As the title says I was wondering if the first time humans and other apes were thought of as a group was in Linnaeus' work as this is the first explicit reference I am aware of. I know of course that humans were already grouped as animals in many older works but that isn't the specific detail that I'm interested in.

So can somebody who is familiar with the history of Biology tell me where the first known reference of humans and other apes being a tight family occurred?

I am aware of Aristotle's passages on apes but they seem to still be making a marked difference between what is a human and what is an ape. Aristotle does not seem to me to be suggesting a deeper relationship between non-human primates and humans. I'm looking for something on the scale of the words of Linnaeus, who stated that he knows of no criteria to separate apes and humans. I was wondering if this kind of deep similarity was spoken of before, not the (to me) superficial (yet still relevant and impressive) description of Aristotle.

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    $\begingroup$ For Aristotle, see this post. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2016 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, the post is related but doesn't really answer what I wanted to know. I edited the question to be more specific. $\endgroup$
    – MM8
    Commented Feb 13, 2016 at 14:10

1 Answer 1


Though the similarity between humans and apes had been observed before, it appears that Linnaeus was indeed the first to classify them together. John Ray, one of the founders of taxonomy, introduced a group called Anthropomorpha in 1693 (a name which Linnaeus later borrowed) but this didn't include humans. Humans were likewise excluded from the other early taxonomic systems, including Edward Tyson's, despite Tyson clearly documenting the anatomic parallels between humans and apes. Indeed his Orang-Outang, sive Homo Sylvestris (1699) contains an exhaustive account of the similarities, but does so to prove the thesis that inter hominem et non-hominem tertium non datur (there is nothing between man and non-man).

Visual similarities between humans and apes had been observed for much of the previous century, often by travelers to Asia and Africa. Furthermore, in 1616 the Italian free-thinker Lucilio Vanini apparently suggested that humans were descended from apes. I have seen some claims that this was based on skeletal similarities, and others that it was based on visual similarities between Ethiopians and apes; I don't know how true these claims are.

  • $\begingroup$ I will look up these names, thank you for the answer. $\endgroup$
    – MM8
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 10:16

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