TAKE PARIS FOR EXAMPLE
By Oscar H. Blayton, Esq.
The truth of history is often best found in those traces overlooked by those who seek to bend historical narratives in order to favor their own ends.
The city of Paris is a good case in point.
We can start with the name “Paris,” which is pronounced “Par-ee” by native French speakers in a way that could be translated to mean “The house of Isis” in the language of the Ancient Egyptians.
In the First century B.C.E., Julius Caesar wrote in Chapter 57 of Book 7 of “The Gallic Wars” that one of his generals took four legions “to Lutetia (which is a town of the Parisii, situated on an island on the river Seine) …”
In the year 360 C.E., the Roman Emperor Julian named Lutetia Civitas Parisiorum “The city of the Parisii” because its inhabitants were the Parisii, a Celtic people who worshipped Isis.
Prudence J. Jones, professor of classics and general humanities at Montclair State University, stated in her book, “Africa: Greek and Roman Perspectives from Homer to Apuleius,” that “Africa’s most influential cultural export to the Greco-Roman world was the worship of the goddess Isis.”
Though Isis originated in Africa, it was inevitable that she would be assimilated into various Greek and Roman divinities and forms of religious activities. Because Egyptian mythology portrayed her as associated with the Nile flood and the resulting agricultural productivity, ancient Greeks interpretated her as their divinity, Demeter. This is evidenced by the Greek historian Herodotus writing, “Isis is known as Demeter in the Greek language.”
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, three of Caesar’s most important supporters established a temple of Isis in Rome.
Later the emperor Octavian forbid the worship of Isis within the city of Rome. This ban lasted until Caligula came to power and again allowed temples in the city. Subsequent emperors allowed temples to Isis as well.
The temples of Isis even spread to England by the First century A.D. Archaeologists working in London in 1912 unearthed a First century A.D. Roman jug bearing the inscription “Londini ad fanum Isidis” meaning, “London, next door to the Temple of Isis.”
National Geographic magazine has written that one of the best-preserved temples of Isis can be found in Pompeii. It was built in the First century A.D. and its frescoes depict Isis as Roman worshippers would have imagined her – in a European Hellenized form, rather than Egyptian.
The truth of an African goddess was being submerged under a European world view.
In the following centuries, as she was being appropriated by cultures outside of Africa, the worship of Isis spread across the Mediterranean world and into Asia Minor. By the Second century A.D., the Roman writer Apuleius would glorify her as the “Mother of stars, the parent of seasons, and the mistress of all the world.”
Turning back to Paris, it is not unreasonable to question the relationship between the worship of Isis and the identity of France’s most famous city. Runoko Rashidi, a prolific writer and lecturer on African influences around the world, has penned, “Many believe that the Black Madonnas of Europe represent vestiges of the adoration of the African goddess Ast, better known as Isis. Notre Dame Cathedral, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris, considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and at the very center of Paris, was built directly over an ancient temple of this supreme African deity.”
The relationship between Paris and Isis also is embedded in the coat of arms of the city. In 1811, when Napoleon Bonaparte was emperor of France, he decreed that the coat of arms of the city would be changed back to its previous state – that being a ship on turbulent waters with the goddess Isis sitting at the ship’s prow facing the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. And Sirius, like Isis, had great significance in Egyptian mythology. The annual first sighting of this star was associated with the rebirth of the Nile and the promise of life.
Some people have tried to explain away the African connection to the iconography of Paris, saying that the ship in the coat of arms looks nothing like the boats that plied the waters of the Nile. But just as the image of Isis was assimilated to various Greek and Roman divinities in the ancient world, the image of the ship on which the goddess is seated had been assimilated as well – almost.
Europeans never believed it possible that the ancient Egyptians could be sea going, so they seated Isis on what they thought one of their ancient seagoing vessels would look like. But in 1969, a Norwegian adventurer by the name of Thor Heyerdahl tried to sail a papyrus boat from Africa to the Americas. Unfortunately, that boat fell apart after traveling 3,000 miles, just 600 miles short of its goal. Heyerdahl tried again the next year. But this time the boat was designed differently, with the configuration of its mast and rigging copied directly from ancient Egyptian wall paintings. Following the designs of the ancient Egyptian ships’ architects, they secured ropes at different heights on the mast and these ropes were “stretched diagonally down in parallel lines to either side of the vessel a little aft of midships.”
This configuration of rigging was the same as that found in the 1811 coat of arms of the City of Paris. And Heyerdahl’s second papyrus boat, designed like this, made it all the way from Africa to the Americas.
So, in Paris, we have a city whose name mostly likely derives from an African goddess, and whose ancient inhabitants probably worshiped an African goddess and whose 1811 coat of arms depicted that African goddess sitting on a ship of probable African design sailing on rough seas under a star that the ancient Egyptians believed to portend the promise of life.
It is highly unlikely that all those representations of African symbolism were coincidental, but the fact that they have been erased from Paris’ modern coat of arms does not erase the fact that they were there more than 200 years ago. Curious minds need to make inquiry as to why those symbols were there in the first place, and why they are not there today.
The histories of Africans and other people of color have been submerged under waves of white supremacy. But not all of their traces have been washed away. This is why it is important to make honest and diligent examinations of our own histories within the broader context of global history.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia. His earlier commentaries may be found at https://oblayton1.medium.com/