Chasing the Black Dwarf

In the Men of Nicea, I wondered why books and now web pages had Athanasius called the Black Dwarf by his enemies. None cited their source and the moniker was absent from ancient histories. A rogue fact was loose, one even used to make the bishop into an African-American hero! Now thanks to Google Books, where we can chase a phrase back and back, it shall not be loose for long …

It all begins in one ancient source. Julian calls Athanasius not even a man, but a common little fellow. In some translations, this reads “manikin” or “dwarf”. So of the ancients, one man who dislikes him, calls him a dwarf. There is no catcall of black dwarf from a chorus of enemies.

From such modest, colorless beginnings, our dwarf comes to the nineteenth century’s Dean Stanley, whose imagination filled in many gaps in early Church history …

What his own race and lineage may have been it is difficult to determine … His personal appearance throws but little light on this question. He was of very small stature a dwarf rather than a man so we know from the taunt of Julian, but as we are assured by Gregory Nazianzen of almost angelic beauty of face and expression. To this tradition adds that he had a slight stoop in his figure a hooked nose and small mouth a short beard which spread out into large whiskers and light auburn hair. This last characteristic has been found on the heads of Egyptian mummies and therefore is compatible with a pure Egyptian descent.

With mummy-reason, Athanasius is pure Egyptian of race. So dark as well as small.

Skip to 1914 and an unnamed Julian is just one of the bishop’s enemies: One of Athanasius enemies wrote about him that he was a dwarf and no man. To 1957 (rereleased 1980) and Julian has become one of a crowd: He was so small that his enemies called him a dwarf.

Which brings us to 1984, when finally all the pieces come together. Athanasius is so dark and short that his enemies called him the black dwarf. Thank you Mr Gonzalez. A Dean for our time.

But the black dwarf isn’t finished. He runs on to be an African American hero. In 1995, respected black leader, Tony Evans, elevated him in Let’s Get to Know Each Other and he’s called out again in 1997’s Defending Black Faith.

So we’ve chased him down. Crafty little yoke - he did all this in respectable books, before the internet and its creative excess. We have him cornered. But will he go quietly?


77 Responses to “Chasing the Black Dwarf”

  1. pat parker Says:

    Wow! cool. Thanks for the correction.

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    [...] Since then historians have extrapolated on his diminutive size, and speculated about his race.  The Gentle Exit, a blog, documents the odd, fairly recent historical developments which led to Athanasius being [...]

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  11. Medhat Says:

    Thank you for presenting the facts. I am Egyptian and I get frustrated when African Americans claim everything coming from Egypt, the Middle East and the wider Mediterranean world as part of their own Black heritage. Some go as far as claiming that the modern Mediterranean populations have invaded and displaced the original Blacks. Unfortunately in the case of Athanasius it is taken for granted that he was Black, to the point that it is taught in seminaries that he was a Black man. A friend of mine was talking about Athanasius and he told me he was black. When I responded that he was Egyptian like I am, he said he was black because he was native of Alexandria!! I didn’t know what to say to my friend who strongly believed that native Egyptians used to be black.

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