Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Giambattista Della Porta’s dramatic output was both vast and significant, and although it continued through almost the entire span of his life, the author himself often dismissed it as “youthful trifles.” Indeed, during his lifetime, the Neapolitan’s reputation derived mainly from his esoteric and multifaceted scientific pursuits. His interests in this field ranged widely, from mnemonics, cryptography, and astrology to meteorology, agriculture, mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and various other forms of conventional and unconventional research. His most celebrated scientific works, such as Magiae naturalis (1558, 1589; Natural Magick, 1658)—a medley of serious scientific research and fanciful probing into the occult and the exotic—and De humana physiognomonia (1586; Of Human Physiognomy, 1829)—a work propounding the idea that certain animal-like features of people’s physical appearance correspond to specific traits of their character, thus making it possible to judge people’s dispositions by their physical appearance—made Della Porta a celebrity and are remembered today. Ironically, however, and despite the fact that some modern scientists see in Della Porta’s scientific work the presage of such scientific inventions as photography (through his rediscovery of the camera obscura) and of criminal anthropology, today Della Porta’s fame rests primarily on the seventeen plays that have survived.