Black Athena Revisited

By Mary R. Lefkowitz; Guy MacLean Rogers | Go to book overview
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EIGHTEENTH- CENTURY HISTORIOGRAPHY IN BLACK ATHENA

Robert Palter

According to Martin Bernal, the political purpose of his Black Athena project is "to lessen European cultural arrogance" ( BA 1:73). In pursuit of this eminently worthy goal -- and recognizing the exalted status of science and technology in the contemporary world -- I myself often appeal to the following: the impressive achievements of the ancient Babylonians (located in what is roughly present-day Iraq) in mathematics and astronomy, and their significant influence on the ancient Greeks; the striking technological inventions of the early Chinese and Arabs, some of which reached Europe in its early Middle Ages; and the technical mastery of Benin "bronzes" (which are generally made of brass) from Nigeria in West Africa, dating to as early as the fourteenth century C.E.1 (I should add that I prefer to avoid alluding to ancient Egypt because far too many people already possess exaggerated, when not fantastic, ideas of the scientific and technological achievements of that great civilization.) 2 My own efforts on behalf of reducing cultural provincialism are, however, admittedly quite modest compared with those of Bernal.

Bernal's goal is nothing less than to rewrite the early history of "Western Civilization." Specifically, he wants to replace what he calls the "Aryan Model" of ancient Greek history with what he calls the Ancient -- or, better, the Revised Ancient -- Model. According to the Aryan Model (which he sees as originating in the first part of the nineteenth century), ancient Greece was essentially Aryan -- or at least European; according to the Ancient Model (which he sees as representing a scholarly consensus from ancient Greek times

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