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Africa

Mighty, Magnificent, Mysterious, Africa. How I long to know You better.

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We are told that the ancients understood Egypt as being a part of Asia. And beyond Egypt, from their point of view, was Libya, which they considered to be Africa. And thus the world as they observed it, was divided between the land over which the sun arose, asu1, Asia, and the land over which the sun set, erebu2, Europe, and, south of the Great Sea, was Africa.

The Romans called it Africa terra, the “land of the afri” 3 . Afri may be derived from the Phoenician word for “dust”, afar, or the Greek word aphrike, meaning “without cold”, or the Latin word aprica, meaning “sunny”4. Each derivation seems reasonable to us today.

It was the Greek proto-scientist Ptolemy5, who, in the 2nd century B.C, two thousand years ago, assigned Egypt together with Libya to a southern continent, Africa, defining a demarcating line along the Red Sea and the isthmus of Suez.6

The Mediterranean centered civilizations of the next thousand years, from which has descended so much written history, looked South and saw a vast desert, the Sahara, across which no creature tread. Little did they realize the extent of the continent stretching southward, far larger than Europe, teaming with life, indeed, perhaps, the very origin of humanity. It was separated from them by an ocean of sand as untraversable as the ocean of water that hid the Americas, as the oceans of space concealing the planets.

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Footnotes

  1. Akkadian word meaning sunrise https://www.britannica.com/story/where-does-the-name-europe-come-from
  2. Akkadian word meaning sunset https://www.britannica.com/story/where-does-the-name-europe-come-from
  3. and, “following the defeat of Carthage in the Third Punic War, Rome set up the province of Africa Procunsularis” (BC146) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afri
  4. each of these three words are found in this article http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/Africaweb/factfile/africauniquefact5.htm
  5. Ptolemy was the first to apply mathematics to map making https://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item126360.html
  6. Ptolemy thus organized geography on a more scientific basis, associating countries with mighty landmasses, in this case, Egypt with Africa, rather than Asia.