Skip to comments.Ancient Eclipse Found in "The Odyssey," Scientists Say
Posted on 06/23/2008 5:36:32 PM PDT by blam
Ancient Eclipse Found in "The Odyssey," Scientists Say
Richard A. Lovett for National Geographic News
June 23, 2008
"The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist has overspread the world."
With those words in The Odyssey, Homer laid down not a prophecy of doom but a description of a real-world total solar eclipse, scientific sleuths announced today.
It has been known for decades that there was only one such eclipse during the time period Homer wrote about in the ancient Greek poemon April 16, 1178 B.C. The blackout even occurred at noon, as described in the epic poem.
But without additional evidence, the idea that Homer's passage describes an eclipse has been pooh-poohed by Homeric scholars.
Now scientists have looked into additional astronomical descriptions in The Odyssey and found them to be consistent with that date for the noontime darkness.
The references relate to moon phases and positions of constellations and planetsphenomena that rarely occur in the sequence described in Homer's workphysicist Marcelo Magnasco said by email. Magnasco co-authored the new study with fellow Rockefeller University scholar Constantino Baikouzis, an astronomer.
The scientists used astronomical software to simulate the Greek skies, night by night, over a 135-year period surrounding the eclipse.
Even without using the eclipse itself in their calculations, the researchers found only one date for the noontime darkness: April 16, 1178 B.C.
Study co-author Magnasco said his findings, to be published tomorrow in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will be controversial.
The study does more than reinterpret Homer's writing, though even the study authors admit Homer may not have been referring to an eclipse.
The new findings also assume a level of astronomical sophistication among Odyssey-era Greeks that many historians would find unrealistic, Magnasco said. Little or no evidence exists of Greeks during this time tracking the movements of stars and planets in detail.
"The use of astronomical clues to set the dates of works of art is a very intriguing field that has seen a recent increase in popularity," astronomer Geza Gyuk of Chicago's Adler Planetarium said by email.
Jerry Oltion, a telescope maker, amateur astronomer, and science fiction writer from Eugene, Oregon, finds the astronomical reasoning "fairly sound."
From an artistic standpoint, he doubts Homer ever saw an eclipse himselfthough that has no bearing on the new study, as Homer lived centuries after the events depicted in The Odyssey.
"Any writer who has seen an eclipseor even heard one describedwould never put his characters indoors during the climactic moment," he said.
The moment takes place at a luncheon as the oracle-like Theoclymenus speaks the passage in question to suitors courting the wife of the main character, Odysseus, who is thought dead.
Also, Oltion notes that the story leaves out many details about eclipses, such as the sun's corona.
"I don't believe Homer could have ignored all those effects," Oltion said.
However the controversy resolves, the Adler Planetarium's Gyuk lauds the study for making us think about Homer's story in new ways.
"This article celebrates Homer and pays homage to the Odyssey in the most sincere way," he said.
Very interesting. How does this date compare to those usually posited for Homer?
Interesting. Thanks for posting. I really enjoyed reading Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in college. Fascinating.
Music to read this thread by...
Homer was blind... Unless he got that way by staring at the sun during an eclipse, its probably a fairly safe bet that he never saw one...
I am reading The Odyssey and Iliad right now with two students, both of whom HATE the usual fiction reading they do in Middle School. They are loving that book. We got a R. Sutcliff edition with beautiful illustrations — the Cyclops’ eye with a stake in it, the suitor Laertes shot in the neck, standing there with an arrow through his neck. Odysseus’s visit to the Land of the Dead is illustrated so beautifully.
I don’t remember an eclipse in it. But then I haven’t agreed much with the National Geographic since they posted that photo of two lesbians kissing in Paris.
Great job teacher! I had a great professor (one of many) in college in the early 70’s who taught Greek Mythology and really took you back in time with Homer’s classic.
That's just one invented biographical detail added over the years. Real details of his life, or even whether he existed at all, are unknown.
Homer himself wrote 400 or so years later after the events of the Trojan War. 800-750 or so BC.
It's quite obvious from the narrative that Theoclymenus is not describing an eclipse. He is viewing the suitors in the banquet hall and describes the vision he is having of their impending doom:
Shrouded in night are your heads and your faces and your knees beneath you; kindled is the sound of wailing, bathed in tears are your cheeks, and sprinkled with blood are the walls and the fair panels. And full of ghosts is the porch, full also the court, ghosts hastening down to Erebus beneath the darkness, and the sun has perished out of heaven and an evil mist covers all.
... the suitors laugh at him and tell him to go outside, if it is so dark in the hall. The vision of the "evil mist" is fulfilled poetically when Odysseus shoots Eurymachus "upon the breast beside the nipple" and his death agonies are described in the usual Homeric detail, ending with "and over his eyes the mist (achlys) poured down."
...and Zeus thundered loud, showing forth his signs. Then glad at heart was the much-enduring, noble Odysseus that the son of crooked-counseling Cronos sent him an omen,...
Unfortunately, I doubt this will be much help in dating the event :-)
The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist has overspread the world.Thanks blam!
