Homer’s secret Odyssey

crescent moon - colour

                                                                                        Photo: Fotolia 

by Florence and Kenneth Wood 

Since classical antiquity there have been persistent threads that in an age when the ancient Greeks did not have a writing system, the poet Homer, (c. 750-650 BC), was renowned not only as a colossus of epic literature but also as a learned astronomer.  

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

The questions of what Homer actually knew of astronomy and calendar-making and the manner in which it was passed down through the generations in pre-literate Greece, intrigued  Edna F Leigh (below) even  when she was a college student. 

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey openly record that the pre-literate Greeks were accomplished in such practical spheres as metallurgy (bronze and iron), agriculture, ship building, navigation on land and sea, warfare and could conceive of organising huge armies at the Siege of Troy. 

Their need for astronomical knowledge, as in other ancient cultures, was essential.

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

Regrettably ill health in Edna’s later years prevented her from completing and publishing her scholarly study and on her death she left her large volume of research papers and manuscripts to her daughter, Florence Wood, Florence and  husband Kenneth have published Homer’s Secret Iliad and Homer’s Secret Odyssey, accounts of Edna’s outtanding discoveries.

In her  studies Edna  had gradually discovered how Homer embedded in the Iliad and the Odyssey catalogue of 45 constellations and hundreds of stars, constructed a sophisticated luni-solar calendar system and recorded a system of ’star maps’ for navigation on land and sea.

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. 

The following pages focus on the extensive astronomical content of the Odyssey that was published in Homer’s Secret Odyssey (2011, The History Press)

Study of the Iliad as a substantial source of additional astronomical learning (see column one)  was published in Homer’s Secret Iliad (1999, John Murray).

Odysseus and the Moon

A principal objective in Homer's Odyssey is the creation and preservation of a sophisticated luni-solar calendar system in which Odysseus’s adventures after the fall of Troy largely 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 of four, eight and nineteen years 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. 

Edna's study enhances Homer’s reputation not only as the creator of two literary 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 in recent times has 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  shown that other pre-literate societies, including  the Aborigines of Australia and the navigators of the southern oceans, were  amongst the ancient peoples who preserved astronomical learning 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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