It's well-documented that classical Greek thinkers traveled to what we now call Egypt to expand their knowledge. When the Greek scholars Thales, Hippocrates, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and others traveled to Kemet, they studied at the temple-universities Waset and Ipet Isut. Here, the Greeks were inducted into a wide curriculum that encompassed both the esoteric as well as the practical.
Thales was the first to go to Kemet. He was introduced to the Kemetic Mystery System -- the knowledge that formed the basis of the Kemites' understanding of the world, which had been developed over the previous 4,500 years. After he returned, Thales made a name for himself by accurately predicting a solar eclipse and demonstrating how to measure the distance of a ship at sea. He encouraged others to make their way to Kemet to study [source: Texas A&M].
In Kemet, Hippocrates, the "father of medicine," learned of disease from the previous explorations of Imhotep, who established diagnostic medicine 2,500 years earlier. This early renaissance man -- priest, astronomer and physician -- was described as "the first figure of a physician to stand out clearly in the mists of antiquity" by the British medical trailblazer William Osler [source: Osler]. In Kemet, Pythagoras, the "father of mathematics," learned calculus and geometry from the Kemetic priests based on a millennia-old papyrus.
None of this is to say that the Greeks were without their own ideas. On the contrary, the Greeks appeared to have formed their own interpretations of what they learned in Kemet. Nor did the Greeks ever deny the credit due the Kemites for their education. "Egypt was the cradle of mathematics," Aristotle wrote [source: Van Sertima]. But one could make the case that the Greeks also felt that they were destined to build upon what they'd learned from the Kemites.
The Kemetic education was meant to last 40 years, although no Greek thinker is known to have made it through the entire process. Pythagoras is believed to have made it the furthest, having studied in Kemet for 23 years [source: Person-Lynn]. The Greeks seem to have put their own spin on what knowledge they'd learned.
Plato's education may have expressed it best: The Kemetic Mystery System was based upon a wide array of human knowledge. It encompassed math, writing, physical science, religion and the supernatural, requiring tutors to be both priests and scholars. Perhaps the aspect of the system that best represents this merger of religion and science is Ma'at.
Ma'at (/mi 'yat/) was a goddess who embodied the concept of the rational order to the universe. "This idea that the universe is rational … passed from the Egyptians to the Greeks," writes historian Richard Hooker [source: Hooker]. The Greeks' name for this concept was logos.
In his "Republic," Plato describes a dichotomy between a higher and lower self. The higher self (reason) pursues knowledge, reason and discipline. The lower self -- the more prominent of the two -- is base, concerned with more crude aspects like sex, addiction and other self-serving pursuits. Reason must ultimately win over emotion for a life to be worthwhile. Thus the emphasis of reason over all else was born. And the concepts of spirituality and reason began to diverge.
It is the survival of the Greek interpretation of Ma'at over the Kemites' that may explain why schoolchildren learn that the Greeks provided the basis for our modern world.
One explanation is that while the Greeks' view of the world was based on Kemetic teachings, their stress on reason ultimately led to the Age of Enlightenment, from which we draw our worldview today. To the Kemites, the physical and the spiritual were intertwined. The concept of Ma'at was as important as geometry. But after the Greeks formed their interpretation, reason eventually edged out spirituality and this view of existence was passed down. Plato, who was among the first to extol the advantages of reason over emotion in his Republic, inspired the 17th-century philosopher Rene Descartes. Descartes' observations concerning reason inspired the modern scientific method, which has fueled a strictly rational inquiry of our existence [source: McSwine].
In other words, since the Greeks were the ones who framed our worldview of using reason to investigate our world, we may feel we have no need to credit the Kemites with bestowing upon the Greeks their original education. And since the Kemites' view of the universe included a mixture of science and religion, some people today may find this philosophical mixture hokey and primitive. This is ironic, since the Kemites originated the notion of rational thought.