Stephen B. Quinlan, The “Iliad”, the Athlete and the Ancient Greek Polis: A Descriptive Study of Homer’s “Iliad” as Hero Myth
A pdf is available …
Stephen B. Quinlan, The “Iliad”, the Athlete and the Ancient Greek Polis: A Descriptive Study of Homer’s “Iliad” as Hero Myth
A pdf is available …
This past weekend the Journal (Ireland) had a feature on an interactive map of Odysseus’ travels which had just been created by Gisele Mounzer … I can’t get it to actually come up to test out the interactivity (which is probably a function of our school’s security measures), but you might want to check out the article at least:
… and try out the map (here’s the url in case the article disappears):
Such a map would obviously be useful in many Classical contexts …
Excellent extended essay by Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian … here’s the incipit:
Last month, the 7th Armoured Brigade, the “Desert Rats”, arrived at Camp Bastion in Helmand: the last major deployment to Afghanistan before the UK pulls out its combat troops at the end of next year. Britain’s wars, for now, are coming to an end. But what does that ending mean for the soldiers coming home? David Finkel, author of Thank You for Your Service, a new account of the travails of the returning warrior, puts it brutally: it means coming “out of one war into another”.
Homer’s Iliad is the first and greatest poetic account of the first type of war. But it is the Odyssey that takes on the second kind: the war of the homecoming.
The Odyssey is a poem that we tend to remember as the hero’s colourful, salt-caked adventures on the high seas: his encounters with witches, nymphs and cyclopes, his journey to the land of the dead, his shrewd and quick-tongued and fast-witted outsmarting of the terrors in his path as he strives for a decade to reach his home after the sack of Troy. He drags his crew bodily away from the island where the inhabitants gorge themselves on the memory-wiping, pleasure-giving lotus; he withstands the ruinous song of the Sirens, who long to lure him to his death, by having himself lashed to the mast by his crew, whose ears he has stopped with wax; he outwits the glamorous enchantress Circe, who turns his men into pigs; he steers his ship between the maneating, many–headed Scylla and the deadly whirlpool Charybdis. He is the original unlikely survivor, the man who always struggles free of the car crash and walks clear of the wreckage as the flames curl out: the latest iteration of the type, which runs through storytelling from archaic Greece to Hollywood, is Sandra Bullock’s character in Alfonso Cuarón’s blockbuster, Gravity.
But, as Aristotle put it in the Poetics, these are “episodes”. The essence of the story is that of a veteran combatant who, after a long absence, must find his way back into a household he finds threatened by outside forces and dangerously altered.
He is at first unrecognisable to his wife (he has come back “a different person” – literally, in that he has disguised himself and assumed a false name, but military spouses will understand the metaphor of the warrior utterly changed by war). The necessary process of recognition and reintegration is accomplished, but only violently, painfully. And so the Odyssey speaks urgently to our times. It did, too, in the post-Vietnam era, when the psychologist Jonathan Shay, who worked with veterans of the conflict, used the epic in his book Odysseus in America as the overarching metaphor for the postcombat warrior’s psychic traumas.
The Odyssey invites us to ask: can soldiers ever, truly, return home? Will they “recognise” their family, and vice versa? Can they survive not just the war itself, but the war’s aftermath? Will they, in some dread way, bring the war home with them? The Odyssey says: you thought it was tough getting through the war. Now, see if you can get through the nostos – the homecoming. [...]
… plenty more follows …
I think I missed these … a two-parter; here’s the blurb for the first part:
This week’s interview features Dr Michael Squire of King’s College London, talking about his current research project on the Imagines. This text, which was written by the third-century AD Greek author Philostratus the Elder, contains accounts of 65 paintings displayed in an (imaginary?) gallery on the Bay of Naples. Mike introduces us to some of the paintings described by Philostratus, including a representation of the Cyclops Polyphemus and an image of the Trojan river Scamander. He touches on questions of authenticity and fiction, ecphrasis and imagination, and explains how the images in Philostratus’ gallery relate to one another, as well as referring out to other ancient literary texts including Homer and Sappho.
You can read more about Mike’s work on Philostratus on the Leverhulme Trust website:
The blurb for part II:
Last week we posted the first half of an interview with Dr Michael Squire from King’s College London, about his work on Philostratus’ Imagines. Here in Part 2 he tells us about a fascinating group of objects called the Tabulae Iliacae – miniature marble tablets dating to between the end of the first century BC and the early first century AD, which represent scenes from the Homeric epic cycle and other mythological and historical subjects.
