Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Ancient & modern

ONE of the few areas of modern life to which the ancient world cannot contribute its ha'porth is the flourishing race-relations industry. Greeks and Romans were not racist: they did not think that body type alone told one anything significant about a person's rights, roles or capacities.

One reason is that the ancients generally thought culture, not heredity, determined the sort of person you were. Since they thought culture embracing one's customs, appearance and colour - was determined largely by environment, one was advised to live in a healthy one. So one Greek doctor informs us sagely that in Asia `men will be of fine physique, tall, differing little from one another, but courage, endurance, industry and high spirits are impossible to find among the natives and immigrants'. Again, since Greeks naturally thought their culture superior to all others', but saw that these others were both black and white, there was no impulse to distinguish between them by body we. …

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