Black Athena Revisited

Black Athena Revisited

Black Athena Revisited

Black Athena Revisited


Was Western civilization founded by ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians?
Can the ancient Egyptians usefully be called black?
Did the ancient Greeks borrow religion, science, and philosophy from the Egyptians and Phoenicians?
Have scholars ignored the Afroasiatic roots of Western civilization as a result of racism and anti-Semitism?

In this collection of twenty essays, leading scholars in a broad range of disciplines confront the claims made by Martin Bernal in Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. In that work, Bernal proposed a radical reinterpretation of the roots of classical civilization, contending that ancient Greek culture derived from Egypt and Phoenicia and that European scholars have been biased against the notion of Egyptian and Phoenician influence on Western civilization. The contributors to this volume argue that Bernal's claims are exaggerated and in many cases unjustified.

Topics covered include race and physical anthropology; the question of an Egyptian invasion of Greece; the origins of Greek language, philosophy, and science; and racism and anti-Semitism in classical scholarship. In the conclusion to the volume, the editors propose an entirely new scholarly framework for understanding the relationship between the cultures of the ancient Near East and Greece and the origins of Western civilization.


In 1885 the professor of Greek at University College, Dublin, wrote to a colleague in Oxford asking him to supply information about possible pre- historic connections between Egypt and Greece. The professor was not an archaeologist specializing in early history; his field was Greek literature, and the texts he studied were written long after the remote period he had now become interested in. Couldn't myth and etymology provide a key to lines of influence otherwise unknown?

. . . the enquiry that ought to be made is when did this Egyptian colonisation of Crete etc. take place. It seems to be mixed with the Phoenician, not altogether opposed to it. This wd. then seem to be at the Hyksos period. (I remark also that the legend of Isis connects her with Phoenicia).

I find Nefert in a female proper name and now suggest Aphrodite = Nefrat-isi.

According to the professor's biographer, these "wild linguistic surmises" and "observations on obscure etymological instances" were a means of releasing "some pent-up poetic, assertive side of himself" (White 1992, 413-14). It is in fact for his poetry, and not for his scholarly investigations, that this professor is still remembered: his name was Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins's theories and speculations have long since been forgotten, and justifiably so. But their existence offers proof of how tantalizing such inquiries can be to amateurs who have some knowledge of and interest in ancient Greek civilization. Hopkins bombarded his Oxford friend for months with questions about Egyptian myth and language, but apparently he never received any confirmation of the conjectures that so tantalized him.

Few professional classicists in the 1980s would have imagined that the English-speaking world would take such wide interest in another amateur attempt -- this time much more systematic and extensive -- to discover the true extent of Greece's debt to Egypt and the civilizations of the Near East. Nonetheless Martin Bernal's Black Athena I:
the Fabrication of Ancient Greece
has enjoyed considerable popular success, and has been widely discussed and reviewed in scholarly literature as well. More people have heard of Black Athena than of books like Walter Burkert's The Orientalizing Revolution:
Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age
(1992). But then Burkert is a professional who draws carefully limited conclusions and deliberately concentrates on a particular set of evidence. Bernal's field of inquiry is more . . .

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