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Homer's Secret Odyssey
By Florence Wood, Kenneth Wood
The History PressCopyright © 2011 Florence Wood and Kenneth Wood,
All rights reserved.
ANCIENT EPICS & LONG-LOST SECRETS
Dare-devil that you are, full of guile, unwearying in deceit, can you [Odysseus] not drop your tricks and your instinctive falsehood? (Odyssey 13.291)
Homer is renowned as the ancient world's most famous storyteller and the finest of all the bards who, for countless generations, passed down by word of mouth the myths and legends of ancient Greece. Yet, for more than 2000 years there has been a persistent but unresolved belief that encrypted in his two magnificent epics was a wealth of secret learning. Ground-breaking research now reveals that creating and preserving the cultural heritage of the Greeks of antiquity was only part of the achievement of Homer and the storytellers known as the poet-singers. They were also the guardians of wide-ranging astronomical knowledge about the sun, moon, planets, stars and calendar-making. This learning was embedded in the stories they recited during the many centuries the Greeks did not possess a written script. Homer's Secret Odyssey is the extraordinary account of how the breaking of ingenious codes solves one of history's most enduring mysteries and adds a sublime new dimension to the achievements of the ancient Greeks. Sound – even breathtaking – support for these views comes from a unique analysis of the extensive numerical data that Homer deliberately and carefully inserted into the epic. A case will also be outlined for the oldest learning concealed in the Odyssey to have originated as early as c. 2300 BC, and from well beyond the boundaries of Greek-speaking peoples.
Homer (c. 745–700 BC) is a towering figure in western culture and was amongst the last of the old tradition of oral poets. He is as much a man of mystery as all of the poets who went before him and little if anything is known about his life except that he wove elements of myth from much earlier times into his two masterpieces, the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Iliad is the story of the last few weeks of the siege of Troy during a brutal Bronze Age war between Greeks and Trojans. The Odyssey tells of the strange and perilous adventures of the warrior-king Odysseus after the Greeks used the legendary wooden horse to trick their way into the stronghold of Troy. With the city reduced to smouldering ruins, Odysseus begins his long journey home during which he encounters monsters and witches, gods and ghosts, tempests and shipwreck, and it is with an investigation of his escapades that this challenging book is largely concerned.
Odysseus & the Moon
A major advance in readings of the Odyssey and the Iliad as sources of astronomical and calendrical learning was the realisation that the battlefield violence, dramas and danger-filled adventures of Odysseus' adventures are played out not only on earth but also in parallel scenarios that conjure beautiful metaphorical images of stars, constellations and the Milky Way, set against the background of the wine-dark seas of the night skies. For instance, in Homer's Secret Odyssey, the lands and islands visited by Odysseus on his journey home from Troy can be found amidst the glories of the heavens. In this way, and unrecognised for two millennia or more, storytelling became the vehicle for the preservation of important knowledge in a pre-literate society. If only a few short extracts of narrative had been selected to support our view it might have been considered subjective and merely a matter of opinion. The volume and consistency of the re-discovered material, however, presents exciting new aspects of Homer's genius and rolls back the history of Greek astronomy by several centuries.
Odysseus, a battle-weary hero struggling to return home after a prolonged and bloody war, is the key figure for the preservation in story of this learning. To achieve his aims Homer created for Odysseus an alter ego as a personification of the moon. So closely is Odysseus' iconic role linked to the calendar that the tempo of his adventures is governed by the rhythm of the monthly lunar cycle, from one new crescent moon to the next. Such, too, are Homer's skills that singular events that have puzzled scholars can be recognised as important components in his calendar system. A range of literary devices are employed to conceal knowledge: Odysseus' adventures contain the main body of learning but prominent characters, such as his wife Penelope, son Telemachus, the beautiful Helen of Troy, the pig-keeper Eumaeus and even his faithful hound Argus, are linked to the calculation of time.
Outside the bounds of literature, Homer's principal focus in the Odyssey is the construction of a calendar system in which the days and months are reckoned by the moon and the passing of the years by the sun. The serious problem of reconciling the lunar year of 354 days with the solar year of 365 days was resolved to varying degrees of accuracy in other societies by the discovery of luni-solar cycles. Homer was so familiar with such cycles that the Iliad and the Odyssey are connected by the continuing thread of a 19-year cycle of the sun and moon. He knew also, at least, of the four-year Olympiad and the eight-year (octaëteris) lunisolar cycles, as well as cycles of the planet Venus and the Saros cycle, which makes it possible to forecast eclipses of the sun and moon, a powerful social tool in times of widespread superstitions.
There was even more evidence of Homer's genius to come, for embedded in his 19-year cycle is a detailed annual calendar that plots the lunations and passage of the sun along the ecliptic during the course of a year. So detailed is his calendar in marking the equinoxes and solstices, adjusting the lunar year with the solar year, and tracing the path of the sun through the stars of the zodiac, that it could have been used as a template for generations of calendar makers.
