History Whitened Out: Part III - How High School World History Classes Continue To Get It Wrong And
"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."
Sir Isaac Newton
Before it was burned down by a fanatical mob the Library of Alexandria was one of, if not the greatest library in the ancient world. The library was located in Egypt, but it was created by Greeks who ruled over Egypt after Alexander the Great's invasion. After her defeat Egypt soon became incorporated into the Hellenistic Empire. Out of all the places the Greeks could have chosen to build a library it is interesting to note that the Greeks chose Egypt.
It was probably most certainly their choice because the Greeks viewed Egypt as a place of ancient wisdom and mystery. In fact the Library of Alexandria though a Greek creation was most likely made up of Egyptian wisdom stored in the thousands of papyrus scrolls kept there. The Library of Alexandria is very symbolic of Greece's relationship with Ancient Egypt and Africa at large because Greek scholarship was based on an earlier African foundation.
Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop has shown in his book The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality that the Greeks always viewed the Egyptians as a non European civilization who they were indebted too. It was the Greek "Father of History" Herodotus who described the Egyptians has being "black with wooly hair."
Herodotus was not alone in linking Egypt to the rest of Africa the philosopher Aristotle in his work Physiognomy noted that the Egyptians and Ethiopians had similar skin tones. Another Greek historian Diodorus upon visiting Africa recorded stories of how the Egyptians were once a colony created by Ethiopians. The ancient Hebrews much like the Greeks also associated Ancient Egypt with other parts of Africa. In Genesis Noah's son Ham gives birth to not only Egypt rendered in the Hebrew as Mizraim, but Egypt was brothers with Kush and Punt countries that most scholars believe correspond to Ancient Nubia and Somalia.
The Greeks considered Egypt the center of wisdom and learning, in much the same way students around the world flock to the Ivy League Universities of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in order to learn from the best, so too did the Ancient Greeks travel to Egypt to study at the feet of the Egyptian priesthood at the temple of Heliopolis. It is said that Thales the first person in Greece to be known as a philosopher studied in Egypt. It is also said that the blind Greek philosopher Plato who operated a school from which we get the word academy, and was the mentor of Aristotle lived and studied in Egypt for a time. Pythagoras known today as the "Father of Mathematics" and is famous for his so-called "Pythagorean Theorem" is said to have studied in Egypt for 21 years. It must be stated that the Egyptians seem to have been well aware of the "Pythagorean Theorem" even before Pythagoras. Strangely enough it is encoded in their pyramids, structures that were built thousands of years before Pythagoras was born.
It is often mentioned by many New Age and African-centered writers that the Ancient Egyptians shrouded their knowledge in mystery only known to initiats, and that the Greek students of the Egyptians were the first to bring this knowledge out into the open wrongly getting credited for theories they did not invent.
The Greek doctor Hippocrates is often given the title "The Father of Medicine" and it is his words from the Hippocratic Oath "First do no harm" that medical students must familiarize themselves with; however most high school students are not made aware that the history of medicine in Egypt precedes that of the Greeks by thousands of years.
Imhotep is recorded as one of the first multi-talented geniuses, who gets credit for not only building the worlds first pyramid, but was also a doctor who diagnosed and treated more than 200 diseases. In fact the Greeks worshipped Imhotep as a god in the form of Asclepius. Homer the blind Greek poet wrote in his Odyssey speaking on Egyptian medicine "here dwell the men who excel in skill all other men." Homer's words seem to match the archaeological finds on the ground. Some of the oldest medical treaties ever discovered such as the Ebers and Edwin Smith Papyrus, as well as the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus were first discovered in Egypt. These medical text precede Hippocrates and Galen by thousands of years.
The famous symbol of medicine itself known as the caduceus symbolized by a snake wrapped around a rod was held by both the Greek and Roman gods Hermes and Mercury, but upon further examination was first held by the Egyptian gods Thoth and Imhotep. The irony of the symbol of medicine being an African symbol should be lost on no one, and yet we continue to have ignorant statements like the ones spoken by Rep. Steve King about how Europeans are the only ones who contributed to Western Civilization.
