Emily T. Vermeule
Martin Bernal's first volume of Black Athena, published in 1987, brought him instant fame as a defender of Semitic peoples and cultures against German Aryan propagandists and other anti-Semites of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the same time Bernal became, as he apparently hoped, the chief intellectual antagonist of those who have over the centuries refused to acknowledge the contributions that black Africa has made to the development of ancient Greek and Roman civilizations and therefore to European civilization and to the Eurocentric education of Americans. Egypt, as a geographical mediator between Africa and the Mediterranean, was said by Bernal to be both black and Semitic.
That first volume of Black Athena contained some excellent, if brief, nineteenth-century historiography, especially of anti-Semitic German and French scholarship, and sketched the intellectual climate of the several generations between about 1780 and 1940. Bernal was able to select a number of striking quotations from scholars of classical antiquity which might now seem prejudiced, tasteless, laughable, or simply misinformed.
Yet even for eager readers of the first volume of Black Athena it was not always easy to understand the nature of the anti-Semitism that so angered Bernal. Friedrich August Wolf, in his Prolegomena to Homer, was charged with representing the Iliad and the Odyssey as oral poetry, a "Romantic" sin in Bernal's view ( BA 1:283-85). George Grote influenced the teaching of history unfairly by beginning with the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C.E. and thereby excluding the Egyptian and Phoenician contributions to Greek culture in