans. John Harrington (London: Richard Field for John Norton and Simon Waterson, 1607):

     Eu'n so Rogero plainly now deseride,
Alcynas foule disgraces and enormitie,
Because of this his ring she could not hide,
By all her paintings any one  deformitie:
He saw most plainly that in her did bide,
Vnto her former beauties no conformitie,
But lookes so vgly, that from East to West,
Was not a fouler old misshapen beast.
     Her face was wan, a leane and writheld skin,   
Her stature scant three horseloaues did exceed:
Her haire was gray of hue, and very thin,
Her teeth were gone, her gums seru'd in their steed,
No space was there between her nose and chin,
Her noisome breath contagion would breed,
In fine, of her it might haue well bene said,  
In Nestors youth she was a pretie maid. (7.61-62) 

Johannes Indagine, Briefe Introductions, both Naturall, Pleasaunte, and also Delectable vnto the Art of Chiromancy, or Manuel Diuination, and Physiognomy (1522), trans. Fabian Withers (London: Iohannis Day for Richarde Iugge, 1558):

A croked backe is token of a nigarde, and couetous persone.

Juan Luis Vives, Introduction to Wisedome (1524), trans. Richard Morison (London: Tho. Berthelet, 1550):

There be in the bodie, as belongyng vnto it, beautie, helth, integritee of membres, strength lightnes, delectacion, and their contraries as  deformitee, sickenes, lacke of limmes, wekenes, sloth, sorowe, and other, as well commoditees of the body, as incommoditees of the mynde, as learnyng and vertue, & their contraries, rudenesse and vice. (“A diuision of suche thynges, as ar perteignyng vnto men”)

Baldassarre Castiglione, The Courtyer (1528), trans. Thomas Hoby (London: Wyllyam Seres, 1561):

The place therfore and (as it were) the hedspring that laughing matters arise of, con|sisteth in a certein deformitie or ill fauourednesse, bicause a man laugheth onlie at those matters that are disagree|ing in themselues, and (to a mans seeminge) are in yll plight, where it is not so in deede. (“Wherein laughing matters consist”)

Doeth ech man seeke to couer the defaultes of nature, aswell in the minde, as also in the bodie: the which is to be sene in the blinde, lame, crooked and other mayned and deformed creatures. For although these imperfections may be layed to nature, yet doeth it greeue ech man to haue them in him self: bicause it seemeth by the testimonie of the self same nature that a man hath that default or blemishe (as it were) for a patent and token of his ill inclination. (“Images in the honour of men”)

Richard Roussat, Of Physiognomie (1542), in The Most Excellent, Profitable, and Pleasant Booke of the Famous Doctour and Expert Astrologian Arcandam or Aleandrin (London: Henry Denham for James Rowbothum, 1564):

If the body of them that haue croked bodyes bee softe, it is not so euyll as yf it were in a thick & hard body.

Euen as all lame men are wicked so all they which are in health haue not good maners. For it is more requisite, & there is more a doe to forme a mind without faulte, than a body. Wherfore the most wicked of al other, are ye croke backed men seing the faulte of them is neare vnto the hart whych is the prince of all ye body. Next are the blind and the squint eyed men, forasmuch as nature hath failed about ye braine. After them come the dome & the deffe. And then the halting men & after the~ are they yt haue their fingars fast ioyned together, or to farre a sounder the one from the other for nature hath failed in them, in mem+bers lesse necessarye. They that be ful of wartes haue the nexte and last place and the scarred bodies folow them.

Charles Estienne, “That it is better to be fowle than faire,” in The Defence of Contraries: Paradoxes Against Common Opinion (1553), trans. Anthony Munday (London: Iohn Windet for Simon Waterson, 1593):

Who knoweth not, how much the  deformitie of body and hard fauoured face is to bee esteemed, principally in women (for in men it was neuer in so great request:) hath neuer considered, how ma|ny amorous sparks is dayly to be seen, vnder an il-fauoured countenance and badde composed body, choicely hid and couered: which in a faire face finely polished, giues often occasion of ceaselesse flames and cruell passions. (17)

