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Title: Human species
Original Title: Humaine espece
Volume and Page: Vol. 8 (1765), p. 344
Author: Denis Diderot (biography)
Translator: Naomi J. Andrews [Santa Clara University]
Subject terms:
Natural history
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Diderot, Denis. "Human species." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Naomi J. Andrews. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Humaine espece," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 8. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Diderot, Denis. "Human species." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Naomi J. Andrews. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Humaine espece," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 8:344 (Paris, 1765).
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Human species. Man, considered as an animal, displays three kinds of varieties; the first is that of color; the second is that of size and shape; the third is that of the natures of different peoples.

In passing from one pole to the other, and beginning in the north, one finds first the Danish Lapps, Swedes, Muscovites, and independents, the Zemblians , Borandians , Samoyeds , the northern Tartars, and perhaps the Ostyaks in the ancient continent, the Greenlanders, and the Savages to the north of the Eskimos. [1] It is believed that this is a race of degenerate men, of small stature and bizarre shape. They all have large and round faces, flat, snub noses, with irises of yellow, brown, and shading toward black, their eyelids draw up at the temples; very high cheeks, large mouth, narrow lower face, thick lips, reedy voice, large head, black and glossy hair, dark complected, dark olive skin. They are small, stocky, and lean: most are no taller than four feet, the tallest four and a half. The women are as ugly as the men; their breasts are quite considerable; they have tips black like carbon: travelers say that they have no hair except on their head and that they are not subject to periodic flow.

All of the homely people are boorish, superstitious, and stupid. The Danish Lapps consult a fat black cat. The Swedes call the devil with a drum. They run on skates on the snow with so much speed that they easily catch up with lighter animals. They have the use of the bow and the crossbow and they use them quite adroitly. They hunt; they live on dried fish, reindeer and bear meat, and bread made from fish bone flour, ground and mixed with the tender bark of pine or birch trees; they drink whale oil and water. They have almost no idea of God or of religion. They offer their wives and daughters to strangers. The live underground; they get light from lamps in their night, which lasts for several months. The women are dressed in reindeer skin in the winter and bird skin in the summer. In the latter, they defend themselves from the stinging of gnats with a thick smoke which they maintain around them. They are rarely sick. Their old people are robust; except that the whiteness of the snow and the smoke weaken their vision, and there are many who are blind.

The Tartars occupy an immense territory. They have wide and wrinkled foreheads, short fat noses, small sunken eyes, very high cheeks, narrow lower faces, long and pointy chins, upper jaws that are extremely sunken, long and gaping teeth, thick eyebrows covering their eyes, thick eyelids, flat faces, olive and swarthy skin tone, black hair, average stature, sturdy and robust bodies, sparse and clumpy beards, thick thighs, short legs. Those who are called Kalmaks are of a frightening aspect. They live on horse and camel flesh, and drink mare’s milk fermented with millet flour. They only keep a tuft of hair, which they let grow long enough to make a braid on each side of their face. The women are as ugly as the men. They have neither morals nor religion.

Tartar blood is mixed on one side with Chinese and on the other with the eastern Russians; and this mix has done nothing to efface the traits of this primitive race.

There are among the Russians, or Muscovites, many Tartar faces, with square bodies, thick legs, and short arms.

The Chinese have their limbs well proportioned, are tall and fat, with a large, round face, small eyes, long eyebrows, lifted eyelids, small and flattened noses, sparse and clustered beards. Those who live in the southern provinces are brown with darker tanned skins than the others. The habitants of the middle of the empire are white; for the rest, these characteristics vary, but in general these people are soft, peaceful, indolent, obedient, superstitious, slaves, and ceremonial.

The Japanese are quite similar to the Chinese in appearance; but haughty, hardened, dexterous, vigorous, inconstant, and vain, capable of surviving hunger, thirst, cold, heat, and exhaustion; they are of an entirely different character.

The Chinese and the Japanese are in the habit of preventing the growth of the feet of their women by violent means, such that they cannot walk.

The inhabitants of the cold, sterile and mountainous land of Ezo [2] are cousins of the Chinese and of the Japanese, and are fat, brutal, without morals or arts, of short and fat body, long and bristly black hair, flat face, yellow skin, hairy body and face, and are lazy and slovenly.

The Cochinchinese, whose country is more mountainous and southern than China, are darker and uglier than the Chinese.

The Tonkinese, whose country is better, and who live in a less hot climate, are better formed and less ugly than the Cochinchinese.

The Siamese, the Peguans, the inhabitants of Arakan, of Laos, etc., closely resemble the Chinese; they only differ more or less in color.

