by Mary Lefkowitz ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 14, 1996
A hard-hitting, persuasive polemic against the ideological perversion of history. In Civilization or Barbarism (1981), Senegalese writer Cheikh Anta Diop argued that black Egyptians brought civilization to Greece and thus became the founders of Western culture. Diop's ideas (not original with him, but previously relegated to an academic fringe) inspired a spate of books and articles arguing that many achievements attributed to the Greeks should be credited to the ancient Egyptians. Lefkowitz (Classics/Wellesley) labels this position ""extreme Afrocentrism"" and convincingly refutes its central claims: that Egyptians invaded Greece during the second millennium B.C. and founded Greek civilization during that period, and that Greek philosophical thought was stolen from Egypt. For evidence of Egyptian invasions, the author asserts, Diop relied selectively on what Egyptian priests told the ancient writer Diodorus, who does not appear to have believed them. There is no archaeological evidence of such invasions, Lefkowitz contends, and Afrocentrist assertions that Aesop, Socrates, and Cleopatra were black have no basis in any textual or archaeological evidence. Ironically, in the author's view, Afrocentrist ideas have their roots in the fancies of an 18th-century French novelist, the Abbâ€š Jean Terrasson, and in the theories of a 20th-century American, George G.M. James, who derived their ideas of Egyptian ""mystery cults"" from sources that were actually Greco-Roman. Lefkowitz points out that Egyptian or ancient North African civilization was not ""black,"" that the Egyptian empire was the world's first multiracial society, and that those who inhabited what the Romans knew as ""Africa"" were ancestors of the modern Berbers. In conclusion, Lefkowtiz argues compellingly that racially or ideologically motivated teaching of myths as history diminishes democracy and the integrity of scholarship and imperils the future of universities and our free society. An anguished and eloquent cry against declining standards of historical scholarship and against the teaching of ""feel good"" history.
Pub Date: Feb. 14, 1996
Page Count: 240
Publisher: New Republic/Basic
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995
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