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Open Our Eyes - Still Out Of Africa
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Open Our Eyes
STILL OUT OF AFRICA
ABSTRACT: STILL OUT OF AFRICA--DEBATING THE
OF AN ANTI-AFROCENTRIC
- by Dr. Charles S. Finch, III, MD
- In the history of ideas affecting the course of American
higher education, few emerging paradigms have generated as much heated, even
vitriolic, commentary as Afrocentricity. Not surprisingly, it has become a
catch-all term: a cloak covering a wide continuum of academic and intellectual
postures, positions, and opinions.
- Admittedly, the Afrocentric paradigm has generated much
questionable, even irresponsible, rhetoric, yet it has also forced a
long-delayed and much-needed reexamination of Western values, self-concepts,
and sense of history.
- Reduced to its essentials, Afrocentricity asserts that
Africa must sit at the center of all studies of the history of peoples of
African descent, from the beginning of human time to the present. The tumult
surrounding Afrocentricity reached a fever-pitch in 1996 with the publication
of Professor Mary Lefkowitz's Not Out Of Africa, a pointed counter-attack on
the "Afrocentric notion" that ancient Greece owed its civilization to Africa,
Egypt (Kemit) and Ethiopia (Kesh) especially.
- The book, however, attempts not merely to refute a
particular thesis but condemns Afrocentricity as a whole, ending with a
thinly-veiled recommendation that Afrocentric scholars not be allowed to teach
in American universities.
- The current debate attempts to address three questions:
(1) what, if anything, did ancient Greece owe the older African civilizations;
(2) is the Afrocentric approach intellectually defensible; (3) is there a
legitimate place in the university for an Afrocentric frame of reference?
These questions, and their answers, will impact contemporary intellectual
history for the forseeable future.
- Dr. Charles S. Finch, III, MD
October 1, 1996
- (c) Dr. Charles S. Finch, III, MD, 1996.
rights reserved by the author.
- In the Fall of 1989, I participated in a symposium
convened by Professor Molefi Asante at Temple University where a varied group
of scholars were invited to discuss and debate the merits of Martin Bernal's
Black Athena. The paper I delivered, entitled The African Sources of Greek
Myths, opened as follows:
- "In historical times, the world has probably never seen
the emergence of a 'single- source' culture." That statement is as applicable
now as ever and particularly applies to ancient Greece. To paraphrase Dr. Asa
Hilliard, ancient Greek civilization was not the product of a cultural
- It is a chimerical idea and as a paradigm of history,
first appeared about 200 years ago as an outgrowth of an interpretive movement
among German antiquarians that Bernal has dubbed the "Aryan Model." Down to
the Common Era, one can search the ancient literature virtually in vain for
any hint of a suggestion that the civilization of the Greeks, proud as they
were of it, had emerged fully-formed sui generis, free of influences from
- Modern classicists find themselves in an incongruous
position: their unbounded admiration for all that Greek thinkers achieved in
philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, music, the plastic arts--indeed all of the
humanities, liberal arts and sciences--is matched only by their smug
condescension toward the putative Greek credulity and naivete when writing
about their own history. Many classicists take the position, clearly
exemplified in Not Out of Africa, that they know more about the "true" history
of the ancient Greeks than the Greeks themselves, a bizarre claim made also by
not-a-few antiquarian scholars in other fields.
- With some rare and notable exceptions, European
antiquarian scholars tend to act as if the ancients were not qualified to
write about their own history to the same degree as people living several
thousand years after them. Classicists seem to want it both ways: they want to
pontificate about the great accomplishments of civilizations they claim are
ancestral to themselves but to ignore the profound debt these same
civilizations owed to other high cultures, especially African ones.
- Northeast Africa, i.e., the Nile Valley, played as
formative a role in the early evolution of Greek culture as Greece did Western
civilization. Everything proclaims it, including all the ancient Greek
commentators who mentioned the subject.
- At present, it is possible to travel to any corner of the
globe and find cassette tapes by Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Tupac Shakur--
powerful testimony to the extraordinary global influence of American popular
culture. Nile Valley civilization exercised a similar influence over all of
the civilized Old World west of the Indus. Nile Valley high culture is already
complete and mature by 4,000 B.C. and remained an intact and powerful force
for the next four millenia.
