Astronomers Trace Homer's Wandering Hero

Experts tie Odysseus' return to Ithaca with real eclipse in 1178
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2008 9:39 AM CDT
Two astronomers conclude that a solar eclipse occurred just before Odysseus slaughtered the suitors of Penelope.   (Wikimedia)
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(Newser) – Homer's Odyssey is 2,700 years old, and the events it describes happened centuries earlier. But two scientists claim in a new paper that they've traced one line in the epic poem—a possible reference to an eclipse—to a real astronomical event. Classicists might take issue, writes the New York Times, but the astronomers say that Odysseus' return to Ithaca coincided with a solar eclipse on April 16, 1178 BC.

"The sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky darkness invades the world," the blind bard wrote in book 20 of the Odyssey. As the astronomers point out, Homer also mentions that his homecoming occurs during a new moon—a necessary condition for a solar eclipse. Even if the legendary Homer never composed the line himself, they say, later bards might have added the reference to the eclipse as the poem was transmitted orally.