Leave It to the Greeks

The Greeks were kind of like an ancient version of Martha Stewart. They could and did just about everything and also created new methods for everyday question, problems, etc. Not only did they give us the structure for modern day democracy and just about every modern day scholarly discipline, they also laid down the basis for everything we now know about ancient Egypt.

The way in which our modern knowledge of ancient Egypt occurred in almost a chain reaction sort of way, and it all started with the Greeks. They were the first people to take interest in Egypt. Traveling all over and seeing everything that Egypt was, the Greeks wrote vast accounts of every detail. Probably the most famous of these being The Histories by Herodotus. But for awhile, none of this collected information had a major impact. Not until these Greek scholars began to be studied by Europeans during the Renaissance/Age of Enlightenment. These studies sparked European interest to go and see Egypt for themselves and gather all they could, but also to be the first and best to do so. Large expeditions traveled from Europe to Egypt; once such of these was led by Napoleon. He and his group found the Rosetta Stone which basically held the key to unlocking everything that wasn’t already known about ancient Egypt. That key was Greek. Without the Greek text on the stone, Champollion would never have been able to decipher the hieroglyphics at the top.

So even though all of that is just a recap, it must first be known to consider a silly yet interesting question. Who should be considered as responsible for “finding” Egypt as we know it today. The Greeks? Napoleon? Someone else? A conglomerate? I don’t believe that it can be pinned on just one group or person. It was a collective, yet competitive, effort of sorts; however, I do believe that none of it would have been possible without help from the Greeks. And who said they couldn’t be geeks?

Greeks? Napoleon? Someone else?

1 thought on “Leave It to the Greeks

  1. I agree that the Greeks were some of the first Europeans to explore and document ancient Egypt, and I think that your question about who “found” Egypt is an interesting one. This question brings to light the important nature of Egypt as a country, as an epicenter of culture and language, and as a region to document (and dominate).

    The ancient nation of Egypt, and perhaps the modern country as well, seems to be conceptualized as an independent entity. Egypt is often discussed as if it is not related to the countries surrounding it, and it tends to be thought of as separate from the rest of the African continent. Egypt is somehow seen as unique, mythical, and perhaps more important than nations south of the Sahara.

    It is in this context that the “discovery” of Egypt by the Greeks is discussed. While the Greeks may arguably be the first to document the history of ancient Egypt, they were certainly not the first to “find” Egypt. As a crossroad between Africa, Asia, and Europe, Egypt was visited and discovered by numerous groups throughout its history. It is important to recognize that ancient Egypt is not the property or domain of European/Western cultures.

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