Aquiline Nose

The Invention of the Jewish Nose

native american mascot

An aquiline [ak-wuh-lahynnose (also called a Roman nose or hook nose) is a human nose with a prominent bridge, giving it the appearance of being curved or slightly bent. The term is derived from the Latin word ‘aquilinus’ (‘eagle-like’) an allusion to the curved beak of an eagle. While some have ascribed the aquiline nose to specific ethnic, racial, or geographic groups, and in some cases associated it with other supposed non-physical characteristics (i.e. intelligence, status, personality, etc.), no scientific studies or evidence support any such linkage. As with many phenotypical expressions (i.e. ‘widow’s peak’, eye color, earwax type) it is found in many geographically diverse populations.

The aquiline nose was deemed a distinctive feature of some Native American tribes, members of which often took their names after their own characteristic physical attributes (i.e. The Hook Nose, or Chief Henry Roman Nose). In the depiction of Native Americans, for instance, an aquiline nose is one of the standard traits of the ‘noble warrior’ type. It is so important as a cultural marker, political scientist Renee Ann Cramer argued in ‘Cash, Color, and Colonialism’ (2005), that tribes without such characteristics have found it difficult to receive ‘federal recognition’ from the US government, resulting in failure to win benefits including tax-exempt status, reclamation rights, and (perhaps most significantly) the right to administer and profit from casinos.

Although the aquiline nose is found among people from nearly every area of the world, it is generally associated with and thought to be more frequent in certain ethnic groups originating from Southern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and South Asia. Some writers in the bygone field of racial typology, such as Polish anthropologist Jan Czekanowski (1882 – 1965), attributed aquiline noses to the ‘Oriental’ or ‘Arabid’ race and the ‘Armenoid’ race. Others attributed it to the so-called ‘Mediterranean’ race and ‘Dinarid’ race, where it was known as the ‘Roman nose’ when found among Italians, the French, or Spaniards. And others, such as racial theorist and economist William Z. Ripley, argued that it is characteristic of people of Teutonic descent.

In racialist discourse, especially that of post-Enlightenment Western scientists and writers, a Roman nose (in an individual or a people) was as a marker of beauty and nobility. The notion is found early on in Plutarch, in his description of Mark Antony. Conversely, among Nazi racialists the aquiline nose was characteristic of Jews. However, physical anthropologist Maurice Fishberg in ‘Jews, Race and Environment’ (1911) cited widely different statistics to deny that the aquiline nose (or ‘hook nose’) is characteristic of Jews, but rather to show that this type of nose occurs in all peoples of the world. The supposed science of physiognomy (the assessment of a person’s character from their external features), popular during the Victorian era, made the ‘prominent’ nose a marker of Aryanness: ‘the shape of the nose and the cheeks indicated, like the forehead’s angle, the subject’s social status and level of intelligence. A Roman nose was superior to a snub nose in its suggestion of firmness and power, and heavy jaws revealed a latent sensuality and coarseness.’

The flat, broad nose (platyrrhine) is ubiquitous among most populations in Africa, and is noted by nineteenth-century writers and travelers (such as Colin Mackenzie) as a mark of ‘Negroid’ ancestry. It stands in opposition to the narrow aquiline, straight or convex noses (lepthorrine), which are instead deemed ‘Caucasian.’ In the 1930s, an aquiline nose was reported to be regarded as a characteristic of beauty for girls among the Tswana and Xhosa people. However, a recent scholar could not discern from the original study ‘whether such preferences were rooted in precolonial conceptions of beauty, a product of colonial racial hierarchies, or some entanglement of the two.’ A well-known example of the aquiline nose as a marker in Africa contrasting the bearer with his/her contemporaries is the protagonist of English dramatist Aphra Behn’s ‘Oroonoko’ (1688). Although an African prince, he speaks French, has straightened hair, thin lips, and a ‘nose that was rising and Roman instead of African and flat.’ These features set him apart from most of his peers, and marked him instead as noble and on par with Europeans.

According to craniometric analysis by American physical anthropologist Carleton Coon (1939), aquiline noses in Africa are largely restricted to populations from North Africa and the Horn of Africa (in contrast to those of Sub-Saharan Africa), which is more generally peopled by those of Semitic, Arab, and other non-‘Negroid’ descent. However, they are generally less common in these areas than are narrow, straight noses, which instead constitute the majority of nasal profiles. Among the Copts and Fellahin of Egypt, two distinct nasal types reportedly exist: one with a narrow, aquiline nose accompanied by a slim face, slender jaw and thin lips; the other with a slightly lower rooted, straight-to-concave nose, accompanied by a wider and lower face, a strong jaw, prominent chin, and moderately full lips. For Western racial anthropologists such as Madison Grant (1911, ‘The Passing of the Great Race’) and William Z. Ripley, the aquiline nose is characteristic of the peoples they variously identify Nordic, Teutonic, or Anglo-Saxon. Grant, after defining the Nordics as having aquiline noses, went back through history and found such a nose and other characteristics he called ‘Nordic’ in many historically prominent men. Among these were Alexander the Great, Dante Alighieri, ‘all the chief men of the Renaissance,’ as well as King David. Grant identified Jesus Christ as having had those ‘physical and moral attributes.’

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