Yesterday, someone posted a comment to my blog post on Athanasius – the Black Dwarf. This person (who remained anonymous) seemed to suggest that I had some revisionist agenda in portraying Athanasius as an Egyptian rather than a black African. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have found no evidence to prove that Athanasius was in fact black, and since he was born in Egypt I simply portrayed him as an Egyptian. Or rather, I told my illustrator how to portray him and left the matter in his hands.
“At any rate, at that time, and among the people involved in the debates, ‘black’ did not mean what the same word now means in the US. In , it was used as a derogatory term by some among the Greeks (who had conquered Egypt some seven centuries earlier) and the Romans (who had come three centuries after the Greeks) as a pejorative way to refer to the original Coptic population. These were not ‘black’ in the sense in which it is applied to people South of the Saharan. They were fairly dark-skinned, and their hair was wavy. But they were neither as dark nor their hair as wavy as the Sudanese and other people to the south. There are many indications that Athanasius was a Copt and that he was very short.”