Thursday, May 27, 2021

Ideoplasty in Porphyry and Goethe

In my listening to the podcast "The history of philosophy without any gaps", I have just finished the set of episodes on the third-century philosopher Plotinus and then another on his student Porphyry. Porphyry had a theory of ideoplasty: he thought that whatever the mother or father is thinking about at the moment of conception will influence their child's appearance or character. Though I have never heard the novel connected to ancient embryology, I only know this idea from Goethe's "Die Wahlverwandtschaften": Eduard and Charlotte conceive a child while they are both thinking about Ottilie and Otto, respectively, so the child ends up looking like the latter and not the parents. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 May 2021)


Porphire Sophiste, in a French 16th-century engraving

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