… that Hollywood has no regard for historical accuracy in putting blacks in historical roles?
One of the practices of Hollywood that gets me hot under the collar is having black people play historical characters that were almost certainly white and white people play historical characters that were almost certainly black. I came across this while binge watching the BBC series Atlantis over the Thanksgiving Holidays. It seems to reflect some sort of attempt to be inclusive in some sense without any concern for historical truth.
Understanding that even the word Atlantis hearkens of things of myth and legend (we do not even know the location of Atlantis, if it existed), still there are many references to historical places that we do know something about. In this BBC series, all of the legendary Greek characters appear. I was ok with the token black gladiator or soldier here and there until this black female, amazon-like Scythian gladiator named Areto appears. Indeed her name is associated with ancient Amazons who were not black women. The problem with this casting is that the Scythians are almost the prototype of White People. Some believe that they originated in Siberia or somewhere in Russia. This casting is totally off base.
Jason, Medea, Colchis, and the Golden Fleece
The main character of this series is Jason, evidently the same Jason who stole the Golden Fleece from none other than the King of Colchis. If there is a Jason, there has to be a Medea who helps him steal the Golden Fleece, and indeed, she has come onto the scene (the stealing of the fleece has not happened yet but I expect it to happen in a later episode; I have quite a few episodes to go).
Medea is the daughter of the King of Colchis. She and all the Colchian soldiers should have been played by black people because during the early Greek period, Colchis was a black nation located in the Caucasus in the neighborhood of Armenia, the country of Georgia, and the Black Sea. We know something about the race of the Colchians because around 450 B. C. (almost 2,500 years ago), Herodotus (the Father of History) let the cat out of the bag when he said, “There can be no doubt that the Colchians are an Egyptian race. … My own conjectures are founded, first, on the fact that they are black-skinned and have woolly hair …” (Histories, 2.104). Herodotus visited Egypt around 450 B. C. Thus his knowledge of the appearance of Egyptians is not based on conjecture and presumably he also had seen Colchians.
This fleece stolen by Jason was the fleece of a sacred ram, the ram being a sacred symbol in Ancient Egypt and throughout Black Africa. There are still remnants of these Ancient Colchians in southern Georgia (the country, not the state of Georgia) today.
Achilles, Memnon, and the Trojan War
In the 2018 American-British mini-series, Troy: Fall of a City, Achilles is played by the black British actor David Gyasi. Achilles was a white Greek. According to Homer’s description, Achilles had yellow hair. In the literary work, Ulysses the Sacker of Cities, after Achilles dies from Paris’s spear landing in his heel, Andrew Lang describe the Greek soldiers as “weeping and cutting off their long locks of yellow hair …” while the soldiers of Memnon1 are described as “a great army of men who had nothing white about them but the teeth, so fiercely the sun had burned on them in their own country.” In the depiction of Persian soldiers shown below, notice that even the palms of their hand are chocolate colored. In this same work, Memnon is described as “the most beautiful of men, except Paris and Priam, and his home was in a country that borders on the land of sunrising.” In other words, Memnon came from the East, not Africa. Depiction of Memnon below is by French Neoclassical engraver Bernard Picart.
Thus, if the makers of this series wanted to put some black people in it, why didn’t they incorporate Memnon, warrior-king of the Ethiopians (burnt faces), and his numberless host of soldiers who traveled to Troy from Susa (present day Iran) to fight with the Trojans against the Greeks? Indeed, once he got to Troy, this black warrior-king would fight with Achilles in what became an epic battle of the ages, a great contest of evenly matched heroes. This epic battle had become a part of Greek legend even before the time of Homer (about 800 B. C.), being depicted by numerous Greek artists and in different mediums. Invariably, Memnon is depicted as black.
According to the account of the 3rd century epic poet Quintus of Smyrna, the fight between Achilles and Memnon was a draw until the goddess of discord and strife, Eris, intervened and “inclined the fatal scales of the battle, which no more were equal-poised” and Achilles thrust his sword beneath Memnon’s breast bone and killed him. At this, Memnon’s mother, the goddess of Dawn, Eos, took him away along his great host of swarthy soldiers.
Besides the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer write a third epic poem, Aethiopis, which has been lost but Quintus of Smyrna evidently drew heavily upon it in writing Book II (Ethiopian Memnon) of his Posthomerica (Book II, 666).
What Difference Does It Make?
The significance of this casting is that Hollywood is still presenting an erroneous picture of world history and the foundations of Western Civilization. Black People figured prominently in the early history of the Greeks. Their foundation legends invariably intersect with the black world of the Egyptians and the Ethiopians (Cushites or Kushites). There is no need to make Greeks black and blacks white like Greeks. Just tell it like it was. Some Ancient Greek writers took other Greeks to task for claiming things that should have been rightly attributed to Egyptians (the black-skinned, woolly-haired people described by Herodotus).
Diodorus Siculus, ancient Greek historian who lived during the first century B. C., made the following observation:
“But now that we have examined these matters, we must enumerate what Greeks, who have won fame for their wisdom and learning, visited Egypt in ancient times, in order to become acquainted with its customs and learning. 2 For the priests of Egypt recount from the records of their sacred books that they were visited in early times by Orpheus, Musaeus, Melampus, and Daedalus, also by the poet Homer and Lycurgus of Sparta, later by Solon of Athens and the philosopher Plato, and that there also came Pythagoras of Samos and the mathematician Eudoxus, as well as Democritus of Abdera and Oenopides of Chios. 3 As evidence for the visits of all these men they point in some cases to their statues and in others to places or buildings which bear their names, and they offer proofs from the branch of learning which each one of these men pursued, arguing that all the things for which they were admired among the Greeks were transferred from Egypt.” (Library of History, Book 1, 96.1-3).
It’s time that academia and Hollywood come clean as Diodorus did 2,000 years ago. Just tell the truth.
- The Featured Image is a 6th century B. C. depiction of Achilles and Memnon fighting. The legend of the battle between Achilles and Memnon goes back several centuries before this depiction. Title: Achilles and Memnon. Owner: Staatliche Antikensammlungen. Country of Origin: Greece. Date of Creation: 520 BC.(http://www.maicar.com/GML/Memnon.html)