African Origins of Greek and European Philosophy

Socrates and the Black Egyptian hypothesis

By Timeyin Oritsesan - 8th February 2017


Within Greek history, Socrates is hailed as a founding father of western philosophy and has been described as “the man who brought philosophy down from the heavens to earth” (Cicero 45BC). Socrates was known as the questioner of everything and everyone, using logic and reasoning to examine the world around him and how people ought to behave (History Channel 2015), hence the precept, “Know thyself” (Scott 2007). The most significant contribution that Socrates made was his unique method of investigation (known as the Socratic method). This would later evolve into the ‘Scientific Method’ – the dominant method used in schools everywhere, in which investigations begin with a hypothesis (Phillips 2001). However, a vast majority of people do not know that such wisdom was not the original work of Socrates but rather a black African man named Imhotep – “the world’s first recorded multi-genius” (Diop 1991).

Imhotep lived in the 4th dynasty between 2667BC and 2648BC. He was revered for his superior skills in architecture, physics, pharmacy, astronomy, poetry, mathematics and spiritual wisdom. He is also famed for inventing the pyramid during his tenure as the chief architect of Egyptian pharaoh, Djoser. Soon after he died, he became venerated as the god of medicine and wisdom. In Rome, some of the temples of emperors of the Roman Empire are even inscribed with praise to the god Imhotep (Russell 2014). In Greece, the image of this demi-god was literally white-washed as he became known as the god, Asciepius. However, his legacy continues to shine through in today’s popular culture in the form of the iconic Oscar award, which is said to be fashioned after his image (Ishan 2017).

Not only did Socrates appropriate work from Imhotep, he also admitted that he plagiarised the work of the Ethiopian philosopher, Aesop (560BC). It is now a known fact that Socrates spent 15 years studying in Kemet before coming back to Greece and rising to fame as a result of his new-found teachings (Moore 2008). In fact, between 700 and 300 BC, thousands of Europeans flocked to Africa to study because there was not much of anything to study in Europe (Van Sertima 1975). Greeks like Aristotle, Plato and Herodotus, have all attested to their African education as the source of their intellectual aptitude (Emin 2006, Diop 1991) and in effect, plagiarism. And what came out of this was a whole range of ideas which were reinvented as original European schools of thought. Some of the notables ones are “Pythagoras theorem”, the “Hippocratic Oath”, “Thales Axiom” as well as the aforementioned “Socratic Method”. However, these were all a part of the operative sciences, rhetoric and philosophy of the Ancient Kemetic educational and philosophical systems (Diop 1974).

Alexander “the great” was another Greek man that received an education from the priests of Kemet (James 1954). He was even a devoted worshipper of African deities (which would explain why he pilfered several artifacts and spiritual artworks from the ancient tombs during his conquest of the region (James 1954). Soon after Alexander’s death, the Roman Empire began to emerge as a political powerhouse. The Romans had been heavily influenced by their predecessors, inheriting much of the philosophies and religious practices from the Greeks, (James 1954), who in turn had misappropriated many of the same conceptions from Africa. Thus, it is no surprise that Alexander’s worship of the African goddess Aset spread into much of Rome, under the guise of the ‘Alexandrian mysteries [of Isis]’ (Diop 1987, 1991). This religious group later went on to gain much power and influence in the Vatican as well as many other institutions throughout Europe (Russell 2014). The worship of Isis and Heru (known as the ‘Son of God’) was very popular in ancient Rome and goes some way to explain the many statues of a black Isis, holding her black son Heru that you can still find around Europe today.

However, once Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Rome and throughout Europe, these statues were renamed ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’ and many were recreated in the likeness of Europeans (i.e. white skin). Nonetheless, some of the original statues have survived and can be found in Italy, France, Spain, and other European countries, depicting the authentic very dark-skinned woman and baby (the “Black Madonna and Christ”). They are the most authentic and sacred artefacts of early Roman Catholic culture and the continued worship of these artefacts by prominent catholic priests and members of the global Catholic Church speaks volumes about the importance and origins of these deities.

Indeed, many African deities were re-appropriated and given European names (Nantambu, 2017). For instance, the Greek god Zeus is actually a whitewashed version of the African god, Amun, also known as Jupiter by the Romans. Also, the African goddess Aset, who was mentioned above, was renamed Isis by the Greeks (Nantambu, 2017).

It may be surprising to note that the early Greeks and Romans were very open about crediting Africans for their newly acquired enlightenment. However relatively modern European scholars have not been so comfortable with this reality, going out of their way to conceal the overwhelming influence of ancient black culture in order to falsely lay claim to the title of initiators of human civilization (Clark 2008). Typically today, celebrated western ‘thinkers’, and school curriculums alike, make no mention whatsoever of Africa’s contributions to western civilisations (Van Sertima 1975).

