PRINT December 1989

Michele Oka Doner

By Martin Bernal, New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987–, vol. 1, The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785–1985, 575 pp.

The book that most impressed me this year I found late, after it had passed into paperback, but since it’s part of an ongoing series it seemed current enough to review. And its subject is certainly current, though it’s also ancient history. Martin Bernal’s political purpose is to “lessen European cultural arrogance.” According to Bernal, Greek history as we know it is far more recent than the ancient Greeks themselves: it was developed as late as the 1840s and ’50s by Aryan and English archaeologists. The work contends that Greek culture arose out of colonization, in around 1500 B.C., by the Egyptians and by the Semitic Phoenicians, who civilized the native inhabitants. It was only in the 19th-century, with the rise of the racist “Aryan Model,” that the African and Phoenician settlements were denied—a denial reinforced by the anti-Semitism of the 1890s and the 1920s and ’30s.

Bernal seeks the replacement of the Aryan Model by what he calls the Revised Ancient Model, which acknowledges that pre-Hellenic Greeks spoke an Indo-Hittite-related tongue. Ultimately, Bernal urges a reassessment of the fundamental bases of “Western Civilization” (his quotes), a reexamination of what we accept as scholarship, and a recognition of how racism and chauvinism penetrate all of our history.

The second volume of Bernal’s four-book work will be published this fall.

—Michele Oka Doner