Hybrid Fabrications versus Greek Originality

The Guardian was beaming with confidence this July 11 announcing Tim Whitmarsh’s edited book, The Romance Between Greece and the East, as a major breakthrough in scholarship recasting the ancient Greek world “from an isolated entity to one of many hybrid cultures in Africa and in the East”. Whitmarsh’s book is framed along the same lines as Martin Bernal’s earlier attempt in Black Athena (1989) to place the origins of Greece in Africa and the Semitic Near East. Whitmarsh’s calls the argument that the Greeks owed their brilliance to themselves, their own ethnicity as Indo-Europeans, a “massive cultural deception”.

In our Western world of immigrant multiculturalism any idea which attributes to Greeks, Romans, medieval Christians or modern Europeans any achievement — without including as co-partners the Moslems, Africans and Orientals — is designated as a massive deception. The scholarship promoted by our current elites demands a view in which Europeans don’t exist except as hybrids, borrowers, and imitators.  But the historical and archeological evidence adduced by Whitmarsh and multiculturalists in general never goes beyond showing that there were connections between the Greeks (or Europeans generally) and their neighbours. They have an easy time showing what many have shown before, that the Greek mainland was connected to the Mediterranean world via trade, travelling, colonizing activities, and the residence of some Greeks outside Greece.

They also repeat as new discoveries what European scholars had already started showing in the eighteenth century, that ancient Greece was preceded by Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations and that the Indo-Europeans who arrived in the Greek mainland and established the Mycenaean civilization in the early second millennium borrowed some basic civilizational tools from these older civilizations, including some mythological motifs and the alphabet from the Phoenicians.  From these general borrowings, and without even caring to understand the unique world out of which the Mycenaeans came, a world which originated in the steppes and was characterized by horse riding, chariot fighting, aristocratic liberalism, and an ethos of heroism, which was vividly captured in the Homeric epics of the eighth century (an ethos utterly absent in the Epic of Gilgamesh), the multicultics rush to conclude that the achievements of the archaic and classical Greeks — such as Pindar, Sophocles, Thucydides, Aeschylus, Anaxagoras, Anaximander, Euripides, Thales, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle — were “hybrid” achievements. 

In order to persuade their audience that there is more to these obvious connections (which older scholars never denied), Whitmarsh et al. then wrapped their plain facts with a postmodernist package with neon signs flashing “dialogue,” “intertwining”, “multivoiced conversations,” “polyglossia,” “the arts of cultural mediation,” “deep intercultural understanding .” How would a student deny these “deep” words; indeed, how can anyone be as harsh as to disagree with such a peaceful image of Greeks conversing with Africans and Semites and thereby creating a culture by and for humanity?  Whitmarsh admits as much: “In a way, what we are saying is modish, it’s multicultural, it’s a model almost resembling the internet projected back on to the ancient world.”

He adds:

There is a strongly political dimension to the kind of claim I am making, and you would probably find that most people who were pushing for a very hybridised vision of the Greek world would … be naturally more left-leaning and have their own idealised view of the ancient world as a place of opportunity and hybridisation.

Whitmarsh insists that this multiculti vision projected onto the past fits with “the archaeological data.” Although I have not read his book, there is nothing in this review, not an iota of evidence and even logic that substantiates his thesis. The review mentions, as an example of Greek hybridity and borrowing, the fact that Herodotus was born in Asia Minor in a city named Halicarnassus  — “a city that during the Persian wars was part of the Persian Achaemenid empire, ruled by Queen Artemisia, herself half Halicarnassian and half Cretan.” From this meager observation about a hybrid ruler of a city, we are then asked to conclude that the “father of history” was a hybrid himself! As if unsure of his footing, Whitmarsh begs the question:  “Herodotus’s The Histories is a predominantly Greek-voiced text, but that doesn’t mean that we should quieten all the other voices that can be detected within it.”

This is pure posturing, manipulation, and fraud. The importance of Herodotus is not only that  he was the first to write a historical account based on the systematic collection of sources available at the time, but that he produced the first ethnographical account of the customs, lifestyle, and myths of other people. Here we have a Greek showing objectivity, interest, and real appreciation of non-Greeks. Rather than mention these virtues, the multicultics of today have nothing to say beyond interpreting his work as hybrid and borrowed. The fact that he exhibited an ethnographic interest is interpreted by them as an indication that he is a hybrid rather than as an example of a uniquely Greek trait to show open curiosity for other cultures. Then they have the nerve to accuse the admirers of Herodotus of being promoters of a self-contained view of the Greeks, when it is the other way around; we admire him because he was unique both as a historian and as an ethnographer. This duplicitous manner of reasoning is being inflicted on our students across the West at the highest levels of academia, with the support of governments and the media!

