Morton's Toe: The History Of Humanity's Weirdest Symbol Of Beauty
By | September 16, 2019
Is your second toe longer than your first? Well, so is the Statue of Liberty's, Venus de Milo's, The Vitruvian Man's, and heaps of other famous orthopedic representations all throughout art history. You may have what is known as Morton's toe, considered by many ancient artists and cultures a high mark of beauty, dominance, and intelligence.
The Morton's toe was named after Dr. Dudley Morton, who studied this curiosity during a career spent arguing that most foot issues come from one's toes rather than weak or fallen arches. According to Dr. Morton, if you had anything weird going on with the metatarsals, then you could blame that for corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, or pretty much anything else wrong with your feet. He became a household name after writing Oh Doctor, My Feet!, which was written in layman terms for the average blue-collar civilian returning to work after the Great Depression and toiling for long hours on their feet in crappy shoes and clunky high heels. He often referenced the second toe in his books, and eventually, that long toe was named after him.
However, before Mr. Morton came around bashing this toe in the '30s, it was known widely as the "Greek toe" because of its prevalence in Greek culture and art, specifically sculpture. But why? Who proclaimed it a beauty symbol, and why did it become so prevalent?
Basically, the Greeks had a major thing for the "Golden Ratio," which is found throughout nature and thought to represent perfect harmony in aesthetics. The Golden Ratio was created by Euclid, who basically invented geometry in Greece sometime around 300 B.C. The Morton's toe represented this mathematical nuance for them. It was an easy way to portray an interesting quirk of human anatomy while acknowledging this geometric relationship, which could be recognized as a nod to mathematicians and appreciated by art enthusiasts for its intentional balance. The Greeks found it to be beautiful, and its place in their art was very intentional. It set them apart from the Egyptians, who focused more on scale and accuracy than aesthetics.
Egyptian artists, in contrast, used what we call "The Canon of Proportion." When everything in an image aligns so deliberately, we can draw a perfect line straight down the center of it, the Canon of Proportion is at work. When Egyptian artists depicted humans, they were upright and perfectly straight, with their heads, arms, legs, and feet precisely aligned. The toes sloped at a steady downward angle from the big toe to the outside of the foot. Then the Greeks came in with this weird focus on innovation, romance, and beauty. They shook up the game, basing their art on what the human mind finds interesting rather than what is most accurate, and the Greek toe was born in visual art.
After the Greeks, the trend of Morton's toe caught on. Once the Golden Ratio became more prevalent, the study and understanding of its purpose grew and began showing up in Roman, French, Italian, and Celtic art as well. This is why our beloved Statue of Liberty has Morton's toe.
That's how and why Morton's toe became associated with beauty, but what about the personality traits associated with this rare foot structure?