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Beware of Greeks bearing culture.

With the publication earlier this year of the second volume of his book Black Athena (Rutgers University Press), Martin Bernal assumed a major role in the ongoing scholarly debate over the roots of Western civilization. In a packed convention hall, Bernal, or Cornell University, elaborated his thesis -- buttressed with linguistic, archaeological and historical evidence -- that Egyptian and Phoenician cultures greatly influenced the rise of Greek civilization beginning around 3,000 years ago.

The notion that Greek gods, language, technology and political life derived from African and Semitic peoples, either through the borrowing and adaptation of ideas or through military conquest, held sway among historians until the 1820s, Bernal argues. At that point, the "ancient model" gave way to the assumption that white, Indo-European speakers from the north, known as Aryans, conquered Greece and endowed it with civilization. Several factors spurred the sudden academic change of heart, Bernal asserts: racism toward Africans; prejudice toward non-Christians; a widespread belief that Greece represented a formative stage of later European civilization, in contrast to the separate , more advanced Egyptian culture; and popular philosophical arguments that people living in cold climates achieved the greatest intelligence and morality. Racism still fuels academic neglect of Egyptian and Phoenician influence on Greek culture, Bernal contends.

In Bernal's opinion, ancient Egyptians did not belong to a "black race," although they lived in Africa. "Race is a social construct," he maintains. Egyptians carried a mix of physical features from Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean, making the title of his book somewhat misleading, Bernal acknowledges.

"My enemy is not Europe, but the concept of 'pure' civilizations," he contends. "The mixture of different influences has served as the creative force behind all civilizations, including those of Egypt and Greece."
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Title Annotation:African roots of classical Greek civilization
Author:Bower, Ron
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 7, 1991
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