Odyssean eclipse

The study of religious or heroic legends and tales. One constant rule of mythology is that whatever happens amongst the gods or other mythical beings was in one sense or another a reflection of events on earth. Recorded myths and legends, perhaps preserved in literature or folklore, have an immediate interest to archaeology in trying to unravel the nature and meaning of ancient events and traditions.

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Odyssean eclipse

Postby Grumpage » Wed Jul 09, 2008 12:29 pm

This is a little late - technical difficulties delayed my registration/activation.

Has anyone read the Baikouzis and Magnasco article “Is an eclipse described in the Odyssey?” accessed via the main page link of 29 June?

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2008/06/23/0803317105.full.pdf

It requires a careful read but is well worth the effort. The authors have worked out the coincidences of astronomical events mentioned (or implied) by Homer in connection with Odysseus’ return to Ithaca. The date that ties them all together is 16 April 1178 BCE, and the probability of this particular conjunction is low (1:2000 years) - a remarkable and fascinating result.

So how did Homer achieve this feat? How did he know of these astronomical occurrences and the way they ‘cohere‘ (the term used by B & M)? The authors say that these events, albeit most improbably, could have been “observed and noted (at the time), preserved through oral tradition for centuries, and then incorporated into the story by the Poet. The main argument against this possibility is that the data we’ve examined requires observations of a high level of sophistication for the time and place and its precise preservation in oral tradition.” To me this is a real tricky issue. All but one of the astronomical events occurred before Odysseus’ return. How would someone know that the drama in Ithaca was about to take place in order to observe these conditions? Could they have been worked out or guessed soon afterwards? Certainly a Homeric retrospective is highly unlikely given the state of astronomical science at the time.

The authors conclude their article by saying: “We again emphasize that even if our analysis were correct, we still could not say whether anything other than an eclipse happened that 16 April, because it is equally compatible with a historical Odysseus, or with an allegorical Odysseus whose wanderings were structured, deliberately, according to an astronomical timeline. Either case, our conjectural Homer would have had to be aware that there was an eclipse on a certain date and what the planets did on nearby dates. This is problematic enough, because the dates were centuries before his time; how this knowledge was acquired—we dare not conjecture, for all possibilities sound equally outlandish.”

Any suggestions?

PS: Glad to be here :wink:
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Postby Minimalist » Wed Jul 09, 2008 12:39 pm

This is a little late - technical difficulties delayed my registration/activation.



Sad to say, those are not "technical difficulties" it's the way the board software works. Glad you made it through the blockade and welcome aboard.
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

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Postby Ishtar » Wed Jul 09, 2008 2:57 pm

Hello and welcome Grumpage

You raise an interesting question and one we hover around quite often on this board - who knew what about astronomy and when?

Imo, unless our dates are wrong, the Greeks were very late to the table.

The Babylonians and the Vedics, thousands of years earlier, knew a heck of lot about astronomy and astrology. The Vedic star books record an eclipse in 8,000 BC - however, this does not prove that they knew how to record eclipses in 8,000 BC because it's possible to back date them, and just calculate that there would have been one then.

My own view is that the Greeks, who were Indo Europeans and who quite possibly migrated out from wherever the IEs migrated from whenever they did (sorry to be vague on this, but this another old chestnut that regularly comes up on this board), quite probably knew a lot more about astronomy than we can attest they did, at an earlier date.

That's my view, FWIW, anyway. :lol:

Anyway, look forward to more interesting discussions with you! :lol:
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Postby rich » Wed Jul 09, 2008 3:09 pm

What about stuff like the Antikethera mechanism? Granted it may have been later but who says it couldn't have taken it's idea from an older one?
i'm not lookin' for who or what made the earth - just who got me dizzy by makin it spin
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Re: Odyssean eclipse

Postby Forum Monk » Wed Jul 09, 2008 5:34 pm

Grumpage wrote:So how did Homer achieve this feat? How did he know of these astronomical occurrences and the way they ‘cohere‘ (the term used by B & M)? The authors say that these events, albeit most improbably, could have been “observed and noted (at the time), preserved through oral tradition for centuries, and then incorporated into the story by the Poet. The main argument against this possibility is that the data we’ve examined requires observations of a high level of sophistication for the time and place and its precise preservation in oral tradition.” To me this is a real tricky issue. All but one of the astronomical events occurred before Odysseus’ return. How would someone know that the drama in Ithaca was about to take place in order to observe these conditions? Could they have been worked out or guessed soon afterwards? Certainly a Homeric retrospective is highly unlikely given the state of astronomical science at the time.
...
Any suggestions?

Would love to spend some time on this but for the moment Ishtar insists on having a fight er.. debate on another thread. (j/k Ish ;) )

For now I will leave you with this and get back to you later.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saros_cycle

oh...
and welcome.
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Postby Ishtar » Thu Jul 10, 2008 5:17 am

Monk

I think you should put this before our debate.

You might as well have a little enjoyment first - before I make mincemeat of everything you've ever held to be true and you are plunged headfirst into the Dark Night of the Soul. (j/k Monk :wink: )
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Postby Forum Monk » Thu Jul 10, 2008 10:29 am

Ishtar wrote:You might as well have a little enjoyment first - before I make mincemeat of everything you've ever held to be true and you are plunged headfirst into the Dark Night of the Soul. (j/k Monk :wink: )


Kenny goes to hell....again.
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Postby Grumpage » Fri Jul 11, 2008 12:27 pm

A further clarification of my thoughts and then I’ll shut up.

