Research: August 2012
This month I am studying Homer’s Odyssey in the pursuit of a solar and astral analogy woven into the myriad adventures of Odysseus, when read in chronological order. The main premise of this argument is that Odysseus, the ‘much turned’ man (polutropon; 1.1 & 10.330) represents the sun, and his ‘[wandering] full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy… the men whose cities he saw and whose mind he learned’ (1.1-3) represent the constellations and individual stars the sun passes on its annual journey along the ecliptic.
The interest in this line of study has been sparked through my study of ‘Homer’s Secret Odyssey‘ written by Florence and Kenneth Wood. This book argues a similar theory – namely that the character of Odysseus represents the moon, and that his voyages and tribulations can be assigned to an extended metaphor comparing them to the 19-year lunar-solar Metonic cycle. While there is much in their theory which I find compelling, there are some immediate pieces of evidence which sprung to my mind and did not seem in step with the lunar approach. For instance, why would the Earth-centred Universe of Eumaeus represent a solar year of 365 days (Secret Odyssey pp.78-82) when Odysseus visits if he represents the moon? Where else in ancient culture is the moon’s setting (or descent into the underworld; katabasis) represented as an heroic deed? Why should a lunar-Odysseus be compared to the sun in Book 19.233: ‘And I noted the tunic about his body, all shining as is the sheen upon the skin of a dried onion, so soft it was; and it glistened like the sun’? And so forth. However, like the authors, I am fully convinced that there is much more to the text than meets the eye and it is perfectly plausible, in my opinion, that there be multiple readings and meanings in the text. That is to say, while I propound a solar Odysseus, it does not necessarily follow that I oppose a lunar-Odyssean interpretation. Indeed there is much sense in the lunar-Odysseus theory and I merely wish to propose an alternate but comparable theory.
As it stands currently the structure of my theory is as follows:
1) That Odysseus represents the sun, and his wandering are the various constellations and stars along the ecliptic. If his events are studied in chronological order, counterpart astral connections can be found in the sky.
2) That Telemachus represents the planet Mercury which travels close to the Sun but is rarely seen with it, and Penelope/Athene both represent the Moon (the companion and counterpart of the sun).
3) Broadly speaking, and subject to change after in-depth research, the events of the Odyssey (in chronological order) parallel these constellations/sections of the sky:
Aries – Cicones; Taurus – Cyclops; Gemini – Aeolus; Cancer – Laestrygonians; Leo – Circe; Virgo – Underworld; Libra-Scorpio (which the ancients saw as one constellation) – Sirens/Clashing Rocks/Scylla and Charybdis; Sagittarius – Thrinacia; Capricorn – Loss of crew at sea/Calypso; Aquarius – Phaeacians/Arrival in Ithaca; Pisces – Odysseus triumphant/Laertes
4) That certain narrative events relate to astral phaenomena including total solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, the transitional nature of the shape of the moon, and references to both the Meton cycle and the eclipse cycle among others.
All of these premises are made under a belief shared by Florence and Kenneth Wood that the ancient author Homer, about whom very little is known, was an astronomer and calendar maker. In this role he passed down the scientific learning of his predecessors and peers in a form of oral analogy so it would be better remembered throughout the ages. While Simonides of Ceos* is credited with having invented the ‘memory palace’ c.500BCE, it is not unlikely that such methods were used by the great minds of his predecessors including the builders and architects of the ancient world. The recording of astral movement and phenomena in analogy or using fictional allegory is perhaps the most common and widespread memory tool of pre-historic and pre-literate cultures. The texts we have now are likely a much anachronistically edited version in which the astronomical and mathematical subtext has been lost, and it is likely we will never know for sure how much knowledge was inserted by Homer himself, or by later authors, or indeed where the knowledge originated. Either way, I am confident that the epics of Homer display consistent and highly intelligent astronomical theory.
*Yates, F. A. ‘The Art of Memory‘, University of Chicago Press, 1966, 2