- Over large swaths of that time, Egypt was the political
overlord of most of the eastern half of the Mediterranean and even when not in
political control, her cultural hegemony was paramount. She left her imprint
everywhere, not only in material artifacts, but in customs, practices,
beliefs, and rituals. It is not strange that we should find a pronounced
Nilotic influence on the northern Mediterranean nations of antiquity; it would
be strange if we did not.
- In architecture, Egypt is the first to raise massively
precise edifices in stone, elaborating architectural styles whose influence
would eventually even be felt as far away as Mexico. The so-called "Doric
column" had already achieved a perfection of form by the 3rd Dynasty, more
than 3,000 years before the building of the Parthenon. No other culture would
build so widely, massively and prolifically in stone. Even the original Temple
at Jerusalem, erected by Solomon, was "built on the ground plan of an Egyptian
temple" according to James Henry Breasted.
- In sculpture and statuary, Egypt set standards that have
lasted for all time. The sphinx-form spread itself over all the civilized
world west of India. The Egyptian canon of proportion-- one that often
incorporated the Golden Number--became the standard measure of beauty and
harmony in sculpture. The Greeks of the 6th century--in the fashion of
apprentices--sculpted careful imitations of Egyptian statues now known as
Kouros statues. Thus, the first artistically important sculptures of
post-Mycenaean Greece owed as much to the Egyptian form as Michelangelo's
Pieta or David owed to his ancient Greek predecessors.
- In astronomy, almost every Greek writer who mentions the
subject traces the origin of scientific astronomy to Egypt and Chaldea, though
always giving priority to Egypt. Testaments to the Nilotic proficiency in
astronomy abound. They developed no fewer than three calendars: lunar,
Sirian-solar, and precessional. The precessional calendar is derived from the
retrograde movement of the celestial north pole around the ecliptic north
pole, encompassing a period of 26,000 years.
- The Sirian solar calendar is based on the difference
between the true year of 365 1/4 days determined by the heliacal rising of
Sirius at the summer solstice and the civil calendar conventionalized at 365
days. With the civil calendar slipping back relative to the Sirian 1/4 day
every year, it took 1460 years for the two calendars to re-synchronize. In
late antiquity, at the insistence of first the Ptolemies, then Julius Caesar,
the calendrists of Kemit devised leap year to reconcile the two
- Systematic star-gazing had been going on in the Nile
Valley long before the beginning of the dynastic period around 4,000 B.C..
Moreover, there are records of Nile Valley astronomers predicting lunar
eclipses going back to the middle of the 8th century B.C. They were among the
earliest, as the Greeks said, to identify the constellations that Thales
brought from the Nile to Greece. These astronomer-priests were also the first
to devise the 24-hour day.
- It is again to the Nile Valley that we must look for
evidence of the early influence on Greek mathematics. With respect to
geometry, the commentators are unanimous: the mathematician-priests of the
Nile Valley knew no peer. The geometry of Pythagoras, Eudoxus, Plato, and
Euclid was learned in Nile Valley temples. Four mathematical papyri still
survive, most importantly the Rhind mathematical papyrus dating to 1832 B.C.
Not only do these papyri show that the priests had mastered all the processes
of arithmetic, including a theory of number, but had developed formulas
enabling them to find solutions of problems with one and two unknowns, along
with "think of a number problems." With all of this plus the arithmetic and
geometric progressions they discovered, it is evident that by 1832 B.C.,
algebra was in place in the Nile Valley.
- Problem no. 56 in the Rhind Papyrus gives an equation to
find the angle of the slope of a pyramid's face, which in fact is its
cotangent. With a cotangent, one automatically has a tangent by taking the
inverse of the cotangent. Moreover, the means were present with pyramidal
models to obtain sine and cosine values. Thus, trigonometry was also developed
earliest in the Nile Valley. The advanced state of this math is confirmed by
an architectural drawing even older than the Rhind Papyrus that shows that
Nilotic engineers had learned to find the area under a curve more than 5,000
- Finally, as Flinders Petrie found, the architects had
several times built into their structures right triangles that obeyed the
theorem: a2 + b2 = c2, where a and b are the two sides and c is the
hypoteneuse. Since Pythagoras studied in the temples of the Nile Valley for 22
years it would not have surprised him to learn there was the source of the
theorem that bears his name.
