Interactions between classical, African and Middle Eastern cultures explored

Nov 25, 2011
Interactions between the ancient Africa and ancient Greece are explored in the book

Academics from the Universities of Oxford and Warwick have shed new light on the history of interactions between the classical world, Africa and the Middle East.

In a new book of essays which has just been launched, co-editors Dr Tessa Roynon (Oxford University), Dr Daniel Orrells and Dr Gurminder Bhambra (both at Warwick) argue that the 1990s over Martin Bernal's thesis was misdirected. Bernal argued in his provocative book, Black Athena (1987), that the classical civilization underpinning traces its roots to ancient Africa and the Near East, and that these roots were whitewashed from the history of the West in the 18th and 19th centuries. His claims initiated a fiercely-contested debate.

In their new book, African Athena, Drs Roynon, Orrells and Bhambra argue that in focusing so exclusively on whether or not Bernal was ‘right’, scholars have left unexamined many fruitful lines of inquiry.  ‘We have reframed the terms of the debate', said Dr Roynon, who is a research fellow at St Peter's College and the Rothermere American Institute.  'We are less interested in whether the African 'origins' of Greek civilization can be proved, and more interested in how studies of the extensive and undeniable interactions between Greece, Rome, the Middle East and Africa over many centuries can shape our understanding of history, of the academy and of the modern world. Politically, there is a huge amount at stake in these questions.'

As the new collection shows, the ways in which modern slavery brought black people into contact with Greek and Roman texts has given rise to many classically-based forms of resistance to European and American power. For example, in 16th-century Granada there lived an African ex-slave, Juan Latino, who was a classical scholar; his work and its impact are documented here by Professor Mira Seo. Several other essays analyse the ways in which more recent black activists and intellectuals have drawn on the connections between Graeco-Roman and ancient African worlds to advance their cause.

The contributors to African Athena: New Agendas, who hail from universities in the U.S., the Netherlands and New Zealand as well as the U.K., include Classicists, historians of ancient and modern culture, sociologists, and scholars of modern literature. Their topics range from Libya’s pre-histories to the American abolition movement; from the role of the Near East in the evolution of the ancient ‘Greek’ novel (discussed here by Oxford’s Professor Tim Whitmarsh) to modern Caribbean poetry. Martin Bernal himself has written the Afterword: here he links the ‘origins’ of Black Athena to the political climate that enabled the 1991 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

‘As a whole’, Dr Orrells explains, ‘this eclectic collection explores the impact of the modern African diaspora on Western notions of history and culture. It examines the role Bernal’s claim has played in European and American understandings of history, and in classical, European, American and Caribbean literary texts. African Athena examines the of intellectuals and literary writers who contest the white, Euro-American accounts of the classical past and of its influence on the present’.

Explore further: Best of Last Week – First map of hidden universe, pursuit of compact fusion and new clues about the causes of depression

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How British is 'Rule Britannia'?

Apr 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- It is seen by many as an unofficial British national anthem – but an Oxford University academic believes she has discovered that Rule Britannia was heavily influenced by Greek literature.

Rethinking the fall of Rome's republic

Nov 09, 2011

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon -- a river in northern Italy -- in 49 B.C., leading what was effectively his own personal army, he triggered a set of changes that resonated through the ancient world ...

Professor moves Greek texts, Arabic translations online

Mar 30, 2011

Long before the Italians rediscovered original Greek sources during the Renaissance, Arab scholars recognized the importance of ancient science and philosophy and began translating precious writings into Arabic. ...

Powerful words

Nov 09, 2011

Ancient manuscripts that hold important clues to India’s intellectual and religious traditions will be the focus of a new study.

Recommended for you

US company sells out of Ebola toys

Oct 17, 2014

They might look tasteless, but satisfied customers dub them cute and adorable. Ebola-themed toys have proved such a hit that one US-based company has sold out.

Social trust eroded in Chinese product-tampering incident

Oct 14, 2014

For about a decade, Chinese consumers weren't getting what they paid for when they purchased Wuchang, a special brand of gourmet rice that has a peculiar scent. The quality was being diluted when less expensive rice was aromatized, ...

The 2014 Nobel Prizes at a glance

Oct 13, 2014

(AP)—All winners of the 2014 Nobel Prizes have now been announced, starting with the medicine award a week ago and ending with the economics prize on Monday.

User comments : 0