Homer’s secret Odyssey

crescent moon - colour

                                                                                        Photo: Fotolia 

by Florence and Kenneth Wood 

From ancient times there have been persistent threads that the epic poet Homer  (c. 750-650 BC) was not only a colossus of oral literature but also a learned astronomer. 

Heraclitus (c. 535 BC – 475 BC) even declared him to be  ‘an astronomer and wisest of all Greeks’. 

But just how Homer created in stories of the Siege of Troy and the wanderings of Odysseus a catalogue of hundreds of stars and many constellations, constructed a luni-solar calendar system linked to cycles of the moon and sun, recorded a system of ’star maps’ for navigation, and other celestial matters  had long been forgotten until publication  of many years of ground-breaking research first begun by the late Edna F Leigh, MSc,  (below).

The following pages focus on the astronomical content of the Odyssey and research  published in Homer’s Secret Odyssey (2011, The History Press). Study of the Iliad as an astronomical treatise was published in Homer’s Secret Iliad (1999, John Murray).

Homer’s Odyssey  openly records that in ancient times when the Greeks are not known to have had a writing system they were accomplished in such practical spheres as travel over land and sea, metallurgy (bronze and iron), agriculture, social organisation and could conceive of maintaining for years a huge army at the Siege of Troy. Their need for a calendar system and knowledge of the night skies was paramount.

Both calendar-making and navigation require accurate observations of the sun, moon and stars … and in the absence of a writing system, a means of passing such information down through the generations. 

Edna eventually concluded that in addition to preserving the cultural heritage of the Greeks of antiquity, Homer’s epics represented 'an ancient people’s thoughts related to the science of astronomy and expressed in the form of elaborate narrative poetry'.

She then began the task of scouring the epics to support her hypothesis.

Regrettably, ill health in Edna’s later years prevented her from completing a manuscript. On her death she left her papers to her daughter, Florence Wood who, with husband Kenneth, has continued Edna’s work. In following pages there are just a few examples of Edna’s pioneering discoveries.

Odysseus and the Moon

Homer’s masterpiece in the Odyssey is the creation and preservation of a sophisticated luni-solar calendar system in which Odysseus’s adventures after the fall of Troy reflect the rhythms of the waxing and waning of the moon from one new crescent to the next during the course of a solar year.

Homer also expounds upon sophisticated luni-solar cycles  that kept the 354 days of the lunar year in step with the 365 days of the solar year. He was also familiar with cycles of the planet Venus.

This study enhances Homer’s reputation not only as the creator of two classical masterpieces, the Iliad and the Odyssey, but also as a learned and practical man of science and offers a sublime dimension to the intellectual achievements of the pre-literate Greeks.

Academic scholarship has now revealed that Homer's Greeks were far from being the only pre-literate peoples to embed knowledge of astronomy and calendar-making in their oral cultures. Studies have increasingly shown that other pre-literate societies, including  the Aborigines of Australia, the navigators of the southern oceans and the peoples of the Americas, also preserved such knowledge in their oral traditions.


Next:  Adventures in the Heavens  

Page Links

Goat island and the lunar year         Cycles of the sun, moon and Venus

Circe and Magical ‘Moly’           Moly revealed       Homer’s Secret Iliad 


YouTube:  Homer the Astronomer-1  & Homer the Astronomer-2

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