by Florence and Kenneth Wood
For many centuries after the death of Homer, the ancient world’s renowned epic poet, there were intriguing but unexplained references to him also being skilled in the field of astronomy. Such was his reputation that Heraclitus (c. 535-475 BC) described him as ‘Homer the Astronomer, Wisest of all Greeks’.
Homer’s Secret Odyssey contends that in addition to preserving the cultural heritage of the Greeks of antiquity, Homer (c.745-700 BC), and many earlier generations of bards, had a vital practical role.
They were also the guardians of wide-ranging knowledge of astronomy and calendar-making woven into the stories they memorised and passed down by word of mouth during the centuries the Greeks did not have a writing system.
A calendar system based on astute observations of the sun and moon would have been as essential to life in pre-literate Greece as systems known to have existed in contemporary - and literate - Egypt and Mesopotamia. Without a calendar system the organisation of family, community, trading, farming, travel, military and religious life would have been impossible.
This study enhances Homer’s reputation not only as a man of letters but also as a learned and practical man of science and offers a sublime dimension to the intellectual achievements of the pre-literate Greeks.
Homer the Mathematician
There are two key elements in exploring the Odyssey as a source of calendrical and astronomical knowledge:
A challenging new reading of the epic as extended metaphor provides the structure of a luni-solar calendar system.
Powerful support arises from mathematical analysis of the extensive numerical data embedded in the epic which Homer manipulates to give calendar-makers essential knowledge of astronomy and cycles of the sun, moon and planet Venus. The initial breakthrough in recognising that numerical data in the Odyssey had more to do with astronomy and calendar-making than merely enhancing literary narrative, was made by Edna F Leigh (1916-1991) whose ground-breaking research was continued by FS & K Wood.
The Odyssey conceals such basic knowledge as the days, months and seasons of the lunar year as well as detail of the solar year. Homer then moves into a very much higher gear and introduces data concerning sophisticated luni-solar cycles which keep the 354 days of the lunar year in step with the 365 days of the solar year. These cycles range from four years (an Olympiad), eight years (an octaeteris) to the 19-year cycle commonly attributed to Meton who lived some 300 years after Homer.
Homer also had accurate knowledge of the Saros cycle which makes it possible to predict eclipses.
An investigation into Homer’s Iliad as a source of other considerable astronomical knowledge was published in Homer’s Secret Iliad (John Murray, 1999).
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