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The Fabrication of Ancient Greece - An Interview with Martin Bernal - by Walter Cohen 2/9

So much for the decline of the Ancient model. What comes next?

During the late 1830s and into the 1840s the Aryan model was introduced. Though the fall of the Ancient model took place for purely externalist reasons, the rise of the Aryan one had a large internalist component: scholars recognized the existence of the Indo-European language family, of people who once spoke a proto Indo-European language, and, plausibly, of a homeland north of
Greece for these people.

So the Aryan model required a prior erasure of the Egyptians but not the Phoenicians?

By the 1880s there was an effort to remove even the Phoenicians. The paroxysm of anti-Semitism came after 1917, with the identification of the Russian Revolution with Jews. This affected the historiography of ancient Greece and led to what I call the extreme Aryan model. I have set up two subcategories—the broad Aryan model, which claims, "Egyptians, no; Phoenicians, maybe"; and the extreme Aryan model, which says, "Egyptians, no; Phoenicians, no. Just Greeks. And the northern influence on Greece."

In the 1950s some secular Jewish scholars argued, "One must think in terms of common Mediterranean cultures in the second millennium B.C." I like to believe that the Holocaust shocked classicists. But I think the establishment of Israel as a bastion of the Western world and the accompanying incorporation of Jewish culture in the "Judeo-Christian" tradition had a greater effect. Furthermore, the military triumphs of Israel meant that the Greek traditions of Phoenician conquest no longer seemed absurd. Thus, I believe that we are returning to the broad Aryan model. But I advocate what I call the revised Ancient model, which is my absorption of a few elements from later scholarship, notably the Indo-European nature of the Greek language, into the Ancient model.

And the subsequent volumes of Black Athena?

They develop the revised Ancient model. I have treated archaeology in the second volume. That leaves language for volume three and mythology for volume four. Would you summarize the revised Ancient model? The revised Ancient model sees Indo-European as a subset of a larger family called Indo-Hittite, which includes all the European languages plus the Anatolian languages, of which Hittite is the best-known example. Indo-Hittite languages spread into the Aegean from Anatolia with the introduction of agriculture. Then this culture moved into the Balkans, and the language of the Balkan civilization of the late sixth-early fifth millennium was Indo-Hittite. The steppe cultures of the fourth millennium also spoke Indo-Hittite. It's in those areas that Indo-European in the narrow sense develops as the language of a culture which was both agricultural and nomadic, in the area that's now the Ukraine.

And that culture became Indo-European by deviating over time in its language from that of the Anatolian homeland?

Yes. All Indo-European languages derive from this language or cluster of dialects that disintegrated in the fourth and early third millennia. That language spread by migration in the third millennium. Probably it reached mainland Greece—not Crete—in the later third mellennium. So Greek is an Indo-European language.

What of Crete?

By around 2000 B.C. it had a distinctive and mixed culture, but the religion had a largely Egyptian base and the language was probably Semitic. In the late eighteenth century B.C., there's an irruption in southwest Asia of the Hyksos movements, which had a Hurrian, possibly Indo-Aryan (eastern Indo-European) core, but was essentially a Semitic movement into Egypt.

Does that mean Semitic in numerical majority or leadership?

Semitic in numerical majority and in the bulk of the leadership. The analogy that I would draw here is the invasion of the western empire in the fifth century A.D., in which Huns and Turks had some role, but the essential component was Germanic. The Germans had always been on the Roman frontier, so the main cultural influence in France and Spain was Germanic. Similarly, I think the predominant influences entering Egypt at this time were Semitic. These barbarians then took to the sea. I believe the Hyksos, now largely Semitic in speech and Egyptian in higher culture, conquered or set up a hegemony over Crete. This extraordinary, eclectic material culture was pushed onto mainland Greece, where a cosmopolitan, stratified society arose. The predominant cultural flow was clearly from the southeast, from developed and sophisticated civilizations. But what hit Greece was very heavily Cretanized.

The Hyksos culture when it reached Greece is what we call Mycenaean culture?

That's right. I think it survived in Greece for five hundred years because there was no indigenous high culture to reassert itself. Is the main borrowing of Egyptian and Semitic words into Greek from this period, or is that just the beginning? The main period is the seventeenth century. Egyptian was then the "Latin" of the eastern Mediterranean, and therefore sophisticated terms tended to be Egyptian. The majority of place names, of divine names are Egyptian rather than Semitic. I don't want to push this too far, but to draw an analogy with the
Norman Conquest, Egyptian is Latin and Semitic is Norman French.

And Greek is English.

Exactly. But it is also evident from the phonetic changes that took place in the various languages that there were repeated introductions of the same word—a pattern seen very clearly in Japanese, where Chinese loans made at different stages sound very different. But in the Japanese case you just get a series of different pronunciations of the same character.

Here you re describing material from volume three of Black Athena, which is in the works.

It's in the works, with some time off. I'm trying to write a popular version, a straightforward textbook, with little historiography, one that is accessible to freshmen and sophomores. It will span the origins of Egypt to Alexander the Great and will be based partly on articles I've written on the origins of thepolis and notions of freedom. I place the Greek idea of freedom in its Near Eastern context and, developing the conventional belief that freedom as an important value is introduced with "slave society," I argue that "slave society," and the notion of freedom both originate in Phoenicia rather than Greece.

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