Note the good and profit ensuing by deformitie, when all they in generall, that of olde time haue beene, & yet at this day are studious in chastitie, doe openly confesse, as nothing hath like force in them, to tame and check the pricks of the flesh, neither long watchings, greeuous disciplines, or continuall fastinges; as one only looke vpon an il-fauoured and counterfeit per|son. Hence ensueth that, which is vsed as a common prouerbe, concerning a very fowle   deformed wo|man: that shee serueth as a good receipt and soue|raigne remedy, against fleshly tentations. O sacred and pretious deformity, deerly loued of chastitie. (20)

And if we shall compare and vnite together, the beawty of the mind with that of the body: shall we not finde a greater number of  deformed people, to be more wise and ingenious then the faire and well fourmed? Let Socrates be our witnesse, whome the historians and auncient figures represent, to be so il|fauoured as might be: notwithstanding, by the Ora|cle of Apollo, he was acknowledged to be the wisest man of his time. Phrigian Aesope, the most excellent fabulist, was in forme of bodie so strange and misha|pen, as the verie ougliest in his time (in comparison of him) might rightly bee resembled to Narcissus or Ganimede: neuerthelesse, as each one may read, hee was most rich in vertues, and in spirit (beyond all o|ther) most excellent.

Of great deformitie were the Philosophers, Zeno and Aristotle, Empedocles fowlie composed, and Galba a very ougly counterfeit: neuerthelesse, they al were of maruellous and sweet disposed spirit. Could any impeach the  deformity of Philopoemen, who after hee was seene to be a good and hardie souldiour: came he not to the dignity of a most valiant captaine? and was hee not reuerenced among his people, for his high & excellent vertues? (18-19)

Thomas Wilson, The Arte of Rhetorique (London: Richard Grafton, 1553):

Oftentimes the deformitie of a mans bodye geueth mater enoughe to be ryght merye. (78)

Pierre Boaistuau, Theatrum Mundi (1558), trans. John Alday (London: H. Denham for Thomas Hacket, 1566):

What anguishe and paine the poore mothers suffer in their childings, and what daunger they are in, it is manifest, somtimes there are children that come forth their arms first, & others their fete first, others their knées first, and others ouerthwart. But that which is more cruell, and that we cannot apprehend without horror, is, that sometimes it is force to cal Chirurgians, Mediciners and Barbars, in stede of wise Matrons and Midwiues, to dismember the children and pull them out by pieces, and sometime it behoueth to open the poore innocent mother aliue, and put yron tooles in hir bodie, yea to murther hir for to haue hir fruite: some children are borne so monster like and deformed, that they are not like men, but abhominable monsters: some are borne with .ij. heades, and foure legges, as one which was séene in the Citie of Paris, whilst this booke was a making, others cleping together, as hath bene séene in Fraunce, and in other places. Two women children were borne ioyned together by the shoulders, after the one had liued a certaine time, died and infected the other…. Some there are that are borne blinde, others deafe, others dumbe, and others there are born lame of their limmes, for whom their parents are sorowfull. In such sort that if we consider attentiuely all the misery of our natiuitie, we shall finde the olde Prouerbe true, which sayth, that we are conceyued in filth & vnclennesse, borne in sinne and care, and nourished wyth paine and labor. (C1)

Giovanni Battista Giraldi, A Discourse of Ciuill Life (1565), trans. Lodowick Bryskett (London: R. Field for Edward Blout, 1606):

We are not in any wise to esteeme a person in body mis-shapen or  deformed, lesse worthy to be nourished, or to be admitted to magistracie, if he be vertuous, then the other that is of gratefull presence. For though Aristotle thinke the  deformitie of the body to be an impediment to the perfect felicitie of man, in respect of exteriour things; yet he determineth, that it is no hindrance to the course of vertue. To conclude therfore this point, though chil|dren be borne weake, crooked, mis-shapen, or  deformed of body, they are not therefore to be exposed, but as wel to be brought vp and instructed as the other, that they may grow and increase in vertue, and become worthy of those dignities which are dispensed in their common-weales. And, me thinketh, Socrates that wise man spake very well to his scholers, and to this purpose, when he ad|uised them, that they should often behold themselues in looking-glasses: to the end (said he) that if you see your faces and bodies comely and beautifull, ye may endeuor to set forth and grace the gifts of nature the better, by ad|ioyning vertues thereunto: and if ye perceiue your selues to be  deformed and il-fauoured, you may seeke to supply the defects of nature, with the ornaments of vertue, thereby making your selues no lesse grateful and amiable then they that haue beautiful bodies. For it is rather good to see a man of body imperfect and disproportioned en|dued with vertues, then a goodly body to be nought else but a gay vessell filled with vice and wickednes. Children are to be bred, such as nature giueth them vnto vs, and we are to haue patience to abide their proof, and to see what their actions will be: and if theirs that be of   deformed body, do proue good and vertuous, they are so much the more to be commended, as they seemed lesse apt there|unto by their birth. (38-39)

