Why did Thomas Jefferson risk his political career to translate an Afrocentric Classic into English?
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"Those piles of ruins which you see in that narrow valley watered by the Nile, are the remains of opulent cities, the pride of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia. Behold the wrecks of her metropolis, of Thebes with her hundred palaces, the parent of cities and the monument of the caprice of destiny. 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 on the study of the laws of nature , those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe. Lower down those dusky points are the pyramids whose masses have astonished you. Beyond that, the coast, hemmed in between the sea and a narrow ridge of mountains was the habitation of the Phoenicians. These were the famous cities of Tyre, of Sidon, of Ascalon, of Gaza, and of Berytus. "
Count Constantine Francis Chassebeuf De Volney - 1793 Thomas Jefferson, trans
While in Paris, Thomas Jefferson seriously imperiled his political future by secretly joining with the noted anti- slavery poet and founder of ''the American Mercury", Joel Barlow to provide his friend Constantin-Francois Volney with an English translation of The Ruins: Or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires, a translation from the French Les Ruines ou Meditations sur les Revolutions des Empires, published in 1796 by William A. Davis, in New York. This is an admittedly radical work even by today's Liberal standards. Maybe that is why it took the University of Virginia 185 years to remember that Jefferson had given it not one, but two copies of his personally selected translations of Volney's work.
One copy was presented to the Library of Congress just in time for it's 200th birthday. This translation of Volney's work is the same edition as the one Jefferson had sold to The Library of Congress in 1815, but which was sadly lost to flames in 1851.
Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections division at the Library of Congress, has called Volney's work an “important source,..”, “that influenced Jefferson's thinking”. Just think, “Afro-Centric Scholars” (Not an oxymoron) have been teaching for decades that this particular translation of this work is an important primary source. Its taken almost 200 years, but thanks to the ongoing deification of Thomas Jefferson, more mainstream scholars may finally work up the nerve to examine Volney's message in the exact words that President Jefferson chanced so much to pass along.
Why did Jefferson do it? Any Ideas.