The taste for big ears is common among all of the peoples of the orient, and some have them naturally and some have them elongated through artifice.

These peoples hardly differ from the Chinese, and still have from the Tartars small eyes, flat faces, and olive coloring; but in descending toward the south, the traits begin to change and diversify.

The inhabitants of the nearby island of Malacca and the island of Sumatra are black, small, quick, well proportioned, brave, and proud.

Those of Java, neighbor of Sumatra and Malacca, have some Chinese traits; they have only the red color, mixed with the black, of the Malays. An exception must be made for the Chacrelas. These are blond and white, have weak eyes, cannot stand full daylight, and can only see at night.

It is claimed that on the island of Mindoro and on Formosa there are men with tails; this fact is suspect; but another fact that is not is that it is women are only allowed to marry and have children between 35 and 37 years of age. If they become pregnant earlier, the priestesses crush them underfoot and make them abort.

In the Marianes and the Larrons islands, men are very tall, very strong, and very large; they live only on roots, fruit and fish, and therefore they achieve very long lives.

To the south of the Marianes and to the east of the Moluccas, one finds the land of Papua, New Guinea. The Papuans are black like the Cafres, have kinky hair, weak and ugly faces. Among these Papuans so black, there are blond and white men.

The Mughals and the other people of nearby India resemble Europeans in size and features; but they differ more or less in color. The Mughals are olive.

The Bengali are more yellow than the Mughals. They are beautiful and well made. Their women are considered the most lascivious in India.

The inhabitants of the Coromandel coast are blacker than the Bengalis and less civilized. Those of the coast of Malabar are even blacker still.

The customs of the different peoples of India are bizarre. The Banians eat nothing that has lived. The fear killing an insect. The Nairs of Calicut are on the contrary, all hunters; they can only have one wife, but their wives can take as many husbands as they like. There are men and women among the last who have monstrous legs.

The inhabitants of Ceylon resemble closely those of the coast of Malabar.

The olive Maldivians are well formed.

The inhabitants of Cambay have a grey color.

The Persians, neighbors of the Mughals, differ little from them. There are many beautiful women in Persia, but they are led away to other countries.

The people of Persia, Turkey, Arabia, Egypt, and all of Tartary can be regarded as one nation.

The Arabs live miserably. They are peoples policed only by superstition. The Egyptians are tall and their women small.

The peoples who live between 20 and 30 or 35 degrees latitude North in the ancient continent, from the empire of the Mughals up to Barbary, and even from the Ganges up to the western coasts of Morocco, don’t differ from each other. The men in general are brown and swarthy, beautiful enough and well formed. If one examines those who live in a temperate climate, one finds that the men of the southern provinces of the Mughals, of Persia, Armenians, Turks, Georgians, Mingrelians, Circassians, Greeks and all of the peoples of Europe are the whitest, the most beautiful, and the best proportioned on the earth; and that, although it is very far from Kashmir to Spain, and from Circassia to France, there is nonetheless a singular resemblance among these peoples so distant from each other, but situated at about the same distance from the equator.

The Kashmiri people are beautiful; the lineage is even more beautiful in Georgia than in Kashmir. The women of Circassia are renowned for their charms and rightly so. The Mingrelians lack in nothing as a people. All of these peoples are white.

The inhabitants of Judea resemble other Turks; only they are darker than those in Constantinople. It is the same with the Greeks; those of the northern part are whiter; those of the islands or southern provinces are brown. In general, the Greek women are more beautiful and more lively than the Turkish women.

The Greeks, Neopolitans, Sicilians, the inhabitants of Corsica, of Sardinia, and the Spanish, situated at about the same parallel, are rather similar in color; but tanner than the French, the English, the Germans, the Polish, the Moldavians, the Circassians, and the other inhabitants of Northern Europe up to Lapland, where one finds another species of men.

The Spanish are thin and fairly small. The are finely made, have handsome heads, regular traits, beautiful eyes, well -rranged teeth, but they are yellow and tan in color.

Men with brown or black hair begin to be rare in England, in Flanders, in Holland, and in the northern provinces of Germany. One finds almost none in Denmark, Sweden, and Poland.

The Goths are very tall; they have silky, silvery blond hair and blue eyes.

The Finns have muscular and fleshy bodies, long, yellow blond hair, and dark yellow eyes.

The Swedes are fertile and the men live a long time.

Men are more chaste in cold lands than in warm ones. They are less amorous in Sweden than in Spain or in Portugal, and therefore the Swedes have fewer children. The North has been called officina gentium. [3]

The Danes are tall and robust, with a lively, colorful complexion. The Danish women are white, well enough formed, and fecund.

