The Ancient Greeks & Romans, Beauty and Human Biodiversity

“The anthropologists among the criminologists tell us that the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo [monster in face, monster in soul].” ~ Nietzsche

As many others have noted, pre-Christian Europeans unified the concepts of beauty and morality into a single concept.  The Latin bonus, as well as the Greek agathos, can imply good but also noble, good-looking, well-bred, brave, etc.  For instance, in Book II of the Iliad, Thersites taunts Odysseys and questions why the Greeks must remain at Troy:

But a single man kept on yelling out abuse—
scurrilous Thersites, expert in various insults,
vulgar terms for inappropriate attacks on kings,
whatever he thought would make the Argives laugh.
Of all the men who came to Troy, he was the ugliest
bow legged, one crippled foot, rounded shoulders
curving in toward his chest. On top, his pointed head
sprouted thin, scraggly tufts of hair. Achilles hated him,
as did Odysseus, too, both subject to his taunts.

Shortly thereafter, Odysseus beats Thersites to a pulp and is cheered on by the soldiers.  One warrior comments:

Before now Odysseus has done good things
thinking up fine plans and leading us in war.
But that’s the best thing he’s done by far
to help the Argives, shutting up that rabble-rouser.

Thersites was seen as a flawed man — flawed to question the wisdom of Odysseus and Thersites’ mental flawedness is mirrored by his physical ugliness.  The two went hand in hand.  In modern evolutionary terms, beauty was seen as a fitness indicator of mental, moral and physical superiority.

While early philosophers, such as Socrates / Plato, began to unpack the combined concepts of beauty / morality / nobility / bravery, their combined tendency continued through the classical period.  Aristotle, in Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics, writes regarding the prerequisites of eudaimonia (contentedness or human flourishing):

“…and there are some things the lack of which takes the luster from happiness [eudaimonia], as good birth, goodly children, beauty; for the man who is very ugly in appearance or ill-born or solitary and childless is not very likely to be happy….”

Again one sees beauty as an indicator of potential human flourishing.

Regarding the Romans, Plutarch, in his biographies, often juxtaposes physical descriptions of Romans and their temperaments.  Many of the upper-class Romans he describes as quite fair.  For instance, Cato the Elder (although somewhat of a miser was the exemplar of upper-class Roman virtue) is described as having red hair and grey eyes.  Virgil (or whoever the author was) in the poem “Moretum” implicitly contrasts Europeans with African blacks, providing a description of blacks that would probably satisfy current norms in human biodiversity.  Like the Greeks, the Romans saw physical appearance as closely tied to the way one behaved.

What was the standard of beauty?

For the ancients, as well as Medieval Europeans, the upper-class standard of beauty was an aristocratic standard:  the upper classes tended to be taller and fairer than commoners.  This standard of beauty was so engrained that wealthy women who didn’t meet these standards would try to lighten their skin or purchase blonde or red-haired wigs.

Was this standard of beauty taken as a fitness indicator for other behaviors? Is this why beauty / morality / nobility / bravery are grouped together?  As  markings demarcate certain breeds of dogs and their affiliative behaviors (e.g. hunting skills), so certain phenotypes demarcated desirable upper-class behaviors?

One might  speculate that a type of selection was taking place at this time.  The Greeks openly advocated eugenics.  As with Peter Frost’s account of the Roman state, Clark’s of Medieval England, or Unz’s of China, the ancient Greeks and Romans probably had their own unique selection pressures.  It might not be improbable to think that Greco-Roman upper classes reproduced at a greater rate than the lower classes and thus spread their phenotypes, which were linked in popular thought of the day to favorable behavioral characteristics.

Updates:

Peter Frost: “Puzzle of European hair and eye color

Gregory Cochran:  “Biology of Slavery

John Harrison Sims:  “What Race Were the Greeks and Romans?