For related links and images of the objects Mike discusses in the video, please visit the interview page at http://classicsconfidential.co.uk/201…
Over at the OUP Blog, Eric Cline has keyboarded an interesting post … here’s a bit in medias res:
[...]According to the Greek literary evidence, there were at least two Trojan Wars (Heracles’ and Agamemnon’s), not simply one; in fact, there were three wars, if one counts Agamemnon’s earlier abortive attack on Teuthrania. Similarly, according to the Hittite literary evidence, there were at least four Trojan Wars, ranging from the Assuwa Rebellion in the late 15th century BCE to the overthrow of Walmu, king of Wilusa in the late 13th century BCE. And, according to the archaeological evidence, Troy/Hisarlik was destroyed twice, if not three times, between 1300 and 1000 BCE. Some of this has long been known; the rest has come to light more recently. Thus, although we cannot definitively point to a specific “Trojan War,” at least not as Homer has described it in the Iliad and the Odyssey, we have instead found several such Trojan wars and several cities at Troy, enough that we can conclude there is a historical kernel of truth — of some sort — underlying all the stories.[...]
Dr. Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier, Director of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens, speaks. In 1924, Swiss archaeologist Emil Forrer announced a new discovery relating to the Trojan War. After examining texts found at Hattusa, once the capital of the Hittite empire in Asia Minor, he identified the Hittite words for Troy (Wilusa) and Mycenaean Greece (Ahhiyawa), and concluded that there was evidence for conflict between them. While Forrer’s “Greek Hypothesis” was once widely attacked by other academics, recent research and excavations have confirmed his theory, which offers exciting insights into the historical background of Homer’s Iliad.
Jenny Strauss Clay is famous for her work on Homer, the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod, with a focus on how these archaic Greek hexameter poems maps out an epic cosmos. But today she will talk about a different kind of mapping, based on what has been labelled the “spatial turn” in Classical studies. Her recent book, Homer’s Trojan Theater, exploits digital technology, cognitive mapping and mnemonics to analyse visualization in Homer, especially in relation to the Homeric battlefield.
Tip o’ the pileus to Ian Spoor for alerting me to this one which is coming up on BBC4:
Episode Six of a thirty-part series made in collaboration with the British Library Sound Archive.
In 1933, a young classics scholar called Milman Parry made a journey through the hill villages of the Balkans to record poets and singers. He captured an oral tradition that has all but died out – peasant performers who recited epic tales over days without any form of prompt.
Professor David Hendy of the University of Sussex explains how ancient tales were remembered and passed down, and travels to the ancient Theatre of Epidaurus in Greece to find out what the audience would have made of it all up in the ‘gods’.
Featuring archive extracts of traditional stories from the Balkans, Kyrgyzstan, West Africa, and India.
Audio for this one will be available “soon” … here’s the Noise: A Human History home page.
Tip o’ the pileus to Bret Mulligan for alerting us to this one … the incipit of a piece in Newsworks:
“When he had the bow in his hands, the godlike Odysseus,
Easily did stretch the string, and shoot through the axe-heads:
Then he sprang up on the platform, and poured out the arrows before him…”
Thus did the ancient Greek hero Odysseus arrived in Ithaca to reclaim his home and wife. Having revealed himself as the true Odysseus, he laid waste the layabout suitors vying for his Penelope.
“…as heads were stricken, a dreadful
Groaning arose: and the floor ran deep with the blood of the slaughtered.”
That last image was perhaps too gory for N.C. Wyeth, who, in 1929, was commissioned to paint 16 scenes from “The Odyssey” for publication. He instead chose the first part, “The Trial of the Bow,” to illustrate the scene.
“He worked in so much color — it’s quite iridescent,” said Kathleen Foster, curator American art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “While he was telling a great story — and “The Odyssey” is a great story — he’s employing all the skills of the artist. He’s a great painter.”
Over the years, that set of 16 “Odyssey” paintings dispersed into the the market; most landed in unknown private collections. Only five could be accounted for, including one at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pa. This one, which has just been donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, makes six.
“We’re still looking for the other 10,” said Foster.
Painting missing longer than Odysseus in epic tale
“The Trial of the Bow” was thought missing for 30 years until it was recently discovered in the Philadelphia headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company, just a few blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Since the late 1980s, it had been in a hallway just outside an executive office. Few employees had any idea it was something special.
