Image of the Week: Learn about this bust of Memnon, protégé of the Athenian philosopher Herodes Atticus.
This marvelous bust is one of the very few documents of an actual black person from Greek and Roman antiquity. Memnon was a pupil and protégé of the well-known Athenian entrepreneur and philosopher Herodes Atticus.
It was found more than a century ago in one of several villas owned by Herodes, and it adds a face to the name of the person recorded by Philostratus in his Lives of the Sophists, an account of the famous philosophers of the second century.
The exact circumstances of Memnon's entry into this celebrated milieu are unknown, but there is no doubt about the esteem in which he was held. He was given the sobriquet "Memnon" in reference to the Ethiopian ally of the Trojans in Homer's Iliad. Philostratus and other sources record the extreme grief manifested by Herodes upon the early death of Memnon.
The ancient Mediterranean has long been home to Africans. In ancient Greece Africans figured prominently into many aspects of society and contact between the two groups was frequent. Black types can be found as early as Minoan Crete and are mentioned frequently in later Grecian writings. The Greek historian Herodotus stated, "Almost all of the names of the gods came into Greece from Egypt...The Egyptians were the first to introduce solemn assemblies, processions, and litanies to the gods, all of which the Greeks were taught to use." The relationship of several Greek deities to African deities has long been noted. Examples include the following: Athena to Neith; Hermes to Thoth; Hesphatus to Ptah. It is also Herodotus who tells us of the legend which lists the Egyptian king Sewosret (Seosteris I, II, or III) as the colonizer of Greece and founder of Athens. Alexander the Great, like many of his fellow Greeks, had a great respect for African religion. After his conquest of Egypt, he sought the advice of the oracle of the African god Amen. Thereafter he denounced his own father, Phillip of Macedonia, and proclaimed himself the son of Amen. He even went so far as to have his body buried in the Egyptian city he built for himself, Alexandria. Here he is pictured wearing the ram horns of Amen on a silver coin dated around 300BC. (Photo and Information courtesy of Black Spark, White Fire by Michael Poe, Blacks in Antiquity by Frank Snowden, and Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization by Anthony T. Browder)
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