'black athena revisited': when refutation fails

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Fri, 3 May 1996 22:42:21 CDT

on Monday. True, he's not on this list. Also, he's a dead male. But, then,
was he white? See below. Last week, I remarked to Barbara Campbell, "Had I
been a real expert on China, I might have been Martin Bernal." That is, I
might have written a two- [or four-] volume crock on something I at best
did as a hobby in my spare time, for dubious purposes, and whose truth-value
was not relevant, like Black Athena. She sent me a post from another list to
demonstrate Bernal's continuing stature among the Undead. But I was piqued
to find something more Serious, ie, in Print; after all, any clown such as
myself can write e-mail. I now recommend to one and all Mary R. Lefkowitz and
Guy MacLean Rogers (Eds.), Black Athena Revisited, Chapel Hill, 1996. This
volume is relevant to all four fields of anthropology (eg, Physical Anthro,
C. Loring Brace et al., "Clines and Clusters Versus 'Race': A Test In Ancient
Egypt and the Case of a Death on the Nile," pp. 129-164; Linguistics, Jasanoff
and Nussbaum, "Word Games: The Linguistic Evidence in Black Athena," pp. 177-
205; Arch., all-over-the-place), ancient history, historical sociology, the
sociology of knowledge [!], ethnic relations, multiculturalism, classical
scholarship, and even a few ad hominem slurs. Which, indeed, under the Golden
Rule, Bernal had coming to him.

In a brilliantly compressed article ranging over a broad panorama of
archeological discoveries and ancient texts, "The Legacy of Black Athena,"
pp. 167-174, Sarah P. Morris asks, apparently rhetorically:

"Why does African America need Egypt, more than it does the magnificent
cultures of the West African coast, to legitimize its past and present?
Why does Greece have to be 'invaded' or conquered by Egypt to learn its
lessons and absorb its culture, instead of being 'captured' in cultural
terms, as it in turn (in the immortal phrase of Horace) captivated Rome?
In other words, ancient Egypt need no longer be a bone of contention
between Afrocentrists and classicists, if we recognize its unique position,
acknowledge its close and fruitful connections with adjacent cultures, but
do not contest it as an exclusive ancestor. Cannot one bolster the claims
of the Levant, without dividing more deeply those of African heritage from
modern Jews and appearing 'partisan' to the latter cause?" (p. 171)

The first sentence's question has an answer. Which is, that no filiation
exists between "the magnificent cultures of the West African coast" and the
shopping malls of contemporary armenia, soon to boast a computer under every
tree, a corportate cyberhippie in every pot. Besides which, the language of
instruction was Arabic in the University of Timbuktu medical school, not
without importance to those affecting the scary-Islamist image whilst claiming
True Heirship of the Originators of whatever has culminated in the hegemony of
G7 over Christendom. (This has been a digression, pardon me, to illustrate the
point that, in the ideological realm, you not merely can have your cake and
eat it; this usally helps you.) This is dictated by glaringly obvious racial
politics right here, in the US of armenia: If the Eurocentrist masses wherewith
the category commonly called "whites" overlaps has "constituted" the Classical
Greeks as "ancestral" to "their" "Civilization," and it is the whites-Eurocen-
trists who *hold power*, then this dictates Afrocentrists' flanking maneuvers
such that the latter say, "If it weren't for us, *our own forcible interven-
tion*, *you* would still be in the trees!"

Thus it comes to pass that Eurocentrists need Greece, and they need it
white, for they have "constituted" Greece as the "founder" of "their" Civli-
lization." The repetition has been deliberately perpetrated to remind you
of the spuriousness and figmentational character of the words in quotation
marks. Only one of them admits of a definition, and that is circular:

"A civilization is a state of affairs such that there are, say, two
bunches of folks, whereby the larger of the two does the work, and
the smaller one, endogamous with respect to the former (excepting
only predatory sex on the part of its males and secondary mates in
polygyny), *does the civilization*. Whether the crowd which does the
work is required to fight and die in Defense of Civlization, as opposed
to merely carrying heavy objects in support of the war effort of their
betters, is contingent upon the class relations and development of
weaponry in the period in question. In the former alternative, women
will be exhorted to 'bear strong sons' for civilization's most gloriously
civilized army."

Civilization is a mealy-mouthed euphemism, in other words. Anthropology
has substituted a not-yet-exhausted mealy-mouthed euphemism, "complex
society," which denotes something preferable to what preceded it, ad did
"civilization" previously (eg, "The Emergence of Complex Society"); sociolo-
gists formerly used nastier words (class, exploitation, hierarchy, hegemony,
oppression, repression), howbeit not since 1989.

As previously mentioned on this list, I cannot imagine why Classical Greece
should not be considered a weird, strange, wildly unfamiliar society from the
perspective of our own, with only the etymologies of, say, "democracy,"
"politics," "philosophy," "logic," and such, which all meant vastly different
things back then, superficially linking "the whites/Western Civilization"
with the imagined originators of "their" Tradition, whatever the latter should
be regarded as denoting and connoting at any given period. What's more, the
Classical Greeks had no interest in or intention to found any civilizational
entity in Western Europe, on whose coasts they indeed founded colonies. Yet
the interior of what is now France was utterly unknown to the citizens of
Massalia (Marseilles), who avoided knowing anything about it if they possibly
could. Indeed, they knew more about the sea route around Spain and up to
Britain than they knew about the geography and peoples of their own backyard.
The latter, when nuisances, were occasionally exterminated; but the Greeks
weren't much interested till the Romans, who definitely coveted the lands
of the Celts, hired some Greek "intelligence agents." So low was Greek
regard for "Western" potential that, when Italians conquered what had been
Greater Greece under their noses, they remained in Denial till a captive
Greek, Polybius, explained very carefully (so as not to irritate the Romans
however slightly) that Greece, itself annexed and plundered by Rome, never
had a chance against this new Thingie.