“We knew we had a Wyeth,” said Ray Milora of GlaxoSmithKline. “I think the importance of it was less known.”
Milora does not know how or why the company acquired an original Wyeth canvas. The company became aware that the painting was part of a set of missing Wyeths when GSK prepared to move to new headquarters in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. [...]
… the original article has a bit of a slideshow of the one piece mentioned above, of course, and I’m sure some folks will recall seeing one or more of this series. Palmer’s translation of the Odyssey (whence comes the painting) is available at archive.org and various other places, but I can’t find an edition with the paintings in them.
This series is actually OUP hyping a new translation of the Iliad, but there’s a pretty good intro to Homer etc in these segments. The official intro:
Barbara Graziosi and Anthony Verity introduce their Oxford World’s Classics edition of Homer’s ‘The Iliad’. In this first part, they discuss the text itself.
The Digital Classicist people are definitely in the forefront of putting conferences online … over the next few days we’ll post their latest efforts (the conference was in December 2012), beginning with this one, which includes the abstract to the talk, a video of the talk, and video of the discussion afterwards:
I seem to have missed this UPenn video last week:
Was there a Trojan War? Assessing the Evidence from Recent Excavations at Troy
In the course of the latest campaign of excavations at Troy, in northwestern Turkey, archaeologists have uncovered a wealth of evidence that enables us to situate the site within the political and military history of the late Bronze Age (14th/13th centuries BCE). Dr. C. Brian Rose, Curator, Mediterranean Section, Penn Museum, speaks at this “Great Battles: Moments in Time that Changed History” series lecture program.
Douglas Frame talks about assorted Homerica and his book Hippota Nestor over at the Center for Hellenic Studies site:
This one’s getting quite a bit of press coverage in various venues … the Telegraph piece has been brought to my attention by myriad readers, so myriad tips o’ the pileus accrue:
Richard Whitaker, the Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Cape Town, said he wanted to celebrate South African English, a patois that takes in words from Afrikaans and the country’s 10 other official African languages, while helping his students to gain a clearer understanding of the polemic poem.
The 3,000-year-old text has been translated into virtually every language in the world, and there are more than 70 English versions, tackled by Greek scholars, poets and even British Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Smith-Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby.
But Oxford and St Andrews-educated Prof Whitaker said that aspects in common between the traditional Greek and African societies was lost in European-centric translations.
“There are traditions that resonate far more for South Africans,” he said.
“The references to a bride price, where brides were sold for cattle, for example, is much more understandable to an African audience than a European elite.” The resulting translation took him 10 years to produce and sees European concepts such as kings, princes and palaces replaced with “amakhosi” (the Zulu and Xhosa word for chiefs and headmen), “kgotla” (the Tswana word for community councils), and “kraals” (Afrikaans for homestead).
Achilles, armed with his “assegai” (traditional spear), vanquishes many Trojan “impis” (the Zulu word for regiments), before he and his men celebrate with a feast of grilled meat which South Africans of all races refer to as a “braai”.
It took 61-year-old Prof Whitaker ten years to produce his South African version and, given the cold shoulder by the country’s university presses, he has published 300 copies of the 528-page text himself in the hope that it will be of interest both to scholars and ordinary South Africans.
He has already had some success: the respected Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape has put it on the curriculum for the next academic year, along with the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Durban and Prof Whitaker’s own University of Cape Town.
Prof Whitaker now has his eyes set on a similar translation of Homer’s Odyssey. He hopes others will follow his lead in celebrating South Africa’s melting pot of languages, like all other aspects of race so fiercely kept apart previously by the apartheid government.
“It’s important for postcolonial countries to make their own connections with the classics – they belong to all of us,” he said.
A different approach (i.e. online) to a Festschrift over at the Center for Hellenic Studies:
… a pile of Homer-related articles, as one might suspect
Owen Cramer mentioned this article in UChicago Magazine yesterday on the Classics list … here’s the incipit:
For Mark Eleveld, MLA’10, and Ron Maruszak, MLA’10, the realization was inescapable: Homer, the blind bard, ancient Greece’s greatest poet, whose epics on the Trojan War and its aftermath founded the Western canon and influenced 3,000 years of literature, was, basically, a slam poet. What else to call a man—a showman and writer—who made his living turning poetry into entertainment, who traveled from town to town performing memorized verses before crowds of listeners? “I imagine that if Homer was alive today, and he had to go hang with a crew, he’s either going to the playwrights or to the performance poets,” says Eleveld. “In my head, it’s the performance poets. They take a hit in academic circles, but they’re closer to Homer than people realize.”