Calendars are much concerned with counting and numbers, and surprisingly accurate support for our projected model of a Homeric calendar system was discovered by analysis of data embedded in narrative throughout the Odyssey. Homer records such precise information about the lunar year, the solar year, luni-solar cycles and other calendrical matters that the astronomers of the eighth century BC have to be acknowledged as being far more advanced than has previously been recognised.
Away from the world of calendars, Homer provides data which in the story of one-eyed Polyphemus points towards an exploration of p, the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference – a topic so ancient that its origins are not known. Navigation is also on Homer's agenda and in two striking cases he reveals how Odysseus and his fellow sea-going Greeks could easily find the north celestial pole for navigation at night.
Homer the Astronomer
In the centuries after his death, Homer was acclaimed by certain Greek sages as a man of science, an astronomer and 'the wisest of all Greeks'. The Odyssey and the Iliad were also believed to be the source of allegories that expressed learning about the natural world in the form of poetry. In this work, extended metaphor is recognised as a source of knowledge about astronomy and calendars concealed behind the literal meaning of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Almost all of the data in the epic has been linked to astronomy and a calendar system and there remain only a small number of tantalising items that have yet to reveal their secrets.
Homer's Secret Odyssey does not detract from the vast body of Homeric scholarship in other fields but restores a long- forgotten element to the intellectual achievements of the pre-literate Greeks. New vistas in the history of astronomy and calendars are revealed in Homer's encyclopaedic masterpiece, as well as the crucial role played by mythology and legend in the preservation of essential knowledge. The dedication and skills of generations of classical scholars and the commentaries and translations they have created has made it possible to project a model of his astronomical and calendrical intentions. This work is only the beginning of an exciting exploration of Homeric epic, and an even wider view of the fusion of literature and science is likely to emerge in the future. We expect that some of our conclusions, particularly in areas which are still not too clear, will be amended, extended or improved upon in the future. The storytellers known as the poet-singers can now also be regarded as the poet-astronomers, with Homer, finest of them all, being indeed a 'Master of Time'.
The inspiration and ideas developed in the following chapters arose from a study by the late Edna Leigh MSc, who, like some scholars of old, believed there was more to Homer's epics than storytelling alone. She wrote of the Iliad and the Odyssey:
I read these two books over and over again, again and again. Each time I found the same things: an excellent narrative, superbly told; well-drawn characters; the world's best plots; pathos, horror, excitement, calm, philosophy, history and so on. Yet each time I finished reading, my reaction was the same: I felt I had missed the point. I read mythology, I read volumes of ancient history, I went to Greece, I then read criticism and comment by the world's leading scholars in Homeric studies. I re-read the Iliad and Odyssey several more times, but the same old feeling remained, that I was missing the point. Homer, so it seemed to me, was saying something very clearly, yet something I did not grasp. Between his words and my understanding was a veil. Eventually, out of all this emerged a few ideas. Are both epics extended metaphor? Figurative language is a poetic device. To sustain a metaphor for the length of two books is long. Nevertheless, I put everything else aside to explore the possibility for by then I had begun to see what might possibly be the author's purpose. What did this ancient author think sufficiently worthwhile to put into a book-length poem, at a time when writing was either unknown or, if known, an expensive process? What was the incentive, good literature apart, for poets and scholars to memorise both books even after writing was known?
Above all, Edna concluded that Homer was an eminently practical man who preserved in epic the accumulated knowledge of astronomy and calendars known to the Greeks of his time. Edna was born in 1916 and raised on a farm in Kansas but she lived in England for more than 40 years. A gifted scholar and teacher, the pursuit of these ideas consumed a large part of her life until ill health curtailed her activities and prevented her from completing her study. On her death in 1991 she left her papers to her daughter, Florence Wood. Since then Edna's research and principles of interpretation have been extended with material from our own investigations into the Iliad and Odyssey. It is from Edna that we adopted the phrase 'extended metaphor' rather than 'allegory'. Since Homer's Secret Iliad was published in 1999, work has continued on Homer's Secret Odyssey.
Florence and Kenneth Wood 2011CHAPTER 2
HOMER: A MAN FOR ALL AGES
The Iliad and the Odyssey have a compelling beauty and Homer speaks openly of powerful emotions which are as familiar today as they were in his own times in the eighth century BC. Gods and men are influenced for better and worse by love and jealousy, anger and revenge, heroism and cowardice, and are captivated by the soothing pleasures of music and storytelling. Through the ages these Homeric themes have inspired countless writers, poets, philosophers, artists and scholars who have devoted their lives to the examination of his works. Homer has been a mentor to many for brave and noble deeds. Amongst the best known of these was Alexander the Great, conqueror of many lands in the fourth century BC, who took copies of the epics on his military campaigns. Homer not only influences the high-minded but from the earliest times his spellbinding stories have had immense popular appeal and in particular have given the Greeks a pride in their heritage which continues even today. The Iliad and the Odyssey are still widely read and echoes of their epic themes are found in films and television programmes watched by countless millions. Whether Homer wrote the epics or composed them in the ancient oral tradition is a much debated question with no definitive answer. The view taken for Homer's Secret Odyssey is that Homer composed his epics in the oral tradition.
