‘Lay in Egypt's lap each borrowed crown’

Brian H. Murray

in African Athena

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199595006
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731464 | DOI:

Series: Classical Presences

‘Lay in Egypt's lap each borrowed crown’

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  • Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)


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In A Book of Beginnings (1881) the English poet and radical Gerald Massey (1828‐1907) combined the findings of evolutionary biology with his own comparative study of language and myth to argue that Egyptian religion and mythology were the roots of European civilisation. Massey's use of comparative philology and mythology has much in common with Martin Bernal's own methodology in Black Athena and fittingly Massey – who also insisted on treating Egypt as an indigenous African civilisation – has recently found a new audience among radical North American Afrocentrists. However, in stark contrast to the political context of later Afrocentrism, Massey was a colonial enthusiast who lauded the achievements of empire in his often jingoistic verse. The ideological gulf between Gerald Massey and his twentieth‐century African American appropriation demonstrates how strikingly similar Afrocentric discourses can arise from conflicting contexts and can be used for conflicting ends.

Keywords: Afrocentrism; Victorian poetry; jingoism; Central Africa; Egyptian religion; mythology; Martin Bernal; evolutionary biology; empire

Chapter.  6537 words. 

Subjects: Ancient History (Non-Classical, to 500 CE)

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