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Nationalism and racial Hellenism in nineteenth‐century England and France

Leoussi, A. S. ORCID: (1997) Nationalism and racial Hellenism in nineteenth‐century England and France. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 20 (1). pp. 42-68. ISSN 0141-9870

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/01419870.1997.9993947


This article assesses the part played by physical anthropology and classical archaeology in the transformation of nineteenth‐century English and French nationalisms into racial Hellenisms. At that time the anthropological ideas of race and racial determinism introduced the body into conceptions of national identity and community. Physical anthropologists placed the Greek body at the centre of their studies, claiming, first, that the Greek physique, and particularly that of the ancient Greek athlete, recorded in the newly discovered Pheidian and Polycletan sculpture, was biologically perfect; second, that the perfection of the Greek athlete was due to race, in the sense of biological inheritance, as well as to athletics; third, that in accordance with the theory of racial determinism, ancient Greek civilization and political power were due to the peculiarities of Greek biology; and fourth, that the Greek body was the type of all other European nations in their fullest physical development. The nationalism and positivism of nineteenth‐century European thought led European nations to accept these ideas and to claim a Greek physical and cultural identity. The belief that all Europeans were Greek had important practical consequences for English and French life, prompting an emphasis on the care for the body through open‐air exercises in imitation of the Greeks, and producing a new classical revival on a national scale. However, although physical anthropology was a European discipline, national peculiarities and rivalries produced variations both in the timing and in the form of English and French Hellenisms.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Languages and Cultures > French
ID Code:93851

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