Scholars from different schools of thought have put forth many reasons as to why Europeans have been so adamant in editing out the involvement of black Africans from history. One of the most obvious ones emerged around the 19th century, (tellingly) during the height of the colonial period. Many Europeans simply could not fathom that the people that they so successfully enslaved could possibly have had anything to do with Europe’s rise to intellectual and cultural greatness (Clark 2008). It was an inconvenient and economically unviable truth.

These morally bereft and false notions have been perpetuated through the ages and were even seized upon by the Nazis in the 1930s, in their attempts to claim Aryan (white) superiority (Van Sertima 1975). Thus, we can reasonably conclude that European racism (but also greed and maniacal narcissism) has had a lot to do with the successful re-appropriation and erasure of Ancient Kemetic culture in the origins of western thought.

Even on the rare occasions when full scale denial has not been tolerated, Europeans have still attempted to rebuff the idea that Kemet was the cultural ancestor of Ancient Greece and Rome by ludicrously propagating that the Ancient Kemetians were “white-skinned” or “tanned” (Asante 2004). Western intellectuals and other men of power during that time did everything possible to legitimise this fallacy as fact (Van Sertima 1975). They included the likes of Thomas Edison, George Washington, and the famous Nazi scientist, Eugen Fischer, who went as far as cutting off the heads of Namibian civilians and taking them back to Germany to “prove” the inferiority of African brains (Lewis-Stempel 2014). The very idea of the ‘mighty Egyptians’ being black was so highly refuted in mainstream academia, that it became known as the ‘Black Egyptian hypothesis’.

Thankfully, legendary scholars like Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophile Obenga went to great lengths to demonstrate that the Ancient Kemetians looked no different from any other black Africans, south of the Sahara (Asante 2002). Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop dedicated much of his life to pioneering a unique method of testing the levels of melanin in excavated mummies from the region formerly known as Ancient Kemet (Diop 1987). He also used linguistics, anthropology and history to demonstrate that the ancient Kemetians (Egyptians) were in fact black (Asante 2004). Ironically, as early as 300BC, Aristotle and many of the other early Greek scholars had themselves described the Kemetians as having “black skin with woolly hair” (Aristotle, Loveday 1913). In re-establishing this fact, the work of Cheikh Anta Diop signified a major turnaround in the study of world history.

In addition to this, and despite the destruction of the vast majority of historical records in Africa by foreign imperialists, the little that has been preserved by historians indicates that African empires and civilisations were major contributors to advancements in writing, mathematics, sciences, geometry, astronomy and other prized ‘achievements’ of classical antiquity (Diop 1987). In fact, there are many examples of irrefutable ‘firsts’ traced back to Kemet. One of the ground-breaking ones is papyrus, or as we now commonly know it, paper.

Unfortunately many of us are not aware of Dr Diop’s momentous reversal of the general consensus about Africans, or of these incredible contributions to modern day inventions and systems. It is therefore perhaps worth examining how these false notions have persisted through the ages.

A large part of the blame must lie with Africans and the trust and dependence we have placed in Europeans to educate us. This mis-education seems to have begun under the forceful hand of colonialism and transatlantic slavery. Of course, we must acknowledge that education in itself is not negative, but we perhaps need to question the underlying goals of European educators in relation to Africans – it seems to be the maintenance of white supremacy systems (Quist-Adade, Royal 2016).

It is the same white supremacy that has perniciously nurtured a lack of awareness amongst Africans of Africa’s rich ancestry, knowledge and culture. It is therefore not by chance that one of the greatest falsifications in world history (the idea of Africans as mere slave labourers) continues to have an adverse effect on the psyche of black people across the globe (Van Sertima 1975).

In an ideal world, the European worldview would not be the only approach deemed worthy of legitimacy, and we should not be ignorant to the wealth of knowledge that originates from other cultures and groups (Ani 1994). This amalgamation of ideas and sources gives the credit due for the various cultures which have made significant contributions to human advancement, none more so than the pioneering Africans from antiquity. Unfortunately, global white supremacy/racism continues to snub these ‘other’ offerings in favour of its own fabricated and exaggerated claims of brilliance.

However, we as Africans must never forget that the discoveries and accomplishments birthed on our vastly rich African continent are too numerous to exhaustively list, not just in Kemet, but also in other flourishing empires such as Sudan (2000-1000BC), Ethiopia (100BC-1000AD), Ghana (6th – 13th century), Songhai (14th – 16th century), Mali (13th century), Benin (15th – 19th century), and of course, the Stone and Iron Age of ‘Great Zimbabwe’ (11th to 14th century).

Let us therefore use these examples to instil a sense of racial pride within us. Let us utilise this abundant wealth of creativity, innovation and intellectual advancement as blueprints in our quest for liberty and the revival of glories past.

Timeyin Oritsesan

Timeyin is a writer and independent researcher for The Centre of Pan-African Thought. She holds a degree in International Business with a minor in Economics from Florida International University . She also holds a Masters degree in the Political Economy of Development (with special reference to Africa) from SOAS University in London.

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