Egyptian Influence On Greece. How much?

Jan 2016
385
Ohio
#1
I was recently talking about Egyptian influence on Greek Philosophy and this got me thinking.

Ive heard talk, which may be all it is, that once we learn more of Egyptian creation mythology, the similarities between it and Greece's will be more prevalent.

So ultimately my question is,

How much do you think the Egyptians influenced Greece as a whole? The same way Greece influenced Rome? Far less? Not sure yet?

Were the Egyptians "teachers" of the Greeks in terms of science, mathematics, etc.

It may be possible we simply aren't sure, Ive really just recently delved into Egyptian History, so not sure how many sources and evidence we have to draw a good comparison.
 
Mar 2012
2,344
#2
Greeks learned almost everything about about art and architecture from the Egyptians. Mathematics is less certain, although they probably learned from both Egypt and the Middle East. There is nothing in Egyptian texts to indicate that they learned anything of their philosophy from Egypt.

The gods have nothing to do with it, and all that comes from an incorrect line from Herodotus in which he says that the Greek gods mirror the Egytpian. They don't in any way.

You are basically talking about the Black Athena debate. I don't dismiss Black Athena at all, and encourage everyone to check it out. I read volume 1, and use it as a springboard to read the Suppliants, The Golden Ass, etc. I of course already read Herodotus.

The problem with Bernal's evidences are that they aren't evidences. Herodotus was a fifth century BCE Greek who could neither speak nor read Egyptian, and judging by his "observations," probably never went to Egypt. His other sources, The Hermes Trismegistus writings, the Golden Ass, etc. are all common era. Evidence would be an Egyptian text that mirrors Greek philosophy, and there is not one extant to site. Some try to pass the Book of the Dead of as some sort of secret philosophical code, but of course, it isn't.

I say keep an open mind. The Greeks were proud to have learned from the Egyptians, but how much is a question that may never be answered, and if so, only through future archaeological discoveries.
 
Likes: Zanis
Aug 2010
15,655
Welsh Marches
#3
If I may repeat previous posts of mine:

What the Greeks, especially the early Greeks, say about Egypt and Egyptian culture has to be interpreted with some care, since much it is very fanciful, little more than myth-making about a land of ancient wisdom. Rather like trying to gain a knowledge of more recent Middle Eastern culture by relying on the writings of Gudjieff, or of NE Africa by reading King Solomon's Mines. As with the Mesopotamian cultures, the Egyptians seem to have had a tradition of practical moral thought and a related 'wisdom literaure', but not of philosophical reflection.

On Bernal:

I read it (or at least read some parts and skimmed through others) a long time ago; a good deal of misplaced learning, often based on etmologies, over-literal interpreation of mythical traditions and that kind of thing. If I may repeat a former post of mine: "Bernal's treatment of myth would on its own prevent me from being able to take him seriously. He doesn't seem to realize that the the mythical genealogies are totally artificial creations, and give no indication whatever about the origins of the relevant Greek peoples; and if one were going to take them seriously as history, one would have to trace the origin of all the lines back to Greece itself, since even the branches that are placed in Egypt in the East were supposed to have originated in Greece. 'Black Athena' was published over 20 years ago now and has had virtually no influence on mainstream scholarship, one never sees it cited in specialist works relating to the various fields that it covers, not because people oppose his general theory (i.e. have an opposing agenda), but because they don't take the specific supporting arguments seriously. They are simply not illuminating."

I contrasted his lack of influence (except in specifically Afrocentric circles) with the extensive influence that has been exerted by Walter Burkert and M.L West who have also been concerned with foreign influences on Greek culture from the East. " The publications of Burkert and West about Eastern influences on Greek literature, religion and thought are solid and original contributions to classical scholarship, and have changed the way in which many issues are viewed. They are constantly cited in the scholarly literature (by contrast to those of Bernal), which is sufficient in itself to show that the views of Bernal and similar 'Afrocentrists' are not rejected because classical scholars have any objection in principle to the idea that Egypt and the East had a considerable influence on Greek culture."
 
Jan 2016
385
Ohio
#4
Very interesting. Thankyou very much.

