CAHA Colloquium (3 May 2018)
Host: University of Birmingham
Paper: The Significance of Names and Epithets in Homer’s Odyssey

Abstract: The power of a name is an established cultural motif, found in social and mystical practices the world over. Whilst the Odyssey may be known for its puns and wordplay, especially on names (Austin 1972: 1-19; Stanford 1959: xxi-xxii), there remains a deeper significance to their use. For instance there is a clear convention that being named is considered synonymous with living (Odyssey 8.552-555). The Odyssey certainly makes it plain that – within the Homeric universe – a man’s name is a thing of power. For example, within the confines of the formulaic expression: ‘[so-and-so] spoke the word (epos) which forms (ek) his name (onomasden)’ both epos and onomasdō serve as substitutes for the actual name of the addressee, allowing the speaker to avoid actually naming the person. Instead, the speaker often opens their speech with another form of address, such as: philos (‘nearest and dearest’), pater (‘father’), mēter (‘mother’), or even nēpioi agroiōtai (‘foolish countrymen!’).The avoidance of a spoken name can be explained through an understanding of the power of names and naming within Homeric conventions.

Most Homeric scholarship, therefore, is not shy in recognising the linguistic, literary, and contextual significance of names and naming, particularly in the Odyssey (most recently Kanavou 2015). This scholarship also often infers that the author deliberately chose certain names for specific purposes (Stanford 1939; Gomme 1954). However, the same considerations of meticulous choice, or linguistic, literary, and contextual value are not extended toward the study of epithets. This omission is likely due to the out-dated conclusions drawn by Parry and Lord which confuse the application of formula with purposeful composition. This paper will present close analysis of the Odyssey in order to demonstrate that the selection of epithets is (at least) as deliberate and effective as the choice of names, and that similar rules regarding social convention, as well as clever wordplay, apply to both.

Austin, N. (1972) ‘Name Magic in the “Odyssey”’, in, California Studies in Classical Antiquity 5: 1-19.
Gomme, A. W. (1954) The Greek Attitude to Poetry and History Berkeley: University of California.
Kanavou, N. (2015) The Names of Homeric Heroes: Problems and Interpretations Berlin: De Gruyter.
Stanford, W. B. (1939) Ambiguity in Greek Literature Oxford: Blackwell.
Stanford, W. B. (1959) Homer: Odyssey Volume I, New York: Macmillan.



Paths of Knowledge in Antiquity (1-2 December 2016)
Host: Topoi Excellence Cluster, Humbolt University, Berlin
Paper: Homer’s Odyssey: cosmic journeys and spiritual awakenings
Publication forthcoming:

The protagonist’s journey to the far west, through a cosmic gateway and into the dark realm of the dead is a recurring theme well founded in the epic tradition from the Sumerian Gilgameš to Dante’s Divina Commedia. The intimate relationship between the paths of the sun, gods, and heroes, in katabasis narratives throughout antiquity frequently marks the episode as a cosmic journey. Yet the pursuit and acquisition of ‘hidden’ knowledge during some katabasis episodes within the epic tradition also lends them an initiatory quality, whilst the ephemeral nature of the Underworld itself also introduces spiritual concerns to the narrative. It may be no surprise, therefore, that the katabasis episode has drawn so much attention throughout history, calling as it does upon the celestial, intellectual, and spiritual facets of the human experience.

A comprehensive study of Homer’s Odyssey through my doctoral research has, however, revealed that these cosmic, gnostic, and psychic elements are not only to be found in the katabasis episode of Rhapsode XI. Whilst Odysseus can be considered a man of many travels – as judged by the places and peoples he encounters – he is also a man of many meanings, inasmuch as multiple interpretations of Odysseus’ journey can be drawn from within the same narrative. This paper aims to unwrap the journeys of Odysseus, and present the audience with multiple readings of the Odyssey: readings which unlock celestial, intellectual, and spiritual journeys from the text, and demonstrate that Odysseus polutropon is a man of far more ‘ways’ than we ever imagined.


The Marriage of Astronomy and Culture: Theory and Method in the Study of Cultural Astronomy
The 24th SEAC Conference (12-16 September 2016)
Host: Bath
Sponsored by: The Sophia Centre, University of Wales: Trinity St. David

Paper: ‘Neo-panBabylonianism: A Cosmological Interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey.’

In 1794 Charles F. Dupuis ‘came to the conclusions that all sagas of all peoples go back to the creation-myth’.[1] That is, that all ancient literature boils down to a cosmological or cosmogonical myth concerning the structure of our universe. Decades later Eduard Stucken argued that the histories of Biblical figures embodied motifs which derived from astronomical bodies, and were spread all around the world as mythical or quasi-historical characters. In short, both these academics believed that ancient religion was encoded within astral myths. Stucken’s student Hugo Winckler adopted the theory of his predecessor and constructed a universal theory from which he could analyse ancient myth and religion. He called this theoretical approach ‘pan-babylonianism’. The basic tenet of pan-Babylonianism was that most ancient religions are built on astral myths which were borrowed from Babylonia ‘the home of astronomy and astrology’.[2] The flaw of pan-Babylonianism however, – which ultimately brought about its discredit – was that it extrapolated some accepted tenets and affirmed that all religious myths and customs of India, Persia, China, Babylon and beyond are related in some way to astral phenomena.

