• Print

‘Black Athena’

In response to:

Who Are These Coming to the Sacrifice? from the June 15, 1989 issue

To the Editors:

Professor Griffin’s review of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena [NYR, June 15] makes me think that Professor Griffin can hold his tongue more firmly in his cheek, and for a longer time, than I ever could: he is so mild, and tolerant, of what seems a wild case of misplaced enthusiasm that I worry whether his best point might be missed: the rivalry and phthonos of the Greeks and the “useful” existence of Egypt as an exotic, and proverbially mysterious (though not far-distant) bit of monkey-business with which to deride Greek rivals. I might only add a footnote (a guess), namely that Egypt was to some extent a fairly humorous reference in all the rivalries and careerist back-chatting, on the order of using the Persian city of Ekbatana as a kind of humorous Acapulco proverbial for luxury.

Douglas J. Stewart
Brandeis University
Waltham, Massachussetts

Jasper Griffin replies:

The idea of Egypt as a joke place is attractive, but I suspect that allusions to Egypt were more like the allusions to Zen Buddhism or Indian mysticism that crop up nowadays when people are trying to be vaguely impressive.