Did eclipse end Odyssey?

Using astronomical clues in Homer's “The Odyssey,” researchers said they have dated a major event in the tale: Odysseus' slaughter of his wife's suitors upon his return from the Trojan War.

According to a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the wily hero who devised the Trojan Horse hefted his mighty bow on April 16, 1178 B.C., and executed the unruly crowd that had taken over his home and was trying to force his wife, Penelope, into marriage.

The results cast a new sheen of veracity on the story.

“They make a wonderfully persuasive case,” said Scott Huler, author of a book about his efforts to follow Odysseus' journey. “I do find myself convinced that some of these events Homer described” are based on actual history.

The “Odyssey” tells the story of the king's long journey home after the capture of Troy, spending years as a captive of the nymph Calypso, then being delayed another three by Poseidon, who was angered by the blinding of his son Cyclops.

When he finally arrived at Ithaca, he found 109 men urging his wife, Penelope, to accept that her husband was dead and marry one of them. Spurred by Athena, Penelope declared an archery contest with Odysseus' bow, saying she would marry the winner. Odysseus, in disguise, won the contest, then killed all the suitors.

The key passage in dating the tale is highly ambiguous. As the suitors are sitting down to eat, Athena “confounds their minds” and the seer Theoclymenus prophesies their deaths, ending with the phrase, “The Sun has been obliterated from the sky, and an unlucky darkness invades the world.”

The Greek historian Plutarch interpreted this as signifying a total solar eclipse. But some modern scholars argue that the passage is metaphorical.

Previous researchers have determined that a total solar eclipse occurred in the region over the Ionian Sea on April 16, 1178 B.C., which would be in agreement with recent data suggesting the fall of Troy around 1192 B.C. to 1184 B.C.