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Posted on 05/04/2004 8:33:07 PM PDT by quidnunc
The Trojan War as laid out in “The Iliad” either is a conflation of a large number of older stories, referring to a number of different eras, and doesn’t have a single author, orrrrrr, it is in sync with the 25th Dynasty of Egypt (there’s a clear reference, more than one, in “The Iliad” to one of the Ethiopian pharaohs), or 8th century BC through mid-7th c, and a similar range is usually given for Homer. :’)
[self-quote] David Rohl attempted to use a solar eclipse of 1012 BC to date one of the el-Amarna letters to support his chronology. Ugarit was burned by Shalmaneser III in 855 BC, so using the fire to push back the date of the tablet by a century and a half is ill supported at best. [end]
|B.C. 709||JULY 17||CHINA||TOTAL: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|601||SEPT. 12||CHINA||TOTAL: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|549||JUNE 12||CHINA||TOTAL: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|198||AUG. 7||CHINA||ANNULAR: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|181||MAR. 4||CHINA||TOTAL: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|136||APR.15||MESOPOTAMIA||TOTAL: MANY STARS AND FOUR PLANETS SEEN|
|A.D. 2||NOV. 23||CHINA||TOTAL: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|65||DEC.16||CHINA||TOTAL: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|516||APR. 18||CHINA||ANNULAR: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|522||JUNE 10||CHINA||TOTAL: NO OTHER DETAILS|
|840||MAY 5||ITALY||TOTAL: "SUN HIDDEN FROM WORLD"|
|873||JULY 28||PERSIA||ANNULAR: "MOON WITHIN BODY OF SUN"|
|912||JUNE 17||SPAIN||TOTAL: "DARKNESS JUST BEFORE SUNSET"|
|968||DEC.22||TURKEY (2)||TOTAL: CORONA OBSERVED|
|975||AUG.10||JAPAN||TOTAL: "INK-COLORED SUN"|
|1124||AUG.11||RUSSIA||TOTAL: "SUN PERISHED COMPLETELY"|
|1133||AUG. 2||EUROPE (5)||TOTAL: "SUN BLACK AS PITCH"|
|1176||APR.11||TURKEY||TOTAL: "NIGHT FELL, STARS APPEARED"|
|1185||MAY 1||RUSSIA||TOTAL: CHROMOSPHERE OBSERVED|
|1221||MAY 23||MONGOLIA||TOTAL: "STARS VISIBLE"|
|1239||JUNE 3||EUROPE (8)||TOTAL: "MANY STARS SEEN"|
|1241||OCT. 6||EUROPE (2) EGYPT||TOTAL: "WONDERFUL BLACKNESS"|
|1267||MAY 25||TURKEY||TOTAL: "MANY STARS APPEARED"|
|1275||JUNE 25||CHINA||TOTAL: "STARS SEEN"|
|1292||JAN.21||CHINA||ANNULAR: "SUN A GOLDEN RING"|
|1406||JUNE 16||GERMANY||TOTAL: "GREAT DARKNESS"|
|1415||JUNE 7||EUROPE (2)||TOTAL: "ENTIRE SUN ECLIPSED"|
|1485||MAR. 16||AUSTRIA||TOTAL: NO OTHER DETAILS|
EARLIEST SOLAR ECLIPSE for which the date is certain is recorded on this Assyrian tablet, a summary of past historical events. A large partial eclipse, it took place on June 15, 763 b.c.
bump for later read
...so down she darted
from the topmost summits of Olympus. She shot through the sky as some brilliant meteor which the son of scheming Saturn has sent as a sign to mariners or to some great army, and a fiery train of light follows in its wake. The Trojans and Achaeans were struck with awe...
Both Rohl and Velikovsky put the Trojan War in the ninth century B.C., give or take a decade. Thus, Homer would have lived then, or in the early eighth century.
This eclipse needs more cowbell ping.
> Phrygians as allies of Priam, in the hinterland of the Troad, in conflict with the Cimmerians, themselves pursued by the Scythians, would limit the period of the Trojan War to the years between -720 and -687.
Rivers dried up, ran backwards, or somethin’, as well...
Starry Night Pro 5.0 gives a long total eclipse in Athens on that date about 26 minutes after local noon. The date is also surprising close to accepted date of the Trojan War. The umbra would have just missed Troy, with about 99% of the sun shadowed at peak.
Finding ancient eclipses with modern software is no big deal. The correspondence is provocative, but the association of the eclipse with war may have been a later embellishment.
Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.
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Samuel Butlers Authoress of the Odyssey (updated link):
They argue over who homer was still.
But if they know when it was really written they could probably track the eclipses to around that time, I guess
...It appears, however, that in the Iliad Homer telescoped into a few weeks events that took place in the space of several decades. At least some of the events may be placed in a chronological order with the help of ancient Israelite sources: namely, on the day when King Ahaz was interred the motion of the Earth was disturbed so that the Sun set before its appointed time; ...In Greek legendary tradition the first event took place in the days of the two brothers, Atreus and Thyestes, contesting the throne of Mycenae... The fixing of the event to the early spring of -687 is made on the strength of the information from Hebrew sources that the event took place on the night of Passover, during the second campaign of Sennacherib against Judah, the ninth campaign of his reign. The exact date for the last of this series of catastrophes is provided by the records of the astronomical observations of the Chinese... in the year -687, on the 23rd of March... Romulus was a contemporary of Hezekiah; and the 23rd of March was the most important day in the Roman cult of Mars... The siege of Troy under Agamemnon followed by less than one generation the natural disturbances of the days of his father Atreus, when this king of Mycenae competed with his brother Thyestes for the crown of the realm and the Sun was disrupted in its motion. Atreus and Thyestes, being contemporaries of Ahaz and Hezekiah, and Agamemnon, son of Atreus, a contemporary of the latter king of Jerusalem, it seems that the time in which the drama of the Iliad was set was the second half of the eighth century, and not later than -687; yet the poet condensed the events separated by decades into the tenth year of the Trojan siege, the time of the Iliad's action. Thus we come to realize that it was a rather late time; clearly Homer could not have lived before the events he described; and therefore Homer's time cannot be any earlier than the end of the eighth century. But more probably he wrote several decades after the Trojan War...
Nah. What is done instead is, eclipses are “found” in the text, then the eclipse that would be nearest to the generally accepted date for (in this case) the Trojan War is used as “proof” of the dating, when obviously it is no such thing.