With so much exposure over so many centuries it is all the more remarkable that almost nothing is known about Homer as a man or of when or where he lived. Study of the oldest Homeric texts have identified elements of Greek dialects which suggest he came from the west coast of modern Turkey and lived possibly c.745–700 BC. It has been argued that Homer was two people, one of whom wrote the Iliad and the other who composed the Odyssey, but such is the consistency of the literary and concealed astronomical content of the two epic poems that we follow the general belief that he was one person. There was little support for the view of Samuel Butler (1834–1902) when he suggested that Homer might have been a woman. The creativity and emotions that might suggest a woman's touch in scenes of the Odyssey or the portrayals of love and family fidelity in the Iliad are overwhelmed by an aggressive male world of unrelenting warfare in the Siege of Troy and the hazardous adventures of Odysseus and his sailors and the bloodthirsty climax of the Odyssey.
Homer and the bards of the oral tradition had for centuries been masters of the arts of memorisation and could recite by heart the 150,000 or more words of the Iliad, and when they had recovered their breath might launch themselves into the 120,000 words or so of the Odyssey. Little wonder that Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and universal order, was honoured as the mother of the muses. For the purposes of this study it is relevant that others of the nine muses included Urania (astronomy) and Calliope (epic poetry), whose immortal status reflects the high regard in which such skills were held in ancient Greek society. A short account of the arts of memory is given in Homer's Secret Iliad (pp. 46–8) and includes references to the well-regarded works of Milman Parry and Frances A. Yates. In presenting the complex amounts of narrative stored in their memories, the bards would have been carried along by the beat and rhythm of the music of the lyre that accompanied their recitations. As more astronomical and calendrical content was extracted from the Iliad and the Odyssey the realisation came that a vital aid to memory for the poet-astronomers was the ever-turning night sky, where the rhythms of the moon, sun, stars and constellations are unforgettably associated with events in the epics. The bards related their stories within the time frame of the 19-year cycle and linked the adventures of Odysseus after the fall of Troy with the monthly cycles of the moon during a calendar year. The minstrels may sing of heroic events, but as Phemius, resident bard in Odysseus' palace in Ithaca, says: 'I make all my lays myself, and heaven visits me with every kind of inspiration.' (22.347)
Bards & theOdyssey
Without the countless generations of poet-singers there could have been no Iliad and no Odyssey. So important in Homeric society were these conservators of ancient culture that much of the Odyssey is set against a background of storytelling by Odysseus and the roles of the mythical bards, Demodocus and Phemius, are of considerable importance. As in the real life of Homer's times, the bards of the epic recited oft-told tales of a glorious past of gods and heroes, wisdom, valour and tragedy. So elevated in society were these storytellers that Homer never records them performing before the common folk, hoi polloi, but they sing their songs in royal courts after sporting games, banquets and dancing. Homer says the bards were divinely inspired and the Odyssey opens with a voice seeking inspiration from the muse, a daughter of Zeus.
The greatest storytelling role of all in the Odyssey is reserved for Odysseus, the complex hero whose accounts of his own adventures are recalled at great length and with considerable detail. His stories not only keep the pace of literary narrative racing along but also preserve a wealth of astronomical learning. So accomplished is Odysseus' long account of his adventures to the Phaeacian court that King Alcinous says there is a style about Odysseus' language that reflects his good disposition and that he tells his stories as if he were a 'practised bard'. Odysseus' friend and slave, the pig-keeper Eumaeus, describes his master's skills as those of 'a heaven-taught minstrel ... on whose lips all hearers hang entranced'. Odysseus himself, perhaps admiring his own skills, says 'there is nothing better or more delightful than when a whole people make merry together with guests sitting orderly to listen. When Odysseus visits the court of King Alcinous, the blind bard Demodocus brings tears to his eyes with songs of the fall of Troy. So overcome by emotion is Odysseus that he says Demodocus must have learned his music from Apollo and that 'there is no one in the world whom I admire more than I do you'; lavish praise from a warrior king who had fought gallantly at Troy. Demodocus had been granted the divine gift of song by the muse who had then taken away his sight, a story which has given rise to a belief that Homer was also blind. Such is the volume of learning based on astronomical observations preserved in his epics, that it is highly improbable that Homer could have been sightless.
Excerpted from Homer's Secret Odyssey by Florence Wood, Kenneth Wood. Copyright © 2011 Florence Wood and Kenneth Wood,. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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