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Lecture explores debate over eclipse in 'Odyssey'

Monday, Nov. 30, 2009, 8 p.m. McCosh 10

Physicist Marcelo Magnasco will discuss his research on whether Homer describes a total solar eclipse in "The Odyssey" -- the subject of a longstanding debate among scholars -- at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30, in McCosh 10.

In a lecture titled "Is an Eclipse Described in Homer's 'Odyssey'?" Magnasco will address the controversy over whether Homer refers to a total solar eclipse in the 20th book of the epic. Such an eclipse has been calculated as having occurred in April 1178 B.C., around the estimated end of the Trojan War. But some scholars have dismissed the idea that Homer described it in his poem, which emerged centuries later.

Magnasco, a professor and head of the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at Rockefeller University, will describe his efforts with colleagues to analyze astronomical references in "The Odyssey" and to search for dates matching the astronomical phenomena they probably describe. Using three astronomical references in the epic, the researchers explored all possible dates from 1250 to 1115 B.C., trying to match these phenomena in the order and manner that Homer's text describes. In that period, a single date closely matches the phenomena -- April 16, 1178 B.C. -- leading these researchers to speculate that Homer is referring to that specific eclipse.

The talk is designated as a Louis Clark Vanuxem Lecture sponsored by the University Public Lecture Series and the Department of Molecular Biology.

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