I took a Western Philosophy class where the professor (who is Ethiopian) made it very clear the groundwork for Greek Philosophy came from Egyptians. Wasn't sure what evidence there was considering not many things of that early period was recorded, or atleast its been destroyed/lost through war or natural causes.

I have studied architecture so was aware of the influences on art.

It just made me curious, philosophy and art aside, if the Greeks were influenced in more general areas like language, mathematics, science, technology, etc..

If my memory doesn't elude me, I had believed the Egyptians were quite advanced and profficent in the areas of mathematics and science. SO, wasn't sure if their groundwork had influenced many of the early Greeks.

Also yes, I believe it was Herodotus I had read that drew a comparison of Greek Gods being taken from Egyptian, so wasn't sure what all that was about.
 
Aug 2010
15,655
Welsh Marches
#6
Very interesting. Thankyou very much.

I took a Western Philosophy class where the professor (who is Ethiopian) made it very clear the groundwork for Greek Philosophy came from Egyptians. Wasn't sure what evidence there was considering not many things of that early period was recorded, or atleast its been destroyed/lost through war or natural causes.

I have studied architecture so was aware of the influences on art.

It just made me curious, philosophy and art aside, if the Greeks were influenced in more general areas like language, mathematics, science, technology, etc..

If my memory doesn't elude me, I had believed the Egyptians were quite advanced and profficent in the areas of mathematics and science. SO, wasn't sure if their groundwork had influenced many of the early Greeks.

Also yes, I believe it was Herodotus I had read that drew a comparison of Greek Gods being taken from Egyptian, so wasn't sure what all that was about.
To be honest, I'm not sure what he could have meant that the 'groundwork' for Greek philosophy came for the Egyptians. For pre-Socratic philosophy? Socratic philosophy and all that developed from it (Plato, Aristotle, Cynicism, Stoicism and Epicureanism etc.) is certainly a distinctively Greek development, there was nothing like that in Egypt, and foreign influences on early Greek thought came more from the Near East. I don't know much about ancient Egypt, but I am not much impressed by the screeds that I have seen that claim that Greek philosophy was 'stolen' from Egypt, in so far as they relate to traditions about the lives of Greek thinkers and appeals of Greek writers to Egyptian wisdom etc., which lie more within my area of expertise. On the wilder shores of this, I would recommend, Mary Lefkowitz, 'Not out of Africa'. If you are interested in Eastern influences on early Greek thought in the widest sense, I would recommend this book:
The East Face of Helicon : West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth
and the works of M.L.West more generally, and of Walter Burkert. But these are admittedly works of serious original scholarship that are quite demanding. In general it is more rewarding to look toward Western Asia in this regard than toward Egypt. I'm afraid that the Egyptian connection has been pushed by Afrocentrists for politico-cultural reasons.
 

Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,551
Crows nest
#7
There was philosophy in ancient Egypt, but it was primarily contained within the various books of the Netherworld, and to our eyes, and I would suspect the Greeks, looks nothing like any philosophy as we understand it. We look at a depiction of nine baboons and see nine baboons, "Ho ho ho, what odd types these 'Gyptians were", they, on the other hand, saw a representation of an infinite number. It's a representation of their basic multiplier III made into an infinitely recurring number, 3 X 3 X 3 and can could be added to without end, but just the nine or twelve is sufficient. But, expressed as baboons, which each have an individual meaning as well, it flies over our heads. A profoundly deep psychological philosophy has been revealed in what we just call the "Book of the Dead" and dismiss as superstitious nonsense and fit only for horror films.

For reference on the philosophical aspects of the Amduat I recommend Knowledge for the Afterlife by Theodor Abt and Erik Hornung, and The Sungod's Journey Through the Netherworld by Andreas Schweizer. The German speaking world is a generation ahead in these studies, and it's why these days Egyptologists have to learn German, also the language of a deal of modern philosophy, and it's not a great surprise that it is German speakers who have looked at these Egyptian works and seen what most others have not, and are only now beginning to see. So the belief that the Egyptians had no philosophy, which is widely held, is now obsolete. However, the very nature of Egyptian philosophy, not least they way it is presented and that it is contained in funeral texts, mitigates against it having any influence on Greek philosophy. Hellenistic religions is an other matter as it's from the Amduat that Serapis appears.
 