That’s the argument running through a documentary by Eleveld and Maruszak, Poets and Profs: Looking at the “Iliad,” in which ivory tower luminaries like Robert Pinsky and Nicholas Rudall, Herman Sinaiko, AB’47, PhD’61 (who died in October 2011), and James Redfield, U-High’50, AB’54, PhD’61, share the screen with leading lights from the slam poetry world: Taylor Mali, Bob Holman, Regie Gibson, Marc Smith. West Point English professor Elizabeth Samet provides some of the film’s most stirring moments, discussing the Iliad’s lessons—literary, military, and moral—for future soldiers. [...]
A trailer for the doc came out last year:
… and the comments to the UChicago piece link to a marathon reading primarly by the younger set in Louisville:
You’ve heard Keep Louisville Weird, how about Keeping Louisville Classical?
A local group of students are trying to keep the past alive and well.
At the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft on West Main Street– a trip back in time.
Dr. John Hale from the University of Louisville is reading book two of the Iliad by Homer and it is all complete with musical accompaniment.
He’s one of 100 featured readers who will finish the epic 24 book poem about the Trojan War by Saturday.
The poem is complex, but the point is simple, Keep Louisville Classical; all in thanks to students from the Louisville Classical Academy.
Students are reciting part of it in English and in Greek.
These students take both Latin and Greek – it’s part of the curriculum here at the school near U.S. 42 and Prospect, Ky. It opened just a few years ago.
The Iliad is the earliest surviving written work from ancient Greece.
It’s this book that changed the course of life for the school’s founder Marcia Cassidy.
The former attorney read it in her mid forties and thought what if for a classical school.
Seventy-five children grades three through 12 are now enrolled at Louisville Classical Academy. They learn the basics and the classics and they love it.
They say all roads lead back to the Iliad — from literature, to language to culture.
They say it’s hip to be classical, and it’s hip to read Homer.
… it includes a video news report which is quite good …
About a year ago we mentioned a contest sponsored by the Simon and Schuster folks wherein contestants were asked to translate a chunk of the Iliad and Stephen Mitchell would judge which was best (Iliad Translation Contest ~ Stephen Mitchell as Judge). A winner has been announced and Layne Evans’ version can be read here:
… even better, LE is a rogueclassicism reader! Congratulations!
The Center for Hellenic Studies is marking the centennial of Albert Lord’s birth with a collection of online resources related to his work. Here’s the introductory blurb from Gregory Nagy:
As one of Albert Lord’s former students, it gives me great pleasure to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth on Sept. 15, 1912. As a pioneering scholar in the study of oral traditions, Lord had a profound impact on our understanding of oral epic traditions, including the tradition represented by the Iliad and Odyssey. His book The Singer of Tales introduced thousands of readers to the richness of the oral poet’s art. As a teacher, he inspired generations of students to continue the line of inquiry begun by his own teacher, Milman Parry. The Center for Hellenic Studies proudly commemorates the birth of this path-finding scholar.
Check it out on the CHS main page …
At the Center for Hellenic Studies:
The Center for Hellenic Studies has an interview with Classicist (and jazz musician) Graeme Bird on his work with Homeric papyri and the connections it has with jazz (amongst other things). Here’s a (very brief) excerpt:
CHS: In addition to being an active member of the faculty at multiple schools, you are an accomplished and active jazz musician. How does this inform your work on the Homeric corpus and on the concept of composition in performance?
G.D.B.: For some time I have been exploring possible connections between techniques of jazz improvisation (for the piano in particular) and oral formulaic poetic techniques. Years ago I met a graduate student writing his PhD music thesis on this very topic, looking at the improvisational style of the jazz pianist Bill Evans (sadly deceased at a young age), and comparing it with the Parry-Lord theory of oral formulaic poetry. I decided that since I can both read Homeric Greek and play improvised jazz piano (but by no means in the league of Bill Evans!), I would explore this idea further, and also try to demonstrate it in actual performance. I would say that I am at the beginning of what I hope will become something more valuable and more profound. I have given a couple of live “performances” in which I consider some lines of Homeric text – both in Greek and in English, as my audience generally are not all familiar with Greek – and then play some jazz piano, including improvised material. I seek to show by analyzing the improvised piano lines that these lines tend to follow patterns not unlike those illustrated by Lord in his book Singer of Tales. In fact I set out both sets of material (Homeric and jazz) in very similar ways to enhance the similarities. But of course I remind my audience that there are significant differences between Homer and jazz, and that these should not be overlooked in a simplistic hunt for superficial parallels.
