5. Homer the Mathematician

A major advance in our study of Homer’s Odyssey as a source of astronomical learning was analysis of the considerable numerical data embedded throughout the epic.

This data is directly related not only to the construction of a luni-solar calendar system and sophisticated cycles of the sun, moon and planet Venus, but also to an exposition on pi, the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference (a concept also known in contemporary Egypt and Babylon).

An introduction to Homer the Mathematician begins in Homer’s Secret Odyssey, Chapter Four, Homer’s Wizardry with numbers, and continues throughout the book.

‘Sailing days’ and the moon

Such was Homer’s astronomical ability that some of the numbers embedded in the Odyssey  are significant in terms of phases of the moon in a luni-solar calendar system.

These numbers are used in various contexts, including the days and nights that Odysseus sails on the ‘wine-dark skies’.

Translations  include the following examples:

Odysseus sailed for 17 days and on the 18th…’ ( E.V. Rieu (Od.5.277)

Odysseus sailed For six days and six nights and on the seventh…’  (Rieu Od.10.80)

Odysseus is adrift for nine days and on the ‘tenth night’ washed ashore.  (Rieu Od.7.250)

Odysseus is at sea for a whole month. (Rieu Od. 12.326)

The significance of these numbers is that they record the number of days between phases of the moon during a lunar month.  For instance:

18 Days (Od.5.277) the period from the first quarter of the lunar month to the third quarter.

7 Days (Od.10.80) the period from the third quarter of the lunar month to dark moon.

10 Days (Od10.28) – third quarter to new crescent.

‘… for a month’ (Od.24.115)a lunar month.

Phrases such as those above divide the monthly cycle of the moon into useful units of time and may  have served a similar purpose to ‘weeks’ and ‘fortnights’ in more modern times.

Seven days as a unit of time is found in other ancient cultures in astronomical terms and has been associated with seven heavenly bodies; the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn.

3 days – Periods of the lunar month are not confined to ‘sailing days’ and at Od 17.515 (Rieu)  Odysseus is hidden in the hut of Eumaeus  for three days and nights which marks the dark period between the last sighting of the waning moon and the appearance of a new crescent moon at the climax of the Odyssey. See Homer’s Secret Odyssey p168 ff.

The dark period of the moon varies between 1.5 days and 3.5 days.

See also Homer’s Secret Odyssey (The History Press).

© 2016  K & FSWood


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6. Homer and a ‘deadly secret message’

AS battle raged between Greeks and Trojans in Homer’s Iliad, two warriors confronted and challenged each other in no-man’s land. Soon, and in a strange turn of events, they established common ground and friendship before shaking hands and going their separate ways.

The two men were the Greek hero Diomedes, King of Argos, and Glaucus, a leader of the Lycian supporters of the Trojans.

Both told of their proud and ancient lineage before Diomedes  declared: ‘I have said enough to show that in me you will now have a good friend in the heart of Argos, and I shall have you in Lycia, if I ever visit that country. So let us avoid each others spears…’

With no more ado, says Homer, both men leaped from their chariots, shook hands and pledged each other. Heart-warming as this episode may be it enabled Glaucus to recount a story about a famous ancestor, the heroic Bellerophon.

It also gave Homer the opportunity to record in the Iliad a memorable episode concerning unrequited lust, vicious revenge, murderous intent … and a secret message ‘traced with a number of devices’ which could only be understood by the sender and the recipient.  See Ref. 1 below.

Of this incident, David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers, wrote of ‘the story in the Iliad that includes the world’s first conscious reference to – as distinct from use of – secret writing’. See Ref. 2 below.

This story of Bellerophon began, said Homer, when Queen Anteia fell in love with the handsome young hero and ‘begged him to satisfy her passion in secret. But Bellerophon was a man of principle and refused ‘.

In revenge for being rejected, Anteia told her husband, King Proteus, that Bellerophon had tried to ravish her and demanded that he be killed.

As Bellerophon was a guest in his house, Proteus had to abide by custom and not carry out the murder. Instead Proteus sent Bellerophon to the King of Lycia ‘with sinister credentials from himself. He gave him [Bellerophen] a folded tablet on which he had traced a number of devices with a deadly meaning and told him to hand it to the Lycian king’.

That ‘folded tablet’ was intended to be Bellerophon’s death warrant.

‘When he [the King of Lycia] had deciphered the fatal measure’ he gave Bellerophon four tasks, none of which he was expected to survive. Gallant Bellerophon, however, turned the tables and killed the monstrous Chimaera, successfully fought the famous Solymi,
killed the Amazons ‘who go to war like men’, and finally, escaped a deadly ambush.

The King of Lycia then wisely re-thought his position and recognised that Bellerophon was a true son of the gods and not only offered him his daughter’s hand but also gave him half of his kingdom.

David Kahn (Ref. 3) notes:
‘This is the only mention of writing in the Iliad. Homer’s language is not precise enough to tell exactly what the markings on the tablet were… The whole tone of the reference makes it fairly clear that here, in the first great literary work of European culture, appear that culture’s first faint glimmerings of secrecy in communication.’ Ref.2.

In Homer’s times (c. 745-700 BC) when an efficient Greek writing system had yet to emerge, the story of Bellerophon and the ‘folded tablet’ was not the only method of preserving and communicating important knowledge.

Homer and earlier generations of poet-astronomers were the guardians of an extraordinary volume of knowledge of astronomy and calendar-making woven into the stories they memorised and passed down the centuries by word of mouth.  Such learning would have been as essential for the organisation and well-being of life in pre-literate Greece as it was in contemporary – and literate – Babylon and Egypt.

Crucial support for this view arises from analysis of the extensive numerical data embedded in the Odyssey which is directly and accurately linked to astronomy, sophisticated luni-solar cycles and calendar-making.

For a wider introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey as extended astronomical metaphor see Homer’s Secret Iliad (John Murray, London) and Homer’s Secret Odyssey (The History Press).

Reference 1 and subsequent quotations are from the Iliad, Book 6, pp 120-122 (E.V. Rieu, Penguin Classics).

References 2 and 3: David Khan’s The Codebreakers (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974 edition) pp 73-74. The Codebreakers was first published in 1967.

© K&FS Wood, 2015

Posted in Aeschylus, Ancient Astronomy, Ancient calendars, Ancient Greek calendars, astronomical allegory, astronomical metaphor, astronomical myth, encryption, Greek drama as astronomical allegory, History of Astronomy, Homer, Homer the Astronomer, Homer's Secret Iliad, Homer's Secret Odyssey, Iliad, Odyssey, The Iliad | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Astronomy and post-Homeric drama

In Greek Moon, A study of Greek drama as astronomical allegory, Dr Michael Buhagiar explores works by Aeschylus and Sophocles for astronomical connotations and a possible continuity with the  astronomy of Homer’s Secret Odyssey and Homer’s Secret Iliad .
Dr Buhagiar’s website is at:       http://www.michaelbuhagiar.id.au/

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