- Homer, in Book 4 of The Odyssey, states simply, "in
medicine, Egypt leaves the rest of the world behind." This quote and the many
examples of foreign princes who retained Egyptian physicians testifies to
their high repute and influence beyond their borders. The Persian emperors
Cyrus and Darius each relied on an Egyptian personal physician.
- The medical papyri, particularly the Edwin Smith and the
Ebers, supply ample evidence of the extraordinary skill of the ancient
physicians of the Nile. These documents, whose originals date back to around
4,000 B.C., show a medical science already in full flower.
- The Edwin Smith shows a startling knowledge of
neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, revealing 6000 years ago the ancient
doctors' understanding of the relation between the temporal portion of the
brain and language, speech, and hearing. The Book of the Heart and Vessels, a
source book for both the Edwin Smith and the Ebers Papyri, shows that Nile
Valley anatomo-physiologists had recognized the heart as the center of a
circulatory system that sent blood through the major vessels emanating from it
to the body's vital organs. Not surprisingly, Nile Valley physicians measured
the pulse as an aid to diagnosis. Trephination, the forerunner of
neurosurgery, was successfully performed in the Old Kingdom.
- As to Hippocrates: he was unquestionably a physician of
genius who is entirely deserving of his exalted 2500 year-old reputation. What
he wasn't was the "Father of Medicine." He did not even compose the famed
Hippocratic Oath. It is known that he was descended from a line of priests of
Asclepios on the isle of Cos. By the 6th century B.C., Asclepios had become
identified with the physician Imhotep who lived around 3,700 B.C. and was
called by Sir Williams Osler "the first figure of a physician to stand out
clearly from the mists of antiquity." It can be reasonably inferred that, like
his forbears, Hippocrates revered Imhotep who, if anyone does, deserves the
title "Father of Medicine."
- From Alexandrian times (330 B.C. - 200 B.C.), the major
medical figures of the Greco-Roman world studied in Egypt, including Galen,
Herophilus, and Erasistratos. Egypt continued to "leave the rest of the world
behind" in medical knowledge until well after the beginning of the Common
- Religion and Mythology
- Herodotus and Diodorus are the two classical authorities
who insist most strongly that Greece owed her rites, religion, and gods to
Egypt and Ethiopia, i.e., Nile Valley civilization. Diodorus informs us that
"the Ethiopians were the first to be taught to honor the gods and to hold
sacrifices and festivals and processions...and other rites by which men honor
the deity."Herodotus adds that "The names of nearly all the gods came to
Greece from Egypt."
- He further asserts, "I will never admit that the similar
ceremonies performed in Greece and Egypt are the result of mere
coincidence--had that been so, our rites would have been more Greek in
character and less recent in origin."
- Contrary to repeated assertions in Not Out of Africa,
neither Diodorus nor Herodotus were uncritical Egyptophiles supinely accepting
what the priests told them. Both of them were learned men, well-read and
well-travelled. They cross-checked their information and consulted a variety
of sources and informants, both Greek and Egyptian, then compared this
information to their own personal observations.
- Their conclusions were carefully arrived at on the
strength of a basically sound method of inquiry. Herodotus, in particular, was
careful to differentiate between information or opinions drawn from others,
his own observations, and his own interpretations. He was careful not to vouch
for everything he heard but to record it as told for verification by others.
That he was wrong on a number of points is more than compensated for by the
independent corroboration of most of his account by later authorities, even up
to the present.
- The veneration and emulation of Nilotic religious
practices begins with Homer (8th century B.C.) who in three places in The
Iliad and the Odyssey, refers to the tendency of Olympian deities to go to
feast among the blameless Ethiopians. Moreover, several other mythographers
cite the African or Libyan provenance of important Olympians, demigods,
heroes, and other Hellenic mythotypes. Dionysus and Athene were both born in
- Robert Graves says that the origins of Demeter are also
to be looked for in Libya. Hercules, in one of his many guises, was said to
have come from Egypt. A triad of Hellenic gods known to hail from Ethiopia
were Helios, Eos, and Selene. Olympian deities not infrequently represented as
Ethiopians--especially on the Kabeiric vases--were Aphrodite, Hera, and
- Aphrodite was sometimes called Melaenis, i.e., "the Black
- Certain mythological dramatis personae were distinctly
Ethiopian in origin or depiction: Memnon, Tithonus, Cepheus, Cassiopeia,
Andromeda, Theia (also Melaena), Delphos, Aeetes, Medea, Circe, Proteus,
Phaeton, Eurybates, Danaus, Aegyptus, Belus, and Cephalus. What is more, there
was sometimes such a close identification between a Hellenic and an African
god that the two became fused. Zeus, for example, was linked with the Nilotic
Amon to such a degree that he became Zeus Ammon.