It seems to me that explanations run as follows:

1. The astronomical conditions (ACs) were noted at the time and preserved/remembered for introduction into the story when it was produced. This is ok for the eclipse but cannot account for those ACs preceding Odysseus’ arrival in Ithaca. How would anyone know the future in order to observe the ACs? Also it is unlikely that the required observational techniques were available at that time.

2. The ACs were retrospectively calculated at some point during the formulation of the story. The difficulty here is that pre-Homeric astronomical science was not up to the job.

3. The ACs were retrospectively calculated, post-Homerically, when the science became available, and then inserted into the story.

This last option is interesting as it engages with the textual history of the Odyssey itself. That is, the Odyssey didn’t become ‘fixed’ after it was first written down but at some time later (e.g. like Biblical texts). Does anyone know anything about this?
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Postby Forum Monk » Tue Jul 15, 2008 2:17 pm

Grumpage wrote:1. The astronomical conditions (ACs) were noted at the time and preserved/remembered for introduction into the story when it was produced. This is ok for the eclipse but cannot account for those ACs preceding Odysseus’ arrival in Ithaca. How would anyone know the future in order to observe the ACs? Also it is unlikely that the required observational techniques were available at that time.


I still want to spend some time on this, but find it hard to focus any attention on it for the time being. Still I would like a clarification of point 1 quoted above. What observational techniques do you think were unavailable in c.1200BC?

We are, after all, talking about visible planets, the moon and sun, observed relative to one another and the bright background stars.
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Postby Forum Monk » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:37 pm

Having finally read the article carefully, I find it fascinating that we see a possibly excellent example of how a carefully crafted story can be used to preserve detailed and precise information over centuries.

If this hypothesis has merit, as I think it may as I fully support an 1184 B.C. end date for the Trojan War, the implications are profound with respect to so many other discussions we have had on this board. Conveying precise information through oral tradition is definitely a lost art, I think.
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Postby Forum Monk » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:51 pm

Using the same criteria listed in the article and the Delta-T correction, here is my reproduction of the eclipse:

Image

The moon is superimposed over the sun in the image at around 12:00 noon. All five of the visible planets are in a nice line and would have been visible at the same time during totality with Pleiades, crowning the sun.

Date: 16 Apr 1178 BC about 12:30PM
Last edited by Forum Monk on Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Grumpage » Wed Jul 16, 2008 3:24 am

Forum Monk wrote:What observational techniques do you think were unavailable in c.1200BC?


I don’t know, I’m no astronomer. I defer to the authors of the article:

The main implausibility in the conclusions is that they imply that
the author of the lines in question was, first, interested in advanced
astronomy, at a time when there are no traces left that the Greek
had an interest in it beyond calendrical purposes; and in possession
of detailed astronomical data of events happening perhaps five
centuries before him.


Homer would have had to be aware that there was an
eclipse on a certain date and what the planets did on nearby dates.
This is problematic enough, because the dates were centuries before
his time; how this knowledge was acquired—we dare not conjecture,
for all possibilities sound equally outlandish.


These quotes clearly refer to a retrospective calculation carried out by the poet. This next quote refers to contemporary observations.

As to the data, it is quite improbable, although not entirely
impossible, that it had been observed and noted, preserved through
oral tradition for centuries, and then incorporated into the story by
the Poet. The main argument against this possibility is that the data
we’ve examined requires observations of a high level of sophistication
for the time and place and its precise preservation in oral
tradition.




Were retrospective calculations possible? Were contemporary observations possible? Because I’m no historian of astronomy I have no reason to go further than the authors of the article.

Two points arise:

1. What exactly is a contemporary observation? Is it one made simultaneous with the events or at around the time of the events? The former, due to the astronomical conditions (apart from the eclipse) being prior to the events, seems to be ruled out as it requires foreknowledge of those events. The latter is possible but would involve a retrospective calculation (albeit at a time closer to the events) driven by the knowledge that those events had taken place.

2. If the Odysey, or at least the Ithaca events, are fictional then the entire case comes down to retrospective calculations unless the poet contemporaneously happened upon those astronomical coherences and spun a story around them,

I have great difficulty in understanding the possible logistics of anything other than the application of retrospective calculations which, according to the authors of the article, is somewhat implausible.
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Postby Grumpage » Wed Jul 16, 2008 3:30 am

Forum Monk

In your last post you did mean 16 April didn't you?
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Postby Ishtar » Wed Jul 16, 2008 3:34 am

Forum Monk wrote:
If this hypothesis has merit, as I think it may as I fully support an 1184 B.C. end date for the Trojan War, the implications are profound with respect to so many other discussions we have had on this board. Conveying precise information through oral tradition is definitely a lost art, I think.


You know I'll agree with you on that, Monk.
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Postby Forum Monk » Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:49 pm

Grumpage wrote:Forum Monk

In your last post you did mean 16 April didn't you?


Yes I fixed the post - thanks.
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