Friday, June 27, 2008

Researchers at Rockefeller University support Schoch eclipse date referenced in the Odyssey

"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 Boo¨ tes 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." - Constantino Baikouzis,{dagger} and Marcelo O. Magnasco, Laboratory of Mathematical Physics, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10065; and {dagger}Proyecto Observatorio, Secretaría de Extensión, Observatorio Astronómico de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque, B1900FWA La Plata, Argentina

The scientists combed the epic to find specific mention of astronomical phenomena. Doing this, they found 4 events:
  1. The Day of the Slaughter is a new moon
  2. "Six days before the slaughter, Venus is visible and high in the sky"
  3. Two constellations were visible 29 days before the slaughter
  4. 33 days before there is a possibility that Homer refers to the relative place of the planet Mercury. Homer actually refers to the god Hermes. The scientists say that the association of gods with planets is a Babylonian invention that can be dated to about 1000 B.C. Their twelfth century B.C. date precedes this, and is not Babylonian, but they believe it works.
The scientists then looked for a date that would correspond with these discrete events that was within a century of the date of the fall of Troy(?).
"Ultimately, whether they’re right or wrong, the researchers are interested in reopening the debate. 'Even though there are historical arguments that say this is a ridiculous thing to think about, if we can get a few people to read The Odyssey differently, to look at it and ponder whether there was an actual date inscribed in it, we will be happy,' Magnasco says."