“Homer, the astronomer, considered wisest of all Greeks.”
I am about to begin my reading of the Odyssey having already selected the English translation I am going to use. It is going to be the one by Robert Fitzgerald for two reasons: first, it is in verse but still modern and easy to follow, secondly, because he kept Greek names of gods and goddesses, while some translators used Roman names for a reason I cannot comprehend. I also cannot understand how anyone would want to read Homer in prose. I have found this recommendation on Amazon’s page: “Of the many translations published since World War II, only Fitzgerald’s has won admiration as a great poem in English.” Today’s is the last overview and preparatory post before I start my journey with Odysseus across the dark seas (or the dark skies) of the ocean he was crossing with his twelve ships.
The Odyssey begins with an invocation to the Muse:
“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.”
Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, gave Zeus nine daughters – the Muses; she also invented language and words. She was the patroness of the bards of the oral tradition such as Homer. I would like to give her more space in my writing in future.
Dante Gabriel Rosetti, “Mnemosyne”
For me, memory is the chief faculty of the soul, keeping us in a nourishing connection with our roots. The bards were able to memorize 120,000 words of the Odyssey thanks to the marriage of intellect and soul effected by the goddess Mnemosyne. Their recitations were accompanied by “the beat and rhythm of the music of the lyre”, says Wood:
“… a vital aid to memory for the poet-astronomer was the ever-turning night sky, where the rhythms of the moon, sun, stars and constellations are unforgettably associated with events in the epics.”
Odysseus himself was a master minster and story teller, who recounts a big part of his adventures himself in the Odyssey. He keeps his listeners enchanted and entranced. His adventures are closely linked to the phases of the moon, and the Moon in astrology is linked to memory. Here is an overview of the links between moon phases and the changing fortunes of our hero, experienced during the forty-day period described in the first books of the Odyssey, summarized by the authors of Homer’s Secret Odyssey:
“Moon’s third quarter: The Odyssey opens with a period of discord. The gods debate whether to allow Odysseus to leave Calypso’s island and return home; the suitors hold sway in unruly Ithaca and much-troubled Telemachus goes to Pylos and Lacedaemon in search of news of his father. When the suitors learn that he has left Ithaca they plan to ambush and kill him on his return. Meanwhile, Penelope, wife of Odysseus, sleeps fitfully and has strange dreams.
Dark period: Hermes tells Calypso that the gods have said she must allow Odysseus to go free. Odysseus enters the story bemoaning his fate and goes to bed with the goddess, hidden deep in a cave on a moonless night.
New crescent: Odysseus builds a raft and embarks with a happy heart after Calypso gives him advice on how to use the Pleiades, Boötes, the Bear and Orion to navigate his craft.
The moon waxes to full and then wanes: All goes smoothly for Odysseus as he sails for ‘seven days and ten’ across the seas, a period which covers the days when the moon is at its most prominent from first quarter to third quarter.
Third quarter: As the moon wanes tension increases and disaster strikes. On his eighteenth day at sea Odysseus’ raft breaks up in a storm created by Poseidon. He loses everything, including his clothing, and drifts for two day before scrambling ashore on the island of Scherie in the evening. He sleeps until well after midday and then meets Nausicaa, daughter of Alcinous, King of the Phaecians. The same evening Odysseus arrives at the king’s palae and weeps at Demodocus’ song of Troy. The following day Odysseus takes part in the Phaecian games and later recounts his terrible adventures to the Phaecians, who the next day take him on an overnight voyage to Ithaca.
Last sighting of the waning crescent: Only the last thin crescent of the waning moon can be seen when Odysseus lands on Ithaca before dawn. The crescent disappears in the morning sunlight as the moon goes into conjunction with the sun and Athene disguises Odysseus as a beggar so that he, like the moon, is hidden from view.