I would say that I have two goals in this (at least two): to show that Homeric formulaic composition is compatible with true creativity (i.e. not just sticking formulas together in some artless fashion) – that the system does not exclude the creativity; that jazz improvisation is similarly compatible – in this case that the creativity does not rule out the system; and finally that the two share elements of both system and of creativity – that two seemingly unrelated art forms have more in common than might be apparent at first glance (or hearing). Along these lines, I seek to clarify what true “improvisation” is: the OED definition (“improvise”: To compose (verse, music, etc.) on the spur of the moment; to utter or perform extempore.) is woefully inadequate, and many, if not most people seem to have misconceptions of what its true nature is. As a practicing musician who tries to practice at least an hour a day (which is barely sufficient to keep one’s “chops” in shape), I am acutely aware of how much work it takes to become an even average improviser. True improvisation has nothing really to do with “making stuff up on the spot”; rather it is the creative and inspired weaving together of previously rehearsed material (“formulas,” if you like, which include fragments of scales and arpeggios, things which musicians are constantly practicing) in a way that allows the performer to perform a given song (one of my favorites is Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”) before an audience in such a way that they both recognize the song being played, and are inspired by the way it is being performed. To me this applies in a very real way to how I imagine a passage of Homer would have been performed. And the concepts of “multitextuality” and “intertextuality” seem to apply in jazz just as they do in Homer. [...]
Check out the whole thing at:
From the official announcement of the Center for Hellenic Studies:
The Center for Hellenic Studies is pleased to announce that the online edition of Laura Slatkin’s The Power of Thetis and Selected Essays is now available on the CHS website (chs.harvard.edu). This influential and widely admired book explores the superficially minor role of Thetis in the Iliad. Slatkin uncovers alternative traditions about the power of Thetis and shows how an awareness of those myths brings a far greater understanding of Thetis’s place in the thematic structure of the Iliad. This second edition also includes six additional essays, which cover a broad range of topics in the study of the Greek Epic. [...]
We’ll be generous and ignore the Olympic Games connection in this one, but if you’re looking for something to show the kids when dealing with the funeral games of Anchises, ecce:
The Center for Hellenic Studies has an interview with Stephanie Lindeborg, who is doing some interesting undergraduate research with the folks at the Homer Multitext project:
The Homer Multitext Project blog has also showcased some of her work:
Another tip o’ the pileus to Ellen Bauerle for pointing us to this iPad retelling of Odysseus’ voyage; first, check out the video:
Looks like it’s geared towards the younger set, but I’m sure some rogueclassicism readers would get a kick out of it. I haven’t had a chance to download and play with it, but it’s five bucks in the app store.
This is a bit of a strange one … my spiders started dragging back versions of this story the other day and it was interesting how different it was being spun depending on which journalist was covering it. The starting point is an article by Pádraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna entitled Universal properties of mythological networks (where it can be downloaded for free, after some registration). It’s in a journal called Europhysics Letters and is based on a pile of statistical calculations which are clearly beyond my understanding (and yes, I have read the paper three or four times, maybe even five). However, I can understand argument, which clearly isn’t reflected in the newspaper coverage. As such, it’s worth beginning with the abstract:
As in statistical physics, the concept of universality plays an important, albeit qualitative, role in the field of comparative mythology. Here we apply statistical mechanical tools to analyse the networks underlying three iconic mythological narratives witha view to identifying common and distinguishing quantitative features. Of the three narratives, an Anglo-Saxon and a Greek text are mostly believed by antiquarians to be partly historically based while the third, an Irish epic, is often considered to be fictional. Here we use network analysis in an attempt to discriminate real from imaginary social networks and place mythological narratives on the spectrum between them. This suggests that the perceived artificiality of the Irish narrative can be traced back to anomalous features associated with six characters. Speculating that these are amalgams of several entities or proxies, renders the plausibility of the Irish text comparable to the others from a network-theoretic point of view.
… which is to say, their purpose is to apply statistical models from social networks to assorted ancient epics, with a view to proving the plausibility specifically of the Irish one. Reading the paper itself actually confirms that they’re trying to lend plausibility to the Irish thing, but most of the coverage that has been presented as of this writing seems to be taking this study in other directions. A comparison of the ‘headlines’ is instructive:
… which must be boggling the minds of the authors of the study, given that not one headline mentions the Irish epic (T’ain)!