E. Christian Kopff: “History and Science in Tenney Frank’s Scholarship

Sarich & Miele:  “The Ancient Concept of Race

16 thoughts on “The Ancient Greeks & Romans, Beauty and Human Biodiversity

  1. Plato and Socrates were not famous for their good looks. Plato is a nickname. It means clumsy, ackward, etc.

  2. Nietzsche on Socrates:

    “In origin, Socrates belonged to the lowest class: Socrates was plebs. We know, we can still see for ourselves, how ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation. Was Socrates a Greek at all? Ugliness is often enough the expression of a development that has been crossed, thwarted by crossing. Or it appears as declining development. The anthropologists among the criminologists tell us that the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo. [“monster in face, monster in soul”] But the criminal is a decadent. Was Socrates a typical criminal? At least that would not be contradicted by the famous judgment of the physiognomist which sounded so offensive to the friends of Socrates. A foreigner who knew about faces once passed through Athens and told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum — that he harbored in himself all the bad vices and appetites. And Socrates merely answered: “You know me, sir!” “

  3. Arianna Pattek, a racist, man-hating feminist bitch

    http://www.crimesagainstfathers.com/australia/Forums2/tabid/369/forumid/232/threadid/6149/scope/posts/Default.aspx

    In the above link, you will find evidence of her committing the CRIME of discrimination based on a man’s race.

    I have included her personal email, the email of her academic advisor, link to her Facebook account, link to her two blogs, and her pictures as well.

    I suggest you men write to her through her email, Facebook, and blogs, and tell her that you are reporting her for the CRIME of discrimination against men.

    American women are really evil bitches.

  4. http://feministconservative.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/my-first-week-of-work/

    feministconservative
    secular humynist, pro-Israel, feminist, and fiscally conservative Arianna Pattek
    My first week of work
    Posted on June 8, 2012 by feministconservative

    Like I said in my last post, I’m working in my school’s admissions office for the time being. This is a great opportunity for me, and I’m so glad to have the ability to decide who will come in and who won’t. We are here to make future leaders of America and the world, and as such we have the responsibility do keep those who would make the world a worse place far away, while admitting those who have potential to use their abilities to improve the world.

    For instance I can’t tell you how many applications I saw that were just dripping with white male privelege. Any of those that I saw basically went straight to the garbage can regardless of how good their qualifactions were. If I saw an application from a white male that basically was just good test scores, and activities like chess club or math club or what not then it shows me this person is not interested in a diverse environment. Obviously he made no effort in integrating with minorities or to sympathize with them and is counting on male privelege to get in. So that kind of application should get ignored. In their place I admitted a female student. This goes double especially for math/science majors.

    Another time this I had an application for what sounded like an arab male who wanted to study computer science. On paper he looked good enough, decent above average scores, and such. But I checked facebook and sure enough on his wall I came came upon a particularly hateful post about Israel supposedly not having a right to exist. I promptly trashed the application and sent out a rejection letter.

    The lesson here is that people are multi-dimensional. We can’t boil people down to numbers or statistics, or reject people based on the color of their skin. I’m happy to say that I approved nearly 90% of all female minority and 80% of all (white female applicants especially if the girls want to study math or science) while rejecting over 50% of white males this week and hope this trend holds out.

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    • That actually isn’t true among the ancient Romans. Read Plutarch. Blonde wigs were a high price luxury item among the rich.

      Among the Brits and other Europeans historically, blue eyes were probably recognized as a type of fitness indicator, domestication for an agricultural society:

      “Greg Cochran has argued that European hair and eye color diversity reflects an underlying behavioral polymorphism, which in turn is due to a process of self-domestication that resulted from the advent of agriculture. As Europeans formed larger and more sedentary communities, they had to become more obedient to authority. An extra dose of prenatal estrogen might have been the necessary quick fix to tame European males.”

      Even based on the data you provide above, 71.4% of British men prefer non-black hair (blonde, red or brown), and 70.8% prefer non-brown eyes.

      Southern Europeans have historically gone to great lengths to lighten their skin:

      http://racehist.blogspot.com/2011/07/beautiful-woman-in-medieval-iberia.html

      This also is interesting:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-476244/Why-blue-eyed-boys-girls-brilliant.html

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