- It defies all evidence and logic to insist that Greek
religion was not markedly impacted by Nile Valley religion. Religiously, we
have as much evidence for a Nile-to-Greece link as we do for a Greece-to-Rome
- Credibility Issues
- A brief word about Greek sources and ancient
historiography: if we accept Professor Lefkowitz's assertion that we cannot
rely on the evidence put forward by an "over-credulous" group of ancient
writers, then history itself must be jettisoned. The same method of attack can
be applied to all historians of all times everywhere; it can be said that no
historian's evidence is credible because he was moved by an implied emotion
that compromises his conclusions. If we rely on this way of looking at it,
history becomes impossible to write.
- Furthermore, Professor Lefkowitz "cross-examines her own
witnesses," that is, discredits the very authorities that form the basis of
the classical studies that constitute her whole career. This approach is not
defensible; just because one does like the admiring manner in which Herodotus,
Diodorus, Plato, Aristotle, and so many others speak about ancient African
civilizations and acknowledge the Greek debt to them, doesn't mean that these
savants didn't know what they were talking about.
- As a new paradigm, evolving a new set of rules and
premises, there are clearly occasions when the Afrocentric method can be
questioned, particularly where the methodology lacks rigor. But Not Out of
Africa does not show that the author is conversant with the whole range of the
Afrocentric "school." She has read C.A. Diop, the "spiritual father" of
Afrocentricity, but her criticisms of him are superficial and easily turned
- She has not dealt with Theophile Obenga who has as
comprehensive a command of Greco-Roman antiquity as any person living, nor is
she sufficiently conversant with the works of Ivan Van Sertima. Until the
writings of Afrocentric scholars of this caliber are confronted and refuted,
Afrocentricity, to paraphrase Molefi Asante, will stand as an authentic new
paradigm not to be wished away by conservative academic opinion. Again, its
manifesto is simply that where the history of people of African descent is
concerned, Africa must sit at the center of its study.
- Though scholars would vehemently deny it, myth-making
either makes or rises out of history. Examples of national myths that
decisively impacted the history of certain peoples include the "chosen people"
mantle of the ancient Hebrews, the "manifest destiny" of an expansive American
nation, and the "thousand-year Reich" of German National Socialism. If a
people do not have a national myth, they create one because it is the myth
that determines what they hope to be and what they strive for. Thus myths are
not "fictions"; they are the symbolic essence of a people's quest for meaning
- It is too early to tell what, if any, enabling myth will
rise out of the Afrocentric spirit. But the most conscientious of Afrocentric
writers have no interest in fictions; we have spent too many years listening
to those spun around our history by those who have sought to dominate us by
- THE POWER OF MYTH: DOGON PHILOSOPHY IN THE PALE
- The myth, so tanie, "astonishing word," which the Dogon
consider to be "real" history...constitutes here the whole of coherent themes
of creation; this is why, by virtue of their coherence and their order of
succession, they make up a "history of the universe," aduno so tanie.
- By no means here "...should the word myth be understood
in its ordinary sense, as a childlike or fantastic, somewhat absurd poetic
form. The myth is, for the Blacks, only a means by which to explain something;
it is a consciously composed lore of master ideas....It conceals clear
statements and coherent systems reserved for initiates, who alone have access
to the deep knowledge."
- Zeus made a journey to the shores of the Ocean to feast
among the blameless Ethiopians (for 12 days).
- - Homer, The Iliad, Book 1, lines 423-424.
