A group of scholars of the early twentieth century argued that the tale of Odysseus could be an echo of an ancient Sun god cult. However, this theory was quickly abandoned and even ridiculed by scholars of a later date, who didn’t see enough evidence for such claims. The main argument was based on the frequent use of the number twelve in the book of Odyssey.
For example, once Odysseus finally returns from his adventures, he finds out that everyone took him for dead. His faithful wife is surrounded by suitors and unable to escape them. To buy time, she gave them an impossible challenge. The winner first had to string the bow of Odysseus – a feat that required super-human strength. Then, he had to shoot the arrow through twelve ax heads. This, of course, required super-human precision and skill.
At first, Odysseus was in disguise and quietly observed the competition. In the end, he revealed himself, by completing the challenge and using his bow to kill the suitors.
The bow of Odysseus and the bow of Shiva
An image of a bow that requires super-human strength to bend echoes in the epic of Ramayana. Amazingly, even the general storyline is not so different. Rama wants to marry Sita, and to do so, he has to prove himself in front of her father, King Janaka. The challenge is to bend and string the bow of Shiva – something that nobody was able to do. However, Rama bends it so hard that the bow breaks.
Now, in astronomical terms, it is clear that the bow of Shiva is the same as the bow of Orion. Shiva represents Orion and his bull Nandi is the Taurus constellation.
Astronomical symbolism and the Scythian connection
As we saw, the wedding is the central theme in both cases, Odyssey and Ramayana. The spring equinox was around Orion and Taurus roughly between 4,500-2,000 BC. The equinox is a “wedding” of equal day and night – Sun and Moon. The fact that Rama breaks the bow, means that he is an avatar of a new age – when the solstice moved to Aries (last two millennia BC).
In short, there are obvious parallels between these two episodes. Also, both myths developed in the same period, even though they were separated by great distances. It is a shame that the scholars were oblivious to these connections, focusing only on the number twelve. But obviously, they were right about the twelve ax heads. They do represent the twelve signs of the zodiac. And the arrows could be rays of the Sun, starting their journey from the spring in Orion/Taurus. Of course, this would mean that the axes of Oddysey were arranged in circular form. Indeed, that would be a challenge that only a god could complete.
Ramayana has some other common motifs with Homer’s epics – this time in the book of Illyad, as both Sita and Helen of Troy were abducted. Also, both Karna and Achilles refuse to fight, after they had been insulted by their kinsmen, and they both had to be begged to return to the battle. Both of them were demi-gods, almost invincible in battle, except that they both had one weak spot – Achilles’s heel, and Karna’s “kavach-kundalas”.
These common places are hardly a coincidence which begs the question of who created the myth in the first place. However, the fact is that Shiva rarely holds a bow in Indian art (although he certainly had it). And at the same time, ancient Greeks were not really big fans of bows and arrows. They preferred long spears and hand-to-hand combat. Killing an enemy from afar was a cowardly act.
But this was not the case with the Scythians. The bow was their preferred weapon and ancient authors often label them as archers. Moreover, in the time of Ramayana and Oddysey, they were present in both India and Scythia. A golden vase from the 4th century BC shows a Scythian bending his bow. Unfortunately, we don’t know if he was a warrior as scholars suggest, or some mythological hero whose name is forgotten in history.
Odyssey and the age of Aries
Rama broke the bow of Shiva, thus showing that his powers diminished. The Odyssey uses different symbols, but they are still quite clear. One of the most memorable episodes is the adventure in the cave of the giant Polyphemus. A popular image in ancient Greek art is that of Odysseus hiding underneath the ram while escaping the cave. This “ram” is the Aries constellation.
This image is in fact just a small scene of the larger Aries star lore. Before escaping, Odysseus blinded the one-eyed Polyphemus with a spear. This was one of the most popular motives of the Aries age, from Perseus / St. George slaying the dragon to Horus slaying Apep snake. It relates to the passage of the Sun between Perseus and Cetus (a dragon in Babylonian astronomy). The Odyssey keeps the recognizable image of a large spear. But it also adds a unique element – we have a giant instead of a dragon. Indeed, many works of ancient Greek art show Polyphemus in the general shape of the Cetus constellation. (See the lower right corner in an image below)
Polyphemus always holds a cup of wine in Greek art. It is because Odysseus got him drunk before poking his eye out. But the real meaning is that this episode represents the autumn night sky.
