Black Athena Revisited

By Mary R. Lefkowitz; Guy MacLean Rogers | Go to book overview

ON THE AIMS AND METHODS OF BLACK ATHENA

John Baines

Because only half of Black Athena is available so far, it is not possible to give any full evaluation of Martin Bernal's work. Yet his ideas have aroused such interest and such strong reactions that some response from people working in fields upon which he draws is desirable even now; nor have discussions of the first volume of Black Athena been lacking ( Levine and Peradotto 1989; Muhly 1990c). In this essay I consider questions of method and theory that Black Athena poses insistently in various ways. No doubt later volumes will raise complementary issues.

Many classicists welcomed the first volume of Black Athena for its treatment of the history and biases of classical scholarship. Near Eastern specialists and Egyptologists may react similarly, because they too are aware of the isolationism often seen in traditional classics--or more precisely in studies of Greek civilization--with its emphasis on the events of a relatively short period, primarily in a particular exemplar of a single group of cultures. Studies that appear to see fifth-century B.C.E. Athens as the defining experience of all civilization puzzle those whose interests he in other areas of Mediterranean antiquity, and still more those concerned with other regions of the world. Two examples chosen almost at random are Anthony Andrewes's explanation that he restricted coverage in his The Greeks to the pre-Hellenistic period because the book was "about the original Greek contribution" (1967, xxv-xxvi; cf. xix), and Karl Popper's study of the origins of democracy and pluralism in The Open Society and Its Enemies ( 1966; cf. Ray 1991a). In the latter, the argument was directed against totalitarianism with its perceived mentor, Plato, and was

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