- Still Out Of Africa
- DEBATING THE IMPLICATIONS
- OF AN ANTI-AFROCENTRIC
- Amenhotep III
- 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,
- 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)
- 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
Morehouse School of Medicine
October 1, 1996
- (c) Dr. Charles S. Finch, III,
All 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
- "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 "immaculate
- 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 surrounding cultures.
- 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
- Amenemhet I
- 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
- 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 years ago.
- 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
- 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
- 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 Libya
- 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 Artemis.
- Aphrodite was sometimes called Melaenis,
i.e., "the Black One."
- 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 link.
- 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 aside.
- 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.
- Ancient Hebrews
- 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 FOX
- 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
- 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 205-207.
- 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 Egyptians...
- - 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
- - 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 Phaeton...
- - Hesoid, Theogony, lines 985-7.
- ...an image of pious, just Ethiopians
became so imbedded in Greco-Roman tradition that echoes are heard
throughout classical literature.
- - Frank Snowden, Blacks in Antiquity,
- 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 Nile.
- - Snowden, p. 157.
- Satyrs (sileni after Silenus) often resemble
Negroes with respect to thickness of the lips and snubness of
nose. - Snowden, p. 160.
- Two of these [kabeiric] vases depict Odysseus
and a Negro Circe...
- - 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 enemies.
- - Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, vol.1,
- According to the Pelasgians, the goddess
Athene was born beside Lake Tritonis in Libya...
- - Graves, quoting Apollonius Rhodius,
- 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
- - 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
- - 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 Libya.
- - 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 African.
- - 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,
- 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 Danaans.
- - 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,
- 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 Apollodorus.
- [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
- Greek and Roman Descriptions of Ethiopians
or Blacks generally:
- 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,
derived from ancient Egyptian word lebu, given to the
people who inhbited the lands west of the Nile.
in the ancient mind, Africa and continental India were linked;
Indians were often called the eastern Ethiopians.
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,
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
- 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 the priests.
- - 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 wisdom.