Wawrzyniec Goslicki, The Counsellor (1568), anonymous trans. (London: Richard Bradocke, 1598):

We also commonly take heede of those whom nature hath marked by defect of any member, as they that are lame of one legge, squint eyde, or deformed in person: for such men are accounted craftie and subtill. Neuerthelesse, if any such personage be knowen for good, and by the excellency of vertue hath ouercome the imperfection of nature; then shall he deseruingly be admitted to the dignitie of Counsellors…. Philopaemen a notable Captaine of the Achaeans, was an euill fauored man, and being taken prisoner, was forced to cut wood. Afterwards he became knowen, and saide; that he suffered the punishment due to his deformitie. We therfore commend a graue & pleasant face in our Counsellor: and allow most of such eies as are sweet & not cruell; for that countenance is fittest for men of such qualitie. Yet is not the coniecture we haue by the features of bodie so certaine, as thereby we may exactly iudge the vertue of mind: for many there are, whose persons be not beautifull, yet in mind are vertu|ous men, that is to say, iust, prudent, & temperate. The mind is not blemished by deformitie of bodie, but by beauty of mind the bodie is beautified. Vertue is not bound eyther to a beautifull or deformed body, but is of it selfe comely, and doth grace all bodies with beautie therof. And therfore it behoueth vs in knowing of men, to vse not onely eyes, but also iudgement (137)

Pierre de la Primaudaye, “Of Uice,” in The French Academie (1577), trans. Thomas Bowes (London: Edmund Bollifant for G. Bishop and Ralph Newbery, 1586):

Now hauing by our last speech declared sufficiently, that vertue is the onely true good of the soule, it is out of question, that vice, which is altogi|ther contrarie vnto it, is the onely euill thereof, and the fountaine of al the miseries of man, as wel earthly as eternall. Which, that we may more surely auoid, and marke better the excellencie and beautie of vertue, by the lothsomnes and deformitie of vice (bicause contraries set one by another, as blacke neare to white, shew themselues a great deale better). (63)

Philippe de Mornay, seigneur du Plessis-Marly, The Trewnesse of the Christian Religion (1581), trans. Philip Sidney and Arthur Golding (London: John Charlewood and George Robinson for Thomas Cadman, 1587):

How can matter be without forme, seeing that euen deformitie it selfe is a kynd of forme? (157)

Giambattista della Porta, On Human Physiognomy (1586), trans. Zakiya Hanafi, in The Monster in the Machine (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000):

Everyone knows that amongst the Philosophers it is a commonplace that the monster in the body is a monster in the soul, and being a monster in the soul, what can be expected of such a person, what should become of him, if not evils and misfortune. (100)

Jacques Guillemeau, Child-birth or, The Happy Deliuerie of Women (1609), anonymous trans. (London: A. Hatfield, 1612):

A woman with child must be pleasant and merrie, shunning all melancholike and troublesome things that may vexe or molest her mind…so that discreet women, and such as desire to haue children, will not giue eare vnto lamentable and fearefull tales or storyes, nor cast their eyes vpon pictures or persons which are vglie or  deformed, least the imagination imprint on the child the similitude of the said person or picture, which doing, women shall be sure to be well and happily deliuered, and that (With the help of God) they shall beare their burthen to the full terme, which shall be sent into the world without much paine, promising them a happie and speedie deliuerie. To conclude, they must leaue off their Busks as soone as they perceiue themselues with child, not lacing themselues too straight, or crush|ing themselues together,   for feare least the child be  mishapen and crooked, or haue not his naturall growth: and their garments must be rather light and thin, then heauie and cumbersome. (26)