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Is an eclipse described in the Odyssey?

by Constantino Baikouzis and Marcelo O. Magnasco. A short passage in the 20th book of the Odyssey has been interpreted as describing a total solar eclipse. It was suggested at the turn of the century that the only possible candidate to be an actual historical eclipse was the eclipse of 16 April 1178BC. We present further internal evidence that indicates the narrative may actually refer to this specific historic eclipse.

 

Plutarch and Heraclitus believed a certain passage in the 20th book of the Odyssey (“Theoclymenus's prophecy”) to be a poetic description of a total solar eclipse. In the late 1920s, Schoch and Neugebauer computed that the solar eclipse of 16 April 1178 B.C.E. was total over the Ionian Islands and was the only suitable eclipse in more than a century to agree with classical estimates of the decade-earlier sack of Troy around 1192–1184 B.C.E. However, much skepticism remains about whether the verses refer to this, or any, eclipse. To contribute to the issue independently of the disputed eclipse reference, we analyze other astronomical references in the Epic, without assuming the existence of an eclipse, and search for dates matching the astronomical phenomena we believe they describe. We use three overt astronomical references in the epic: to Boötes and the Pleiades, Venus, and the New Moon; we supplement them with a conjectural identification of Hermes's trip to Ogygia as relating to the motion of planet Mercury. Performing an exhaustive search of all possible dates in the span 1250–1115 B.C., we looked to match these phenomena in the order and manner that the text describes. In that period, a single date closely matches our references: 16 April 1178 B.C.E. We speculate that these references, plus the disputed eclipse reference, may refer to that specific eclipse.

 

Published as an Open Access article in PNAS.

 

For more information contact Constantino Baikouzis

 

 

 

Unlabelled reconstruction of the eclipse

Unlabelled reconstruction of the Eclipse

Labelled Reconstruction of the eclipse

Labelled Reconstruction of the Eclipse

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