The unfortunate aftermath of pan-Babylonianism’s collapse has led to decades of academic aversion to astronomical interpretations of ancient texts, especially those from the Near East and Archaic Greece. However, that is not to say that the spirit of the pan-Babylonian school is fundamentally incorrect, merely that the sweeping conclusions drawn by its practitioners are fallible. With this in mind, this paper aims to revive a ‘Neo-panBabylonian’ theory by reading Homer’s Odyssey with a sensitivity to Homeric portrayals of the cosmos, and more importantly, examine how the characters’ interactions within this cosmos helps provide insight into beliefs about the astronomical nature of the soul in the ancient world.

[1] Toy, C. H. (1910) ‘Panbabylonianism’, in, The Harvard Theological Review Vol. 3, No.1: 47.
[2] Toy, C. H. (1910) ‘Panbabylonianism’, in, The Harvard Theological Review Vol. 3, No.1: 50.


Imagining the Afterlife in the Ancient World (21-23 June 2016)
Hosts: University of Birmingham and Newman University.
Paper: ‘Cosmology, Psychopomps, and Afterlife in Homer’s Odyssey.’

Publication Upcoming:
Grey, S. (2019) ‘Cosmology, Psychopomps and Afterlife in Homer’s Odyssey‘, in, Harrisson, J. (ed.) Imagining the Afterlife in the Ancient World London: Routledge.

In various Greek-speaking traditions the construct of the afterlife was intimately connected with the patterns of the sun, and by extension, the structure of the cosmos itself. In these traditions there often exists an intimate relationship between the path of the sun through the underworld, and the adventures of heroes and gods. One of the most famous of these stories concerns the role of the hero Odysseus and his journey into the netherworld. Yet Odysseus’ expedition in Rhapsode XI is not the only account of the afterlife in the Odyssey, nor is it the most evocative in describing how Greek traditions of the afterlife related to their understanding of the cosmos.

This paper will explore connections between afterlife and the cosmos through an examination of the relationships between the god Hermes, and the hero Odysseus. It will also focus on the brief description at the opening of Rhapsode XXIV concerning Hermes’ role as psychopomp – and the prophecy of Theoklymenos in Rhapsode XX – as well as evidence concerning Odysseus’ cosmic role as a solar symbol. In short, this paper hopes to demonstrate that the Homeric netherworld was an integral part of a cosmic mechanism, centering on the motions of the sun, and navigated by great heroes whose relationship with the afterlife was imagined and something more than a communion with the dead.


Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature AMPAL (June 2015)
Host: University of Edinburgh

Paper: ‘Homer’s Odyssey: Astronomy, and the influence of the Near East.’
Duration: 20 minutes


Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena INSAP IX (August 2015)
Host: Gresham College, London

Paper: ‘Homer’s Odyssey: Odysseus the solar hero.’
Duration: 20 minutes


8th Annual Ancient Science Conference (February 2014).
Host: UCL, London.
Paper: ‘Homer’s Odyssey: Astronomical Textbook.’
Duration: 20 minutes


Myth-making: from Medusa to Madonna (June 2013).
Host: University of Warwick, Coventry.
Paper: ‘Astronomical Knowledge in Homer’s Odyssey: Book IX Case Study’.
Duration: 20 minutes

Antiquity Matters! (June 2013).
Host: University of Warwick, Coventry.
Paper:’The Mithraic Mysteries: a religious manifestation of Platonic soteriological cosmology’.
Duration: 20 minutes

Since the efforts of Franz Cumont, scholarly opinion concerning the Roman cult known as Mithraism has been divided. The lack of written evidence has led to a wide variety of opinions concerning every aspect of the cult from the purpose of its astronomical imagery, to the gender and status of its members. This disparity has led to an abundance of theories, some of which strive to present Mithraism from the point of view of a single dogma, but all suffer from the necessary flaws of conjecture. There are some scholars such as Beck, Ulansey, and Turcan who believe that on some level or another, a Platonic influence pervades every aspect of this cult, and furthermore, that we can find answers to the Mithraic Mysteries in the texts of Plato. This paper agrees with these scholars inasmuch as it argues that Platonic philosophy, especially Platonic cosmology and astronomy, does indeed pervade the cult. A brief overview of the transmission of Platonic doctrine will at least suggest the likelihood of Plato’s influence. However, this paper also aims to show how far this influence has indeed spread, and suggests that Platonic theory might even explain once for all, why Mithraism was androcentric, and how the initiates sought salvation in the sky. 

Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (June 2013).
Host: St. Andrews University, St. Andrews.
Paper: ‘Homer’s Odyssey: Astronomical Textbook?’
Duration: 20 minutes.


Open University Student’s Association (June 2012).
Host: Open University, Milton Keynes.
Paper: ‘The Astrotheological Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, Judaism and Christianity’.
Duration: 45 minutes.

British Conference of Undergraduate Research (March 2012).
Host: University of Warwick, Coventry.
Paper: ‘The Astrotheological Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, Judaism and Christianity’.
Duration: 45 minutes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *