On physiognomy (the Libro de buen amor and don Amor)

When I started researching female beauty in Spain’s 14th century, I had no idea I would be stepping in the pseudo-science cow pie that is physiognomy. If you don’t know, physiognomy is the “science” (quotation marks mean that the word science is being both ironically and loosely to include this area of inquiry) of external shapes, marks and other physical characteristics which shape how a thing, or a plant, or an animal, or a person, looks or gives it an outward appearance and how that appearance, in turn, shapes the internal characteristics of said object, plant, animal, or person. This particular science has it roots deep in Greek philosophy in a half dozen famous writers. This particular branch of science has been extremely popular well into the modern era, and there are hundreds of books and articles that date from the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and even the twentieth century. It was finally thrown on the ashheap of pseudo-science when the Nazis used it to justify their particularly odd (and wrong) ideas about how the way people looked and what this said about their character. Today, physiognomy is practiced by the same people who read tarot cards, make astrological charts, study cabala and practice necromancy. They probably also search for Big Foot in their spare time when they are not searching the pyramids for signs of ancient astronauts. No rational empiricists allowed. Physiognomy was extremely popular, especially in the nineteenth century when random positivists thought that if you could measure it and set up a data table then it must mean something. Well, they were wrong, but real science took its sweet time in proving that. In Spain’s 14th century, the tenants of physiognomy were a part of what passed for both science and philosophy, so as my poet’s fictive creation, Mr. Love, describes the ideal woman (ideal for love, that is) he goes through a very standard list of facial characteristics that is quite commonplace in the medieval poetry of Europe–small head, blond hair, nice eyebrows, high cheekbones, big eyes, shining and bright, long eye lashes, long thin neck, thin nose, small even teeth, red gums, red full lips, small mouthy, white face, no facial hair (LBA, stanzas 432-5 if you care to read it for yourself). Mr. Love is sure that this is the kind of woman that a man should pursue because, given her physical characteristics, she will be more receptive to male advances. This rhetorical practice, a descriptio, is also common in medieval scholasticism and would be reliable if the source were reliable. What subverts the description, or perhaps what validates it, is the speaker, Mr. Love, who has just been berated by the poem’s (LBA) main character, the Archpriest of Hita, Juan Ruiz, for ruining everyone’s life. Mr. Love has an agenda, albeit an unreliable one, and is not a trustworthy source or narrator. In fact, he is the opposite of anything that might resemble truth, ethics, or morality. The question for me, then, is this: is the author playing it straight, (i.e., this is what he truly believes) with his readers with this description or is he undermining and subverting the medieval practice and belief in physiognomy by putting it in the mouth of an unreliable narrator?