Classical civilisation, Martin Bernal argues, has deep roots in Afro-Asiatic cultures. But these Afro-Asiatic influences have been systematically ignored, denied, or suppressed since the eighteenth century - chiefly for racist reasons.
The popular view is that Greek civilisation was the result of the conquest of a sophisticated but weak native population by vigorous Indo-European speakers--or Aryans--from the North. But the Classical Greeks, Bernal argues, knew nothing of this "Aryan model." They did not see their political institutions, science, philosophy, or religion as original, but rather as derived from the East in general, and Egypt in particular.
Black Athena is a three-volume work. Volume 1 concentrates on the crucial period between 1785 and 1850, which saw the Romantic and racist reaction to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and the consolidation of Northern expansion into other continents.
In an unprecedented tour de force, Bernal makes meaningful links between a wide range of areas and disciplines--drama poetry, myth, theological controversy, esoteric religion, philosophy, biography, language, historical narrative, and the emergence of "modern scholarship."
His account is as gripping a tale of scholarly detection and discovery as one could hope to find -- Margaret Drabble * Observer *
Bernal makes an exotic interloper in Classical studies. He comes to them with two outstanding gifts: a remarkable flair for the sociology - perhaps one should say politics - of knowledge, and a formidable linguistic proficiency... The 'fabrication' of Ancient Greece...will never pass as a natural identity again * Guardian *
The value of the book lies in his massive and meticulous demonstration of how scholarly views of the past are moulded (and repeatedly modified) by the changing political environment in which scholars pass their lives... Black Athena is certainly a stimulus to thought * London Review of Books *
Has the virtues of force, clarity, wealth of ideas and a voracious intellectual curiosity * Times Higher Educational Supplement *
A swashbuckling foray into the very heart of racist, Eurocentric historiography... Already one can hear the knives being sharpened against Bernal * City Limits *
Martin Bernal is Professor Emeritus of Government Studies at Cornell University, specialising in ancient African civilisations and origins of Western civilisations. He was educated at Darrington and King's College, Cambridge, where he was a research fellow and tutor. He has published widely on modern Chinese history.