Dark period: Odysseus hides away for three dark nights in the hut of the pig-keeper Eumaeus, who fails to recognize his long-lost friend and master. Telemachus returns safely from Lacedaemon after sailing unseen through a dark night, and when Athene magically and briefly reveals Odysseus to his son they plot the downfall of the suitors.
New crescent imminent: Odysseus, still in disguise, travels to his palace to be reunited with his wife after 19 years away. The new moon is not yet risen, but when the nurse Eurycleia washes his feet she recognizes a scar on his leg made by the curved white tusk of a wild boar; both scar and tusk are metaphor for the impending new crescent.
Appearance of the new crescent: Next day Odysseus strings his mighty curved bow and to mark the coming together of the sun and moon he fires an arrow (the sun) through a line of 12 axe-heads, representing the months of a lunar year. As the new crescent moon appears in the evening sky it marks the coming together of the sun and moon after 19 years. Odysseus casts off his disguise and like the moon is dressed anew as the suitors who had been seeking to marry his wife are killed.
(I am reminded here of what Rudhyar said in his “Lunation Types”: “At the New Moon, the Moon is united, as it were, with the Sun (i.e., in conjunction). It is being impregnated by the ray of the Sun. This ray of spirit impresses upon it a new purpose, a new act of spiritual will, a new creative impulse — indeed, a new answer to a vital need which had become outstanding at the close of the lunation cycle just ended.”)
The cycle continues: On the second day of the new lunation – the final day of the Odyssey – Odysseus meets his father, Laertes, and Athene restores peace between Odysseus and relatives of the slain suitors; in other words the lunar and solar calendars are at that moment in harmony at the beginning of both a new calendar year and a new 19-year cycle of the sun and moon.”
The authors of the book propose that Odysseus’ adventures “occurred amongst the stars and constellations.” Homer gives the exact number of days Odysseus spends on each part of his adventures and these numbers are precisely correlated with the number of days between moon phases. Eratosthenes, an ancient astronomer, once wrote: “You will find the scene of the wanderings of Odysseus when you find the cobbler who sewed up the bag of the winds.” Odysseus’ route can only be charted amongst the stars.
I think it is extremely profound that Homer would put so much emphasis on lunation cycles in his epic. They are the soul making cycles of relationships, as Dane Rudhyar called them. He wrote in Lunation Types:
“This period, the month, is necessary as a vital intermediary between the year and the day — just as, philosophically speaking, “mind” is the necessary intermediary between the realm of “spirit” (the Sun and its yearly rhythm) and that of “material body” (the Earth and its daily rotation). There is but one Latin word for “mind” and “month”, mens, from which also is derived the word for “measure”. Mind — and also in a certain sense, soul — belongs to the middle realm in all trinities of principles of being. Mind is the “formative principle”; this principle, which is the controlling factor in all actual manifestations of life (i.e., in all “organisms”), can be understood only in terms of the interplay of polarities — the yang and yin of old Chinese philosophy, the solar and lunar factors in Alchemy and in the more profound systems of modern psychology.”
In his epic Homer linked solar with lunar time and an eight-year cycle of the sun, moon and Venus, which is presented in the following chart:
We read in Homer’s Secret Odyssey:
“To link solar time with lunar time, the scenarios for each of Odysseus’ adventures are set amongst the stars through which the sun passes during the course of a lunation. Homer’s fulsome images of the lands and islands on which Odysseus finds himself are proposed as brilliant metaphorical descriptions of constellations, largely on or close to the ecliptic. … In support of this premise, a study of constellations in and about the zodiacal band reveals a series of relatively prominent stars on or close to the ecliptic, each of which is about 30 degrees apart and it takes the sun 29-30 days to travel between them. In our calendrical model, a new lunar month (adventure of Odysseus) begins when the sun reaches one of these prominent stars which we refer to as a ‘station of the sun’.”
It is the sky which is the ocean that our souls navigate.
Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”
Dane Rudhyar, “Lunation Types”
Kenneth and Florence Wood, Homer’s Secret Odyssey