The Ingrians and the Carlians who live in the northern provinces of Muscovy, are vigorous and robust. For the most part they have blond hair and closely resemble the Finns.

It follows from what precedes that color depends a lot on climate, but not entirely. There are different causes which must influence color, and even the form of features; among these are food and customs.

Let us move on to Africa. The people who are beyond the tropic, from the Red Sea to the Ocean, are of the species Moor, but so tanned that they appear almost all black; they are mixed with many mulattos.

The Negroes of Senegal and of Nubia are very black, except for the Ethiopians and the Abyssinians. The Ethiopians are olive skinned; they are very tall, have distinctive facial characteristics, beautiful and wide open eyes, well formed noses, thin lips and white teeth. The Nubians have large, thick lips, flattened noses, and very black faces.

On the border of the Ethiopian deserts there are a people called Acridophages , or grasshopper eaters . They are short lived. This food breeds insects in their flesh that devour them. After having lived on insects, they are eaten by them.

In examining the different peoples who comprise the black races, one notes as many varieties as among the white races; just as many nuances from brown to black as from white to brown.

The inhabitants of the Canary islands are not Negroes, they have nothing in common with them except the flattened nose. Those who live on the African continent at the level of these islands are quite tanned Moors, but belong to the white race. The inhabitants of Cap Blanc are again Moors. These Moors extend to the Senegal river, which separates them from the Negroes. The Negroes are to the south, and are absolutely black.

Moors are small, thin, of poor appearance, with spirit and finesse. Negroes are large, stout, well made, but simple and without genius.

To the north and to the south of the river there are men called Fula, who seem to be a variation on the Moors and the Negroes. The Fula are not entirely black like Negroes, but they are much more brown than the Moors.

The Cape Verde Islands are entirely peopled with Mulattos, come from the first Portuguese and the Negroes they found there; they are called copper colored Negroes.

The first Negroes that one finds are on the southern border of the Senegal; they are called Wolofs . They are all very black, well proportioned, of an advantageous enough size, and less hard of face than other Negroes. They have the same idea of beauty as we do; they require large eyes, a small mouth, thin lips, and a well formed nose, but a very black and gleaming color. Except for that, their women are beautiful, but they give preference to whites.

The odor of these Negroes of Senegal is less strong than that of other Negroes. They have black, crinkled hair like curly wool. It is by their hair and their color that they principally differ from other men.

If the nose is flattened and the lips are artificially thickened in some countries, it is certain that in other these traits are given by nature.

Negresses are very fertile. The Negroes of Gorée and of Cape Verde are also well made and very black. Those of Sierra Leone are not quite as black as those of Senegal. Those of Guinea, although healthy, are short lived. It is a result of corrupt morals.

The inhabitants of St. Thomas Island are Negroes similar to those of the neighboring continent. Those of the coast of Ouidah and of Arada are less black than those of Senegal and of Guinea. The Negroes of the Congo are more or less black. Those of Angola smell so bad when they become hot that the air of the areas where they pass by remain infected for more than a quarter of an hour.

Although in general Negroes have little intelligence, they do not lack feeling. They are sensitive to good and bad treatment. We have reduced them, I wouldn’t say to the condition of slaves, but to that of beasts of burden; and we are reasonable! And we are Christians!

We hardly know anything about the people who live on the coast and the interior of Africa from the Cap Negres to the Cap des Voltes . We only know that the men there are less black, and that they resemble Hottentots of whom they are the cousins.

The Hottentots are not Negroes, but Cafres, who blacken themselves with grease and dyes. However they have woolly and curly hair. One could consider them within the black race as a species that approaches the whites, just as in the white race the Moors are a species which approaches the blacks.

The Hottentot women are small. They have an outgrowth of flesh or of hard and thick skin which begins below the pubic bone and which falls from there to the middle of their thighs like an apron. It is their custom to leave men with only one testicle.

Hottentots all have flattened noses and thick lips. It is said that a young girl, taken from these people and raised in Holland became white there.

The inhabitants of the land of Natal are less slovenly and ugly than the Hottentots. They have however the same curly hair and flat nose.

Those of Sosola and of Monomotapa are even better than those of Natal; and the people of Madagascar and of Mozambique, although black, are not Negroes.

It appears that the Negroes, properly called, are different from Cafres, who are blacks of another species; but what follows from this observation is that color is principally an effect of climate, and that traits depend upon custom.

The origin of blacks has always been an important question. The ancients regarded them as the last variation of swarthy peoples. See the article Negroes.

Let us now consider the different peoples of America, as we have considered those of the other parts of the world.