In spring, when Sun is in Aries, Cetus is invisible, as it falls in the realm of day. In autumn, however, Aries and Cetus dominate the night sky. And autumn is the season of winemaking. During the autumn equinox, Cetus appeared on the east in the sunset. From there, it moved along the horizon towards the west during the night. In the dawn, the Sun rose in the background of the Crater constellation. And the last visible constellation on the west was Aries.
Odysseus and Circe
In another episode, Odysseys meets the sorceress Circe. She has different representations in ancient Greek art. Sometimes she is a beautiful young maiden, sometimes a grumpy old woman. At first glance, this may seem illogical, but it can be explained with astronomy. Obviously, both ideas relate to Virgo. The idea of a young, beautiful lady represents the constellation, while the old lady refers to earth in autumn, the season of Virgo.
Circe had a habit of turning humans into various wild animals. She did so by making them drink a magic potion from a cup (Crater constellation). Her favorite choices were lions (Leo constellation) and pigs (probably Canes Veneatici). There was also a woodpecker (Corvus constellation) – a king Picus who refused her advances. The only remaining human figure in the sky is Bootes constellation, therefore he represents Odysseus. Bootes holds a long spear, while Odysseus usually has a long sword.
Another interesting motif is Circe’s connection to weaving. The “wool” could be the constellation Coma Berenices. But it seems that the ancient Greeks were a bit confused about this motif. The typical representations from their art do not really match the constellations. More likely, the idea of weaving comes from nomadic people, who did not focus on agriculture. Therefore, instead of the shaft of wheat that Virgo typically holds, they saw a hand spindle.
Indeed, Virgo marked the season of the harvest, this is why she holds the shaft of wheat. People would collect the wool in spring – when Sun is in Aries. But autumn was the time for weaving, something that would be more interesting to nomads, living in the area where the winters are colder than in the Mediterranean. Slavic goddess Mokosh, for example, could also change her appearance from a young maiden to an old lady. And she too was the goddess of weaving. The spindle is one of her main attributes.
However, the Odyssey gives us a hint that this episode happens in spring, not autumn. In other words, not when the Sun is in Virgo, but right across it, in Aries/Cetus. This is when the Virgo constellation dominates the night sky. In the myth, Hermes advises Odysseys to use the moly flower in order to resist her. And moly is the symbol of spring.
Oddysseus and Sirens
Circe befriends Odysseus and advises him on how to visit the underworld. This is another allusion to the dark half of the year which starts after Virgo. Odysseus proceeds and meets the Sirens. They were dangerous half-woman and half-bird creatures, whose song drove men crazy. Odysseus still decides that he wants to hear their song. As the rest of the crew seals their ears with wax, he asks them to tie him to the mast of the sheep.
The image of the tied men fits perfectly that of the constellation Ophiuchus. The snake would represent the rope. And on the following image, you can see how the rest of the typical symbols perfectly match this part of the sky.
Odysseus and Boreas
Another popular episode is that of Odysseus running away from Boreas, the northern wind. We see him running on two amphorae, while Boreas blows towards him. Once again, this image fits perfectly that of the northern night sky. In this case, Odysseus would be Aquarius, and Boreas Capricornus – often seen as a monster with wide-open jaws. The “amphorae” are constellations Sculptor and Piscis Austrinus.
I used some of the key events of the Odyssey to prove my point. Beyond any doubt, the core layer of the story is an astronomical allegory. However, this does not mean that every single line of the Odyssey relates to the star lore. The ancients often used the zodiac as a template. They would then create a unique story that holds many philosophical and moral values, as well as important historical events. The Odyssey probably reflects the myths and legends of the first Mediterranean sailors. And there was hardly a bigger adventure than discovering new lands and nations in this period of history.