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ToSeek
2008-Jun-24, 09:42 PM
Astronomical clues point to eclipse in Homer's 'Odyssey' (http://www.physorg.com/news133515162.html)


Astronomical clues found in Homer's "The Odyssey" could help confirm a total solar eclipse when Odysseus returned home, providing a potentially accurate timeline for the fall of Troy, two scientists reported Monday.

Man, I love it when my liberal arts background and my science background come together!

Chris Hillman
2008-Jun-25, 06:21 AM
...there are holes in the claims of Magnasco and Baikouzis big enough to drive a wooden horse through!

If that isn't mixing metaphors :wink:

They claim

on the day of Odysseus's return (to Ithaka? to his home?), a new moon is allegedly mentioned,
6 days earlier, Venus is allegedly mentioned as visible (during the day?),
29 days earlier, both the Pleiades and Bootes constellations are allegedly mentioned as visible as sunset,
33 days earlier, Mercury is allegedly mentioned in a particular location.

But if you try to find the actual passages you will begin see trouble right away: Homer really isn't concerned with the appearance of the evening sky but with emotion and high drama. This isn't an astronomer's notebook with dates, times, or dry but precise descriptions.

As I read the physorg article, Magnasco and Baikouzis believe Odysseus and Telemakhos returned (to Ithaka? to their home?) the day before the famous bloodbath which is the climax of the story. But if you look into scholarly articles, you'll find controversy concerning the "precise timing" (bah!) of events once the pair land on Ithaka. Homer simply isn't crystal clear about things like dates, not even relative dates. Frankly, this "n days earlier" stuff is simply a hopeful fiction on their part.

And Homer's descriptions of nature are often wonderfully evocative, but sometimes "formulaic". This is a story told by a master teller, not an astronmer's dry but precise notebook. Are we to take the famous "wine dark sea" and "rose fingered dawn" literally, each time they occur? Homer uses such phrases to evoke emotions in his auditors, just the way Spielberg used the music of John Williams (sorry, classicists, if I presume!), just the way Wagner used leitmotifs to help structure a complex tale. Homer was concerned that the arc of his narrative should enthrall his listeners--- he wasn't narrating historical events, much less personally witnessed events.

If you want to argue otherwise you have to explain such implausible incidents as the loyal dog dying at the moment he alone recognizes his returning master! Not to mention all that vivid stuff about various superhuman feats of the Gods.

Even worse, while the date they come up with is in the expected range (shouldn't that be a tad suspicious right there?), let's not forget that Homer is generally believed to have lived centuries later than the presumably historical events upon which the Odyssey is very loosely based. He was not an eyewitness to the more or less legendary events he invokes (not "narrates"), he was drawing on a rich oral tradition which had grown up around stories about this foreign war. Indeed, many details of armament, warship construction, and so on which Homer so vividly evokes are appropriate to his own time but wildly anachronistic for the time of the presumed historial Trojan war centuries earlier. This alone is a very strong reason for concluding that Magnasco & Baikouzis simply cannot be taken seriously.

But let's pretend for the sake of argument that the Odyssey can be treated as a precise narrative of actual events narrated by someone who was present when they occured. And let's stipulate further that Magnasco and Baikouzis are correct in their assertions about the convenient unicity of the four events they claim are noted in the Odyssey at the relative times they claim.

The real kicker is that it is pretty absurd to claim, as it seems they do, that the climax of the story occurs during a solar eclipse which is noticed by no-one but the blind seer. Yes, that would richly ironic, and perhaps something Shakespeare would have written, but Homer is not Shakespeare.

I have no idea what this website is but they make the same points:
http://www.world-science.net/othernews/080623_odyssey.htm

[EDIT 7 July 2008: here is a story (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/33683/title/Too_much_information_in_the_Odyssey) from Science News mentioning the point I made about Homer writing centuries after the semi-historical Trojan War and pointing out that various classical scholars have expressed doubts about the claims of Baikouzis and Magnasco. Knight Science Journalism Tracker describes coverage herehere (http://ksjtracker.mit.edu/?p=6735) and here (http://ksjtracker.mit.edu/?m=200806).)

Chris Hillman
2008-Jun-25, 11:55 PM
I suppose we could segue into the whole question of Egyptian chronology (the linchpin for the entire ancient chronology in that part of the world), but I fear attracting the Mayan calendar kooks or the Fomenko fanatics :frown:

But if any archaeologists out there are using mathematics, I'd be curious to learn what and how. IIRC, there are old some papers out there which proposed to apply the theory of line graphs to constructing chronologies from pottery shards, and I'm wondering if anyone has tried to leverage techniques developed more recently for genomics for a similar purpose.

Maddad
2008-Jul-11, 09:17 PM
Thanks for the education. Without have the historical background, I would have no idea how to judge the accuracy.

joolzey
2009-Mar-21, 07:39 PM
Does Hillman believe literature is incapable of being both “emotion and high drama” as well as astronomical allegory? 'Don't look any further than the narrative, folks! That's all there is!' To suggest the Muse could never assail such rich, rarified heights as to be both an engaging narrative and fascinating astronomy lesson, is a slight against Homer and a limited view of his greatness. Does Hillman really believe that the ancients were incapable of holding two ideas in their heads at the same time, that two concepts are impossible to weave together into poetry? Why be so averse to the possibility of an astronomically aware Homer anyway? Is it really beyond the wit of man to have accomplished such levels of linguistic and scientific development at such an early date, before – oh the horror! – before the Common Era, before the Gospels were penned? Does that explain the aversion?

In my view, there is a reason that Homer has been passed on to us down the centuries. His genius was broad and embraced science and astronomy as well as poetic storytelling. This is not really as controversial an idea as Hillman might have us believe. Scholarship is moving forward on this after too many decades locked up in a stuffy, dark, old room. Certainly, the praise of the ancients themselves for Homer’s knowledge of the sciences is well documented and convincing. Their voices should ring out loudly and point the way to a full appraisal of Homer’s genius.

hhEb09'1
2009-Mar-21, 08:18 PM
Does Hillman believe literature is incapable of being both “emotion and high drama” as well as astronomical allegory? 'Don't look any further than the narrative, folks! That's all there is!' To suggest the Muse could never assail such rich, rarified heights as to be both an engaging narrative and fascinating astronomy lesson, is a slight against Homer and a limited view of his greatness. Does Hillman really believe that the ancients were incapable of holding two ideas in their heads at the same time, that two concepts are impossible to weave together into poetry? Why be so averse to the possibility of an astronomically aware Homer anyway? Is it really beyond the wit of man to have accomplished such levels of linguistic and scientific development at such an early date, before – oh the horror! – before the Common Era, before the Gospels were penned? Does that explain the aversion?I think you put words in Chris's mouth. It's not that literature is incapable--just that there are reasons that this particular literature might not have presented these particular ideas.


In my view, there is a reason that Homer has been passed on to us down the centuries. His genius was broad and embraced science and astronomy as well as poetic storytelling. This is not really as controversial an idea as Hillman might have us believe. Scholarship is moving forward on this after too many decades locked up in a stuffy, dark, old room. Certainly, the praise of the ancients themselves for Homer’s knowledge of the sciences is well documented and convincing. Their voices should ring out loudly and point the way to a full appraisal of Homer’s genius.We should start with a full appraisal, yes. As the authors seem to say, at one of those links, ““Even though there are historical arguments that say this is a ridiculous thing to think about, if we can get a few people to read The Odyssey differently, to look at it and ponder whether there was an actual date inscribed in it, we will be happy." Surely you're not suggesting that "literature is incapable of falsehood and abstraction" :)