“The sire of gods and all the ethereal train,
On the warm limits of the farthest main,
Now mix with mortals, nor disdain to grace
The feasts of Ethiopia’s blameless race.” – Homer’s Illiad
In Ancient times, Africans, in general, were called, “Aethiopians.” The word Aithiops was the Greek word Herodotus and the ancients used to describe all known lands in Africa south of Egypt. The Greeks and the subsequent Romans had a healthy respect for the intelligence of Africans, especially for their piety.
“Those piles of ruins in which you see in the narrow valley watered by the Nile, are the remains of opulent cities, the pride of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia…There a people, now forgotten, discovered while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and sciences. A race of men now rejected from society for their sable skin and frizzled hair, founded the study of the laws of nature, those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe.” – Count Volney
Diodorus wrote that the Aethiopians were like the gods and without fault; Claudius Aelianus (Roman Author c 175AD – c235 AD) believed that the gods bathed in Aethiopia and Stobaeus (5th century AD) recorded that the Aethiopians do not need doors on their homes and do not steal the possessions that their neighbors leave in the street.
Stephanus of Byzantium (6th century AD) wrote, “Ethiopia was the first established country on earth; and the Ethiopians were the first who introduced the worship of the gods, and who established the laws.”Juba II, Numidian King (c 50BC) wrote: “The Ethiopians assert that Egypt is one of their colonies; there are striking likenesses between the laws and customs of both lands; the kings wear the same dress and the uraeus adorns the diadem.”
Pliny, Natural Histories. Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79), Roman historian and scientist, said: “For who ever believed in the Aethiopians before actually seeing them? Or what is not deemed miraculous when first it comes into knowledge? How many things are judged impossible before they actually occur? Indeed the power and majesty of the nature of the universe at every turn lacks credence if one’s mind embraces parts of it only and not the whole.”
Ptolemy the geographer and other ancient Greek commentators believed that the “Aethiopian Olympus” was where the gods lived when they were not in Greece.
Homer (c800BC) was the first Greek writer to mention the Aethiopians. He mentions them in both the Iliad and the Odyssey. He stated that the term “Aethiopia” was derived from an individual named Aethiops, said to be the son of Hephaestus (aka Vulcan – god of blacksmiths, fire, volcanos). This etymology was followed by all authorities, until around 1600, in the age of racism, when Jacob Salianus in Tome I of his Annales first proposed an alternate hypothesis deriving it from the Greek words aitho “I burn” and ops “face.”
The Greek poets Hesiod (c 700 BC) and Pindar (c 450 BC) speak of Memnon as the “king of Aethiopia”, and further state that he founded the city of Susa (in Persia, Modern day Iran).
In the ancient Greek Romance Aethiopica by Heliodorus of Emesa (Greek writer, c 3rd century AD), an Aethiopian King was a model of wisdom, righteousness, and magnanimity:
“The king does not condemn people to death, and sends out messengers to tell his military troops not to slaughter the enemy, but to let them live when they have been defeated. The king proclaimed, “A noble thing it is to surpass an enemy in battle when he is standing, but in generosity when he has fallen.”
It was acknowledged that the root of the Egyptian civilization was from the interior of Africa. In Book 3, Herodotus defines “Aethiopia” as the farthest region of Africa. He continued:“Where the south declines towards the setting sun lies the country called Aethiopia, the last inhabited land in that direction. There gold is obtained in great plenty, huge elephants abound, with wild trees of all sorts, and ebony; and the men are taller, handsomer, and longer lived than anywhere else.”
Strabo (Greek historian, geographer and philosopher (c 64BC – 24AD) stated that some previous authors had considered Aethiopia’s northern border to begin at Mount Amanus, thus including all of Syria, Israel and Arabia.
For further reading, see:
“Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization” by John G. Jackson “Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire” by Drusilla Dunjee Houston