The review mentions “another culturally hybrid work…a story that recasts the Macedonian conqueror [Alexander the Great] as secretly Egyptian, so the story of his annexation of Egypt becomes one not of conquest but of the return of pharaonic rule.” Whitmarsh says that this story “is forged in a very distinctive culture in which there are Greeks and Egyptians working together. And it tells the story of Alexander the Great in Egyptian-friendly terms.” In this context Whitmarsh says: “What if what we think of as the classical world has been falsely invented as European.” In other words, what if we think that Alexander was an Egyptian and that his conquest of Egypt was a friendly return by a native to his original homeland? The older view that he was a Greek Macedonian was “invented”, after all.  Therefore, not just “what if,” but let us argue that the “archeological record” actually supports this view of Alexander as more correct and more suitable to the transformation of England into an immigrant nation.

Whitmarsh is quite open that “in this story of interconnectedness and hybridity…there lie enormous intellectual and humanist opportunities.” He says:

There are three million Muslims in Britain, many of them learning an ancient language already. There’s no reason why, in 50 years’ time, undergraduate courses shouldn’t be packed with people studying Arabic and Greek culture side by side. Of course, this already exists in a limited way, but it’s not a cultural phenomenon at the moment and these worlds mostly exist entirely separately, but it seems to me there’s nothing natural in that.

The Greeks cannot be seen separately from the Near East because that view does not fit an England filled with Moslems “studying Arabic and Greek culture side by side”. Because of this contemporary political agenda, the ancient Greek world must be seen as having emerged together with the Near East “side by side”.

One of the discursive strategies Whitmarsh and all multicultics employ in advancing this idea of interconnections is to create a false polarity according to which those who believe in Greek originality are automatically designated as holding a view of ancient Greece “as continuous, organic, hermetically sealed from outside influence”. This is a wilful attempt to mislead students and the public at large. Classical scholars have never written that Greece owed nothing to the Near East. Burckhardt, like many others since, was plainly aware of the material tradition that the Greeks inherited from outside. The Greeks “themselves,” he wrote, “did not generally begrudge other nations their inventions and discoveries.”[1] Western civilization textbooks have always started with Mesopotamia and Egypt, just to teach students that Greece was not a self-made civilization. What, then, is bone of contention? It is that multicultic historians want to go beyond claims of borrowings to argue that Greece was not original at all. They refuse to let their brains contemplate the thought that admittance of Greek originality does not preclude acknowledgment of debts to earlier civilizations.

What troubles Whitmarsh et al. is the undeniable reality of Greek originality, way above anything ever seen in the East to this day. How can this originality be squared with the multicultural egalitarianism which is now mandated, under penalty of censure and ostracism, in all public institutions in Britain? Let’s trample upon the historical record, confound the issues, misinform the students, so long as we can abide by the dictates of immigrant multiculturalism.

Whitmarsh et al. are so caught up inside the complacent blind box of diversity = egalitarianism that they cannot even fathom a simple question: If Greece was connected to the East and presumably the East was connected to Greece, why did all the achievements happen in Greece rather than throughout the Mediterranean? Beyond the Greeks, if Europeans were connected, as other historians now say as well about every creative epoch in Europe’s history — the Scholastic Age, the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, Scientific Revolution(s), Military Revolution(s), Cartographic Revolution, Enlightenment,  the Romantic Era, Industrial Revolution  —  why do all these achievements always happen in Europe? Why are Eastern cultures and multicultics always piggy backing on Europe’s achievements rather than the East’s own in order to show that it was all about connections?

Don’t expect them to pose these questions. Whitmarsh’s book is part of a decades-old effort to create an academic culture in which European students are thoroughly acculturated to forget the accomplishments of their ancestors while being readied to remember the amorphous make-believe achievements of a hybridized humanity imposed from above by corporations seeking cheap docile workers and by liberals seeking docile students accustomed to Orwellian doublespeak.

[1] Jacob Burckhardt. 1958 [1898] The Greeks and Greek Civilization. (St. Martin’s Press), p. 136.