‘The Ablest Race’

Debbie Challis

in Classics and Imperialism in the British Empire

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780199584727
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595301 | DOI:

Series: Classical Presences

‘The Ablest Race’

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This chapter considers how the idealization of the human body in Greek art, as defined by Winckelmann, fed the theory that physical beauty and racial perfection were to be found among the ancient Greeks. Concentrating on the printed work and lectures of Robert Knox in the 1840s and 1850s, it considers how views on racial theory where formed and disseminated as well as the implications of Knox's use of Greek sculpture. It then considers how links were made between the ancient Greeks and contemporary ‘races’, or ‘types of mankind’, such as Saxons in Britain, and how this related to various claims to ownership of the classical past. It finishes with a brief overview of the geneticist Francis Galton's attitude towards the ancient Greeks and how this fed his views on emigration and the wider idea of ‘Greater Britain’.

Keywords: Greek sculpture; nineteenth‐century lectures; nineteenth‐century popular science; racial theory; eugenics; anatomy and art; Robert Knox; Francis Galton

Chapter.  8796 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical History

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