- ...when they saw her (Iris), all the winds rose up with
invitations....But she refused and said: I'm bound onward, across the streams
of Ocean, to the country of the Ethiopians; hekatombs they'll make for the
gods; I must attend the feast. - Homer, The Iliad, Book 23, lines
- But now that god (Poseidon) had gone far off among the
Ethiopians, most remote of men...in sunset lands and the lands of the rising
sun, to be regaled by smoke of thighbones burning, haunches of rams and bulls,
a hundred fold. He lingered delighted at the banquet table.
- - Homer, the Odyssey, Book 1, lines 25-31.
- [the Ethiopians] were the first to be taught to honor the
gods and to hold sacrifices and festivals and processions and festivals and
the other rites by which men honor the deity...
- Aelian does not overlook the fact that Ethiopia is the
place where the gods bathe.
- - Snowden, Blacks in Antquity, p. 147.
- They also told me that the Egyptians first brought into
use the names of the twelve gods, which the Greeks took over from them.
- - Herodotus, Book 2
- ...it was not the Egyptians who took the name Heracles
from the Greeks. The opposite is true: it was the Greeks who took it from the
- - Herodotus.
- Melampus ("black-footed")...brought into Greece a number
of things that he had learned in Egypt, and amongst them was the worship of
Dionysus (Osiris). I will never admit that the similar ceremonies performed in
Greece and Egypt are the result of mere coincidence--had that been so, our
rites would have been more Greek in character and less recent in
- - Herodotus.
- The names of nearly all the gods came to Greece from
Egypt. I know from the inquiries I have made that they came from abroad, and
it seems likely that it was from Egypt.
- - Herodotus.
- And Eos bare to Tithonus brazen-crested Memnon, king of
the Ethiopians....And to Cephalus she bare a splendid son, strong
- - Hesoid, Theogony, lines 985-7.
- ...an image of pious, just Ethiopians became so imbedded
in Greco-Roman tradition that echoes are heard throughout classical
- - Frank Snowden, Blacks in Antiquity, p. 144.
- The fifty sons of Aegyptus were described as black....The
Danaids described themselves as "black and smitten by the sun"....To King
Pelasgus they have the appearance of Libyans, or inhabitants of the
- - Snowden, p. 157.
- Satyrs (sileni after Silenus) often resemble Negroes with
respect to thickness of the lips and snubness of nose. - Snowden, p.
- Two of these [kabeiric] vases depict Odysseus and a Negro
- - Snowden, p. 161.
- Figures with Negroid traits appearing in other Kabeiric
vases include Aphrodite, Hera, Cephalus...
- - Snowden, p. 161.
- The castration of Uranus is not necessarily metaphorical
if some of the victors had originated in East Africa where, to this day, the
Galla warriors carry a miniature sickle into battle to castrate their
- - Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, vol.1, p. 38.
- According to the Pelasgians, the goddess Athene was born
beside Lake Tritonis in Libya...
- - Graves, quoting Apollonius Rhodius, p. 44.
- Plato identified Athene, patroness of Athens, with the
Libyan goddess Neith...
- - Graves, citing Timaeus.
- Pottery finds suggest a Libyan immigration into Crete as
early as 4,000 B.C.; and a large number of goddess-worshipping Libyan refugees
from the Western Delta seem to have arrived there when Upper and Lower Egypt
were forcibly united under the first dynasty...
- - Graves, p. 45.
- ...elsewhere [Aphrodite] was called Melaenis ("black
one")...[and]Scotia ("dark one")...
- - Graves, p. 72.
- Demeter is said to have reached Greece by way of
Crete...But Demeter's origin is to be looked for in Libya.
- - Graves, pp.95-96.
- ..the three Gorgons, dwellers in Libya...
- - Graves, p. 127
- When [Typhon] came rushing toward Olympus, the gods fled
in terror to Egypt where they disguised themselves as animals: Zeus becoming a
ram; Apollo a crow; Dionysus, a goat; Hera, a white cow; Artemis, a cat;
Aphrodite, a fish; Ares, a boar; Hermes, an ibis, and so on.
- - Graves, p. 134.
- At Dodona...the priestesses who deliver the oracles have
a different version of the story: two black doves, they say flew away from
Thebes in Egypt, and one of them alighted at Dodona, and the other in
- - Herodotus, p. 151
- As to the bird being black [at Dodona], they merely
signify by this that the woman was an Egyptian.