Last edited:

specul8

Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
3,029
Australia
#9
I was recently talking about Egyptian influence on Greek Philosophy and this got me thinking.

Ive heard talk, which may be all it is, that once we learn more of Egyptian creation mythology, the similarities between it and Greece's will be more prevalent.

So ultimately my question is,

How much do you think the Egyptians influenced Greece as a whole? The same way Greece influenced Rome? Far less? Not sure yet?

Were the Egyptians "teachers" of the Greeks in terms of science, mathematics, etc.

It may be possible we simply aren't sure, Ive really just recently delved into Egyptian History, so not sure how many sources and evidence we have to draw a good comparison.
A few learned Greeks had Egyptian teachers . Also some Greeks we hear of, it can be a Greek form of an Egyptian name. However, this does not discount the immense amount Greek culture contributed.

Also, in later times a great deal of "Egyptian influence " was influence from ' Alexandrian Synthesis' - a combo of Greek, Egyptian, Jewish, 'Oriental' and virtually any other culture of note that sailed into the harbor at Alexandria .
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,070
#10
One bit with prospects for an actual line-up between Egyptian and ancient Greek philosophy, accepting a rather broad concept for that, are probably the mystery religions – cults of Dionysos, Adonis etc.

Problem is of course that these were esoteric and the quality information about the Greek, or Roman, doctrines are kind of sketchy.

Herodotus claimed to be an initiate of the deeper mysteries of Egyptian religion, but also coyly indicated he wasn't going to tell.

It's very hard to get things like the Memphite Theology, the Ogdoad, or the Amduat and Book of What Is In the Netherworld to really line up with Greek philosophy.

Again one exception of actual Egyptian influence on the Greeks is the idea of a happy afterlife – in the fields of Elysion. The blue-print for Elysion are the Egyptian fields of Iaru/A'aru/Field of Reeds.

Just generally the idea of Paradise, a happy afterlife, is pretty solidly Egyptian, and then passed on to other societies. The inclusion of Elysion in the Greek conception of an afterlife wasn't even that ancient, since in the period of where the Homeric epics were written the idea of a happy afterlife clearly wasn't there (the shade of Achilleus in the underworld telling Odysseus it was better to be a live pig-herder than dead Achilleus, king of the underworld). The idea of the land of the dead a pretty awful, at least terminally dreary, place is a major theme of the Gilgamesh epic too. Paradise, salvation in a sense, is Egyptian. The Greek also instituted a kind of court judging the dead, made up of the Cretan fellers Rhadamathus and Minos (brothers), and Aecus, which also has a rather Egyptian tinge to it (judgement in the Hall of Ma'at.)

Then it can also clearly be seen that by the Late period in Egyptian history Greek influence on Egyptian conceptions started going the other way. (It has been observed in the cycle of stories about Setne Khaemwaese, son of Ramses II.)

But philosophically the ancient Egyptians still seem to have been veeery different from at least how the Greek post-Socratic philosophy we know developed. The pre-Socratics are notoriously tricky to fully summarize. They were getting up to a lot of different things, and our knowledge is fragmentary. Egyptian thinking, as one can approach it in its religious texts (which was the philosophy) was interestingly at the same thing highly abstract and associative – very different beast from the logic, empiricism, reductionism etc. the Greeks eventually went for.

The Greeks clearly also never managed to get their heads around the Egyptian concept of Ma'at. Central to them, and we're kind of struggling with the implications. I'll second the observation that it's the Germans who have a handle on the Ancient Egyptian thinking on this. (Jan Assman has written an whole book on Ma'at iirc.)

Going by Herodotus, who at least claimed to be an initiate in things Egyptian, the theme with the Egyptians is pretty consistently one of excess. They are somehow clever, Greek-like almost, unlike the Persians who suffer from being ruled by despots, struggle to rise above their effective slave status under the Great Kings riven by hubris (making them fail). The Egyptians aren't like the Persians like that, but they are a people who while they more resemble the Greek are still going overboard with things, going to excess, which makes them fail, and look a bit buffoon-like in the process, for all they admitted prowess in art, medicine, religious mysteries etc.
 

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