In the north of America one finds species of Lapps similar to those of Europe and to the Samoyeds of Asia. Those from the Davis Strait are small, olive, stout with short legs and are neighbors, as in Europe, to a large, well made, white species with a very regular visage.

The savages of Hudson bay and of the north of the land of Labrador do not appear to be of the same race. They are ugly, small, poorly formed, and have faces almost covered with hair, like the inhabitants of Ezo.

The savages of the new world closely resemble those of the Davis Strait.

The savages of Canada and of all of the interior of the land, until Assiniboia, are tall, strong, robust and well formed. They all have black hair and eyes, white teeth, tanned complexion, sparse beard, and almost no hair anywhere on their body; nothing resembles them more than the oriental Tartars: also they are at the same latitude.

The peoples of Florida, Mississippi, and other southern parts of north America, are more swarthy than those of Canada, without being brown. The Appalachians, neighbors of Florida, are tall and well proportioned, have black, long hair and olive complexion.

The natives of the Lucaies Islands are less dark skinned than those of Saint Domingue and the island of Cuba.

The Caribs are of a pleasing proportions, beautiful, strong, fit, and clean. Some of them have flattened foreheads and noses; but it is by chance that the human face is altered, common enough among all the savages. Their teeth are pretty, their hair long and shiny, their teeth straight and their skin olive toned. They love liberty to the point that they let themselves die rather than serve. Their women are small, have black eyes, round faces, white teeth, happy demeanor, to the contrary of men who are sad and melancholy.

The natives of Mexico are well made, fit, dark and olive skinned. They have little hair, even eyebrows; but long, very black hair.

The inhabitants of the isthmus of America are well proportioned and with a beautiful shape; but they have swarthy skin, either yellow or orange copper, and jet black eyebrows. Among them there are white individuals, but the white of milk. They have skin covered with a white down, eyelids in the form of a crescent whose points turn down; vision so weak that they only go out and can only see at night. Here are analogs to the Chacrelas of Java and the Bedas of Ceylon. These whites are born of copper colored fathers and mothers; similar to the Chacrelas and the Bedas who come also from dark skinned fathers and mothers, above all following the example that one finds among Negroes of whites born from black fathers and mothers. What is bizarre here is that this variation only appears from black to white, not from white to black. Black individuals are never born to among the whites.

Among the people of the oriental Indies, of Africa, and of America, one only finds these white men at the same latitude. Another singularity.

White appears therefore to be the primitive color of nature that climate, food, and custom alters, and causes the gradation from yellow and brown to black.

White blond men have weak eyes, and often are hard of hearing. It is claimed that spotless white dogs are deaf; and indeed there are examples of this.

The Indians of Peru are copper colored, like those of the isthmus, at least those who don’t inhabit elevated sites; then they are white. Those of the mainland, the length of the Amazon river and Guyana, are tanned, reddish, more or less pale, excepting the Arras, who are almost as black as the Negroes.

The savages of Brazil are about the size of Europeans, but stronger, more robust, and more fit. They have few illnesses, live a long time, have large heads, broad shoulders, long hair, and are swarthy.

The inhabitants of Paraguay have nice enough height and form, somewhat long faces and are olive skinned. They are subject to a kind of leprosy which covers the whole body, without too much impact.

The Indians of Chile are of a tanned, red copper, but not a mix of white and black as the mulattos who come from a white man and a negresse, or from a white woman and a Negro; furthermore, these are vigorous men.

It is at the end of Chile, toward Patagonia [terres Magellaniques], that a gigantic race called the Paragons are thought to live; they are thought to be up to nine or ten feet in height. But the common height of man being five feet, it rarely goes beyond a foot above or below.

From what precedes it follows that in all of the new world that we have thusfar traversed, there is only the one same race of men, more or less dark skinned. The Americans come from the same stock. The Europeans come from the same stock. From north to south one perceives the same varieties in the two hemispheres. All goes therefore toward proving that the mankind is not composed of essentially different species. The difference from whites to browns comes from food, customs, habits, climates; that from browns to blacks, from the same cause. See the article Negroes

There was therefore only one original race of men, which being multiplied and spread over the surface of the earth, has produced over time all of the varieties which we have just mentioned; varieties which disappear over time, if one imagines that people move all at once, and that they find themselves either necessarily or voluntarily subjected to the same causes which have acted upon those who are believed to have occupied those regions. See l’Histoire naturelle de Messieurs De Buffon & d’Aubanton.

1. Much of this article is derived from Georges Buffon, “Variétés dans l’espèce humaine,” Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy (Paris: L’Imprimerie royale, 1749), volume 3.

2. Hokkaido

3. The workshop of the world.

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