Herodotus the Greek historian that was mentioned earlier claimed that the Greeks even borrowed the gods themselves from the Egyptians he says "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 most likely that it was from Egypt, for the names of all of the gods have been known in Egypt from the beginning of time." The psychologist Sigmund Freud credited the Egyptians for being the first monotheist under their pharaoh Akhenaton. Though the Egyptians are known as famous polytheist under Akhenaton that would all change. Akhenaton taught the Egyptians to worship one god before the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Freud even noted in his rarely read book "Moses and Monotheism" that the Egyptians were the first to not eat pork, even before Jews and Muslims, and this was because they associated the pig with the evil god Set. Western Civilization is truly indebted to many non-European cultures, it seems as though culture and religion all have a way of blending into each other. Elements of death and rebirth that can be found in the Egyptian mythology of the god Osiris and the goddess Isis can also be found in both Greek and Roman culture as well. The myth of Osiris which is the first recorded story about a dead resurrected savior king was blended into the Greek and Roman story of Dionysus/Bacchus. Chronology is important here, so lets not have the cart pull the horse, for the Egyptian story of death and resurrection preceded the Greek version.
Eurocentric historians often forget that one comes before two, or maybe they don't want to remember. The Greeks would then add their own attributes and names onto the much older Egyptian gods as Herodotus stated. Not only was the West influenced by Egyptian math, medicine, and religion, but architecture as well. Egyptian architecture like the columns found at Imhotep's temple at Saqqara as well as those found at the mindboggling Karnak predate and influenced those found at the Parthenon in Greece. Of course the Parthenon would go on to inspire the governmental buildings in Washington D.C.
Independent historian Anthony Browder has shown us the influence that Ramesses II's Temple at Abu Simbel on the border of Nubia had on the Lincoln Memorial. It is known that Freemasonic architects in the United States and Europe would borrow heavily from Egyptian architectural concepts, but not only for the aesthetic value, but the spiritual concepts that go into building monuments and architecture as well.
Of course it needs to be mentioned that Egypt was never the real name for the country that name was given to it by the Greeks. The country was known by many names, but primarily the "Egyptians" called their country Kemet which translated means Black Land, or some say Land of the Blacks. I feel it is interesting for students to note that when the Arabs conquered Egypt they were amazed at the knowledge and mystery that they discovered there and named this new science alchemy. Alchemy is a translation of the word Kemet it essentially means "science of the black land." Today from the word alchemy we get the word chemistry, but I'm sure Rep. Steve King is not aware.
The ancient world always knew the role Africa played in civilization and had no problem acknowledging it. Black Athena author Martin Bernal mentioned that it was common for the older Greek tradition to give credit for their development to the much older Egyptian culture. In fact Howard University professor Frank Snowden has wrote much about the lack of color prejudice the Greeks had. What happened to make attitudes change? Why has the narrative changed from one of cultural diffusion and blending of cultures to one of isolation and exceptionalism? According to Bernal it was the rise of 19th century racism that coincided with a need to justify slavery and imperialism. This was followed by a sort of historical amnesia that developed into a kind of racial chauvinism that could be heard parroted by the likes of Iowa Congressman Steve King.
It is easy to forget the role indigenous people played in bringing civilization to the world when they are being ruled over; however, its hard to erase the evidence away when an Egyptian Sphinx with its "negroid" face complete with a prognathic jawline stares back at you with a haunting gaze as to say "history wont let you forget."
Hopefully in the future a newer approach to history will be embraced by the public schools. High school classes especially in New Jersey will start to cover World History in a more complete way with textbooks showing interconnections between Europe, Africa, and the East. Connections that go beyond slavery, colonialism, and mercantilism. This new approach will show students of color that they are contributors to civilization not just beneficiaries of it. In Part IV we will highlight the much overlooked role Islam, African Moors, and the East played in bringing civilization to a struggling Middle Age Europe, helping to ignite the European Renaissance.
James W. Loewen. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. 1995. Touchstone.
Cheikh Anta Diop. The African Origin Of Civilization: Myth Or Reality. 1974. Lawrence Hill Books.
Anthony Browder. Nile Valley Contribution to Civilization. 1992. IKG.
Robert Bauval. Imhotep The African: Architect Of The Cosmos. 2013. Disinformation.
Martin Bernal. Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots Of Classical Civilization. 1987. Rutgers University Press.
Toby Wilkinson. Genesis Of The Pharaohs: Dramatic New Discoveries Rewrite The Origins Of Ancient Egypt. 2003. Thames and Hudson.
Ivan Van Sertima. Golden Age Of The Moor. 1996. Transaction Publishers.
John M. Hobson. The Eastern Origins Of Western Civilization. 2004. Cambridge University Press.
Jonathan Lyons. The House Of Wisdom: How The Arabs Transformed Western Civilization. 2009. Bloomsbury Press.