That said, we should examine the study … the Scientific Blogging thing mentioned above explains the methodology most clearly:
Pesky humanities types are always butting into science and a new article in EPL (Europhysics Letters) turns the tables. Pádraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna from Coventry University performed detailed text analyses of the Iliad, Beowulf and the Táin Bó Cuailnge and found that the interactions between the characters in all three myths were consistent with those seen in real-life social networks. Taking this further, the researchers compared the myths to four known works of fiction — Les Misérables, Richard III, Fellowship of the Ring, and Harry Potter — and found clear differences.
To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers created a database for each of the three stories and mapped out the characters’ interactions. There were 74 characters identified in Beowulf, 404 in the Táin and 716 in the Iliad. Each character was assigned a number, or degree, based on how popular they were, or how many links they had to other characters. The researchers then measured how these degrees were distributed throughout the whole network.
The types of relationships that existed between the characters were also analyzed using two specific criteria: friendliness and hostility.
Friendly links were made if characters were related, spoke to each other, spoke about one another or it is otherwise clear that they know each other amicably. Hostile links were made if two characters met in a conflict, or when a character clearly displayed animosity against somebody they know.
The three myths were shown to be similar to real-life networks as they had similar degree distributions, were assortative and vulnerable to targeted attack. Assortativity is the tendency of a character of a certain degree to interact with a character of similar popularity; being vulnerable to targeted attack means that if you remove one of the most popular characters, it leads to a breakdown of the whole network – neither of these appears to happen in fiction.
“We can’t really comment so much on particular events. We’re not saying that this or that actually happened, or even that the individual people portrayed in the stories are real; we are saying that the overall society and interactions between characters seem realistic,” said Mac Carron.
The first thing we pesky humanities types have to deal with are all the Shakespeare and Harry Potter refs in the newspapers. As part the study, the researcher have a couple of paragraphs applying their methods to Richard III, Les Miserables, Harry Potter, and the Fellowship of the Ring, as well as the Marvel Universe. The purpose is clearly to have some ‘obvious fiction’ to compare things with. The authors concluded in regards to these:
While these networks display the high clustering coefficient that is common to all social networks, the fact that they are all disassortative and are almost entirely connected is perhaps an indication of their societies’ artificiality. In a sense they are too small world to be real.
And so we can continue to be pesky humanities types and proceed to an excerpt from the authors’ conclusions (p. 5 of the online article):
Of the three myths, the network of characters in the Iliad has properties most similar to those of real social networks.It has a power-law degree distribution(with an exponential cut-off), is small world, assortative, vulnerable to targeted attack and is structurally balanced.This similarity perhaps reflects the archaeological evidence supporting the historicity of some of the events of the Iliad .
There is also archaeological evidence suggesting some of the characters in Beowulf are based on real people, although the events in the story of ten contain elements of fantasy associated with the eponymous protagonist. The network for this society, while small, has some properties similar to real social networks,though like all the fictional narratives it is disassortative. However,removing the main character from the network renders it assortative. Thus, while the entire network is not credible as reflecting a real society, we suggest that an assortative subset has properties akin to real social networks, and this subset has corroborative evidence of historicity.
Currently there is very little evidence for the events and the society in the T´ain. While there is some circumstantial evidence in terms of the landscape , its historicity is often questioned [39,40]. Indeed, the social network of the full narrative initially seems similar to that of the Marvel Universe perhaps indicating it is the Iron Age equivalent of a comic book. However, comparing the T´ain’s degree distribution to that of Beowulf reveals a remarkable similarity, except for the top six vertices of the Irish narrative. This suggests the artificiality of the network maybe mainly associated with the corresponding characters. They are similar to the superheroes of the Marvel Universe —too super-human to be realistic, or in terms of the network, they are too well connected.
In other words, the ‘plausibility’ of the Iliad — which has some archaeological ‘confirmation’ to it — is confirmed by the ‘social network statistics’, which is actually interesting, but not the point of the study — indeed, given that the authors indicate that they are aware of the possible historicity of some of the events in the Iliad, there would be a dangerous circularity lurking in that argument. Beowulf, with its rather more tenuous archaeological ‘confirmation’, is similarly tenuous on the social network side of things. Finally, the T’ain, with no archaeological support, is also on par with the total fictional world of a comic book. That last thing is the point of the article, despite what the papers say. I guess we pesky humanities types are necessary for translation of serious scientific types’ words …