That is to say, the "ancestral" character of Greece was *always* in part,
at times entirely, a matter of social construction. This was most true at
such times as Latin Christians defined themselves as of a different and
superior race from Greek Christians: Previously on this list, I cited three
twelfth-century passages (copied from a work on Medieval history). Each one
articulated more intense ethnocultural hatred. Where the first was Paranoid,
the second was vicious, and the last was extreme racist; Greeks were "an
inferior race who did not deserve to survive."

The "ancestral" character of Greece was an innovation of the Renaissance,
represented as a rediscovery; and this was greatly facilitated by refugee
scholars from former Byzantine and Orthodox areas conquered by Muslims. Only
gradually did Western Europe acquire (or "rediscover") an antiquity befitting
its mounting grandiosity. None of which corresponds to what the objectively
real historic Greeks tried to do. Unlike the contemporary rulers of the
North China Plain, they did not attempt to impose their culture on "All Under

Eurocentrists and Afrocentrists alike share, then, the false assumption of
the *continuity* of what is now called Western Civilization. Where, as noted,
the former need the Greeks, and need them white, the latter needs the Egypti-
ans, and it needs them black, ie, with Sub-Saharan African phenotypes. Since
in the quite recent past, "to civilize" has been a euphemism for "to conquer
militarily," eg, *la mission civilatrice*, it is understood that the
suppositious Egyptian XII dynasty conqueror "Sesostris" should have resorted
to muscle to knock some white savages out of the trees: Symmetry, poetic
justice, and parallelism!

The entire counter-mirage is *emotionally compelling* not merely because
of the original (Eurocentric) mirage, but due to the intensifying climate of
smear propaganda, whereby the African-American population is getting depicted
as an undifferentiated mass of violent criminals, mired in Stupidity, Inferi-
ority, and genetically-determined Retardation. I allude to Charles Murray's
The Bell Curve. (Herrnstein, dead, regrettably could not appear on Donahue
and other important talk-shows; hence his authorship is socially vitiated.)
Murray's task is by far the simpler one; he need merely intone, "Yet still,
the scores are fifteen points lower." Today, on another list, I read of a
Columbia study which attributed the discrepancy entirely to environmental
inequalities. Yet Murray will doubtless respond, "But you can't deny the
scores are fifteen points lower."

Genetic continuity is overwhelmingly certain between the Egyptian peasants
of two thousand or more years ago and today. Several authors in Black Athena
Revisited are willing to accept that modern Egyptians, accordingly, look like
the ancient ones. What of the Greeks? They, too, claim ancients as ancestors.
Regrettably, the posited genetic continuity does not exist. Between the
Bubonic Plague pandemic which broke out in Constantinople in 542 and returned
again and again to reduce the populations of Greek-speaking areas, including
the territority of modern Greece, to fractions of their former size, and the
invasions of Slavic tribes with (or without) Turkish or Iranian overlords who
wiped out the survivors throughout mainland Greece excpting a few forts, the
genes of Classical Greece are gone. Modern Greeks are reHellenized Slavs whom
the Byzantines reconquered, reconverted, reeducated, and in general reCivi-
lized as Greek-surrogates. So we can't say how white Herodotus was; merely that
he's dead and male.
There's always a chance that a difference in colour, on the average, between
Orthodox Greeks of the East Roman/Byzantine Empire and Monophysite or Nestorian
Egyptians and Syrians may have played a role, as Greek was used in theological
disputes on both sides (whilst Coptic and Syriac were developing into literary
languages expressive of local pride). What's certain is, nobody mentioned it.

Arnaldo Momigliano, Alien Wisdom: The Limits of Hellenism, 1975[1990],
proves that the game of counter-mirage fabrication goes back over two thousand

"Eupolemus, who was Judas Maccabeus' envoy to Rome in 161 B.C., composed a
work in which one could read an exchange of letters between the twelve-year-
old Solomon and his client kings Vaphres of Egypt and Suron of Tyre....Ano-
ther historian, the very mysterious Malchus or Cleodemus, whose Jewish
origin is only probable, presented the sons of Abraham as the companions of
Hercules who married the daughter of one of them....Aristobolus of Paneas
allegorized Hebrew tradition in a dialogue in which Ptlemy VI (181-145 B.C.)
asked questions about the Bible. This approach made it inherently possible
for the Jews to claim to have been the teachers of the Greeks owing to their
own greater antiquity." (p. 73; two citations omitted)

Where and when textual and archeological evidence doesn't exist, scholarship
is at best "uneven," and only a few writers are required to exemplify Thought
in a particular historical period (before even considering the losses endured
in transmission and documentary corruption), the vogue of propaganda like the
foregoing is unsurprising. Where, contrariwise, the state apparatus makes a
massive investment in state-of-the-art scholarship (always miniscule compared
to perceived needs, admittedly); an approximation to objective truth is
asymptotically approached; ever more biases are fashionably bashed; and
the ever-more-finely-honed scholars are authorized to Mark It Wrong On The
Test personally or delegate such to TAs, Eurocentrism flourishes in vulgar
speech or offhand remarks; and Afrocentrism as mirror-image or counter-mirage
gives it what it deserves. Black Athena was raw meat for Afrocentrism, for
reasons which must remain speculative. Neither one incurs any danger to its
place in rival consciousness from mere refutation by objective truth. The
Authorities not merely refuse to enforce the objective truth they paid for
with the taxpayers' money; they sit back and throw money to the purveyors of
delusions and outright lies.

We are in one of those periods of history when the Screwballs win. Believe
it or not, and this will be tough, you have more in common with *me*, infini-
tely more, than you have with *them*.

Daniel A. Foss