Author : Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909)

Title : The Man of Genius (1891)

Keywords: criminal, criminal anthropology, degeneration, genius, craniometry, craniology, phrenology, measurements

Pages : Introduction | page 1 | page 2 | page 3


This extract is from Lombroso’s The Man of Genius (1891). Passages of the book proved of great influence to Max Nordau’s work - Nordau dedicated Degeneration to Lombroso, his ‘dear and honoured master’ - as its author examines the apparent links between genius and forms of insanity or degeneracy. Decadent poetry he claims is the output of ‘a solitary, a nerve-sufferer, and almost a madman.’ From his panoramic view of the entirety of history, Lombroso can find only six instances of geniuses who were not insane or degenerate: Galileo, Da Vinci, Voltaire, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Darwin. Those whom he consigns to his imaginary asylum for manifesting degenerate symptoms - among which he includes precocity, instinctiveness, originality, longevity, uniformity, versatility, stylishness, and inspiration - include Horace, Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, Mozart, Beethoven, Balzac, Blake, Milton, Pascal, Descartes, Newton, Socrates, Kant, Bacon, Shakespeare, Swift, Copernicus, Flaubert, Goethe, Dante, and most of the figures who are currently believed to have shaped the world we live in.

Such a list sets the scene for this specific extract. Although Lombroso would go on to use subjective criticism, he also supported his theories with measurements - facial angles, cranial capacities, skull thickness, and other ‘abnormalities’ like ‘bony crest[s],’ and the amount of fluid in the brain. The theme which lies behind all the measurements and data is the visibility of degeneration, indeed, the simplification of the illusions of nature - the fantasy checklist that Lombroso provides. Like the vampires famously portrayed in Dracula (1897) (in which he himself is mentioned)- Lombroso’s degenerates’ outwardly apparent ‘stigmata’ and identifiableness tell the modern researcher much about the project of social exclusion about which Lombroso was so curious. For more see Pick (see Reading List).

Back to Degeneration Documents | Introduction | page 1 | page 2 | page 3