Science and Technology in Homeric Epics

Here we present parts of the ‘Preface‘ of the impressive collective work “Science and Technology in Homeric Epics“, edited by S.A. Paipetis (Springer, 2008).


“The present volume is based on papers presented at the international symposium “Science and Technology in Homeric Epics”, SPAP Conference Centre, Ancient Olympia, 27–30 August 2006. It includes a total of 41 contributions, mostly original research papers, covering diverse fields of science and technology, in the modern sense of these words.

The use of terms coined in relatively recent times (after the 15th century) to refer to situations from times so long ago as the Mycenaean Era, may sound inappropriate. However, careful studies of the Homeric Epics by specialists in the various scientific fields may convince the reader that the knowledge contained therein reflects a deep understanding of the science of nature and an ability to apply technological achievements and structures, strongly reminiscent of modern technology in its present evolution level.

The question of knowledge contained in the Homeric Epic had, until recently, received a negative answer. The seemingly scientific knowledge and admirable technological achievements presented have always been attributed to poetic inspiration rather than to a solid scientific mind. Of course, if the latter were true, which is likely to be sometimes, it is also true that the very conception of an idea can constitute a catalyst towards scientific development. For example, Isaac Asimov notices that the first reference to robots is found in the Iliad, i.e. to the golden girls of Hephaestus, who, although made of soulless matter, “were like real young women, with sense and reason, voice also and strength, and all the learning of the immortals” (Il. 18.419–420). The great dream of Man, i.e. the possession of fully rational, obedient and efficient mechanical servants, is about to be substantiated nowadays. On the other hand, the technical information given in the Iliad is not sufficient to reach a justified conclusion on whether such devices really existed in the Mycenaean era.


However, there are many more explicit cases, where the description of a structure provides sufficient data, from which, on the basis of fully realistic assumptions, it is possible to reconstruct it in the form of numerical models and/or experimental specimens and, consequently, to perform a theoretical and/or experimental analysis.

Examples of such structures are the shields of Achilles and Ajax, which are laminated structures, of practically modern technology, exhibiting maximum penetration resistance. Their analysis confirmed their battle behaviour, as recounted in the Iliad, with surprising accuracy. The analysis of Circe’s instruction to Ulysses, on how to cross the fearful straits of Scylla and Charybdis safely, based on the hydrodynamic investigation of the problem, is another example of analytical approach.

Certainly, the above papers constitute substantial contributions towards uncovering knowledge found in the Epics, but the quest in the endless world of Homer does not stop. A few questions may have been answered, but only to reveal an enormous number of further questions, waiting to be answered by new, adventurous investigators, either specialists from practically all fields of science or even lay people who just happen to be sensitive towards beauty and, therefore, ready to partake of the hidden knowledge.”


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides



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