"It is absurd to try to summarize this book in a dozen paragraphs": so Martin Bernal, reasonably enough, begins the Conclusion to the first volume of Black Athena ( 1:439). Yet it will be useful here to start with an even briefer summary, however rough and oversimplified. Bernal argues that in the second millennium B.C.E. Greece must have been colonized by Egyptians and Phoenicians. In his view, some 25 percent of Greek vocabulary-- that is, virtually everything which is not Indo-European -- can be plausibly derived from these sources. Later Greeks acknowledged their debt to these other peoples, and their myths of colonization -- Danaus' coming to Greece from Egypt, Cadmus' bringing Phoenicians to found Thebes -- are likely to preserve a historical memory.
This picture of the origins of Hellenic civilization, so the argument continues, lasted into the eighteenth century; Bernal calls it the "Ancient Model." It was then abandoned, mainly because of "the two principal paradigms of the nineteenth century -- 'progress' and racism" ( BA 1:273). Belief in a progressive or evolutionary model of history meant that the antiquity of the Egyptians, previously admired, now made them inferior to the Greeks; racism made it intolerable that Hellenism could owe anything to Africa.
During the nineteenth century the discovery of a family of Indo-European languages made it possible to create what Bernal calls a "Broad Aryan Model," according to which invasions from the north formed the Greeks' language and the base of their civilization. This Broad Aryan Model tried to do away with the Egyptians; fiercer racism later in the century led to an