The phrase "savage race" occurs in the fourth line of Tennyson's poem "Ulysses." The third and fourth lines run in full:
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race
The narrator of the poem is Odysseus, to whom Tennyson refers by the Latinized version of his name, Ulysses. The poem is situated as a sort of sequel to Homer's Odyssey. In the Homeric epic, readers encounter the story of Odysseus's travails as he struggles to return home from the Trojan War to his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus. The poem is set many years after Odysseus's return home to Ithaca. After the great deeds of the Trojan War, the narrator feels as if his life has become diminished and dull.
Ithaca itself is a small, impoverished city state—unlike the great cities of Mycenae or Thebes or even Troy—and its inhabits are provincial and backward. The "savage race" are the inhabitants of Ithaca who are also described as a "rugged people," or simple, uneducated farmers and craftspeople lacking the narrator's own intelligence, cosmopolitanism, and broad experience.