- - Herodotus, p. 152
- The Telchines (Rhodes) were Children of the Sea....They
were...worshipped by an early matriarchal people of Greece...whom the
patriarchal Hellenes persecuted...Their origin may have been East
- - Graves, p. 189.
- King Belus, who ruled Chemmis in Thebaid, was the son of
Libya by Poseidon, and twin-brother of Agenor. His wife...daughter of Nilus,
bore him the twins Aegyptus and Danaus and a third son Cepheus.
- - Graves, citing Herodotus, Apollodorus, p. 200.
- Danaus...had fifty daughters called the Danaids (born of
Egyptian and Ethiopian mothers)....he built a ship for himself and his
daughters...and sailed toward Greece together, by way of Rhodes....[He] became
so powerful a ruler that all the Pelasgians of Greece called themselves
- - Graves, citing Hyginus, Apollodorus, Herodotus, Strabo,
Diodorus, Pausanias, and Plutarch, p. 201-2.
- The myth [of the Danaids] records the early arrival in
greece of Helladic colonists from Palestine, by way of Rhodes, and their
introduction of agriculture into the Peloponnese. It is claimed that they
included emigrants from Libya and Ethiopia, which seems probable.
- - Graves, p. 203.
- Melampus, ("black foot") the Minyan, Cretheus's
grandson...was the first mortal to be granted prophetic powers, the first to
practice as a physician, the first to build temples to Dionysus in Greece, and
the first to temper wine with water.
- - Graves, citing Apollodorus and Athenaeus, p.
- Melampodes ("black feet") is a common Classical name for
the Egyptians; and these stories of how Melampus understood what birds...were
saying are likely to be of African origin...
- - Graves.
- Perseus paused for refreshments at Chemmis in Egypt...and
then flew on. As he rounded the coast of Philistia...he caught sight of a
naked woman chained to a sea-cliff, and instantly fell in love with her. This
was Andromeda, daughter of Cepheus, the Ethiopian King of Joppa, and
Cassiopeia....Perseus (who married Andromeda) founded Mycenae.
- - Graves, citing Herodotus, Tzetzes, Strabo, Pliny, and
- [Minos] laid siege to Nisa, ruled by Nisus the Egyptian,
who had a daughter named Scylla.
- - Graves, p. 308.
- WHAT'S IN A NAME? Source: Blacks in
- Greek and Roman Descriptions of Ethiopians or Blacks
- aethiops, melas, melanochoros, niger, ater, aquilus,
exustus, furvus, fuscus, percotus. (p. 3)
- Additional Greco-Roman ethnonyms of
Blacks: Afer (African), Indus/Indi (India),
Maurus(Moor) (p. 11)
- Greco-Roman toponyms of--national, regional,
- Libya: derived from
ancient Egyptian word lebu, given to the people who inhbited the lands
west of the Nile.
- India: in the ancient
mind, Africa and continental India were linked; Indians were often called the
- Ethiopia: An early Greek
name, meaning "sunburnt," for the African countries and regions to the south
and west of Egypt. The term Ethiopia was interchangeable with Libya,
India, Nubia, and Africa.
- Nubia: Latin term, derived
from Egyptian word nub meaning "gold" referring to the southern fifth
of Egypt plus the northern fifth of the Sudan.
- Africa or Afer: Latin term
which came to be, and remains, the name for the entire continent.
- SOURCES OF GREEK SCIENCE
- The biographies of Pythagoras are unanimous that at an
early age he travelled widely to assimilate the wisdom of the ancients...He is
said by Iamblichus to have spent some 22 years in Egypt studying there with
- - K.S. Guthrie, the Pythaorean Source Book, p. 20.
- Thales...advised him [Pythagoras] to go to Egypt, to get
in touch with the priests of Memphis and Zeus. Thales confessed that the
instruction of these priests was the source of his own reputation for
- - Guthrie, p. 59 (citing Iamblichus)
- He [Pythagoras] passed twenty-two years in the
sanctuaries of temples, studying astronomy and geometry...
- - Guthrie/Iamblichus, p. 61.
- In Egypt he [Pythagoras] lived with the priests, and
learned the language and the wisdom of the Egyptians, and their three kinds of
letters, the epistolographic, the hieroglyphic, and symbolic...