Not Out of Africarnby Mary LefkowitzrnIf radical Afrocentrists have their way, soon all schoolchildrenrnwill learn—as some are now learning—a version of ancientrnMediterranean history that gives credit for the Greek achievementrnto the ancient Egyptians. The Afrocentrists contend thatrnwhat most people have learned about the origins of Westernrncivilization is untrue. According to them, the ancient historyrnwe ha’e studied is a concatenation of racist lies designed to preventrnthe world from knowing the true extent of the Africanrncontribution.rnThe notion of a conspiracy of European historians allowsrnAfrocentrists to make other specific claims about the past.rnThey insist that the Greek people have African origins, and thatrnAesop, Socrates, Hannibal, Terence, and Gleopatra did as well.rnEven more importantlv, they assert that Greek philosophy wasrnEgyptian philosophy, that after studying in Egypt, the Greekrnphilosophers returned home and passed off what they hadrnlearned as original contributions of their own. In particular,rnthey contend that Aristotle went to Egypt with Alexander, stolernbooks from the Alexandrian Library, and put his name onrnthem.rnHow true are these claims? It is relatively easy to show thatrnmost of them are false, supported bv assertions about possibilitiesrnrather than evidence. For example, the claim that Socratesrnhad African ancestors is based entirely on the fact that he isrnshown with thickish lips and a snub nose in portrait sculptures.rnMary Lefkowitz is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in thernHumamties at Wellesley College. She is coeditor of BlackrnAthena Revisited, a collection of essays (University ofrnNorth Carolina Press) and author of Not Out of Africa,rna history of the Afrocentric myth of antiquity (Basic Books);rnboth hooks will be published in spring 1996.rnBut these features are hardly exclusive to people of Africanrndescent. And certainlv the comic poets would never havernstopped teasing him about his foreign origins, if he had hadrnany. Greeks, and especially Athenians, were always somewhatrnsuspicious of people from outside their own city-states, stillrnmore of foreigners.rnThe idea that Cleopatra was black is also based on conceivablernpossibility. No one knows the identity of her paternalrngrandmother, who was her grandfather’s mistress. Because herrnfamily always associated with other Greeks, everyone has alwaysrnassumed that this unknown woman was Greek, either slave orrnfree. If she had not been Greek, someone would have certainlyrnpointed it out.rnThe claim about Aristotle is even more insubstantial. DidrnAristotle really steal his philosophy from Egypt? Until relativelyrnrecently, no one ever thought so. What, after all, was thernevidence to support such an assertion? No ancient writerrnthought that Aristotle ever went to Egypt, or had much contactrnwith Alexander after he left Macedonia. Also, how couldrnAristotle have stolen his books from the library of Alexandria?rnHe died in 322 B.C., and the library was not assembled untilrnat least 20 years after his death.rnThere is no reason to assume that the Egyptians had muchrninfluence on Greek religion or Greek philosophy, until somerntime after 300 B.C., after the Macedonian Greeks had conqueredrnEgypt and after the deaths of both Plato and Aristode.rnAfter the Greeks and Egyptians had coexisted for some centuries,rnGreek writers became more familiar with Egyptianrnmythology and religion. But even then they seemed to understandrnonly those aspects of Egyptian belief that correspondedrnmost closely to their own ideas of the universe, and thevrnexpressed themselves in the abstract vocabulary developed bvrnSEPTEMBER 1995/17rnrnrn