The story of the Trojan horse is one of the most memorable episodes from the Illiad. Naturally, the ancient Greeks loved it. It portrayed them as intelligent and cunning, in contrast to the gullible Phrygians of Troy. But for the others, it was the uniqueness of the idea that made the story so great. Because, who in the world builds a sizeable wooden horse and leaves it out in the open, hoping that the enemy will eventually take it inside their city walls?
In 2016, an Italian naval archaeologist, Francesco Tiboni, came up with an exciting idea. He claimed that the Trojan horse never existed in the original version of the Illiad. It was simply an error in translation, confusion caused by two homonyms.
Namely, the ancient Greek word for “horse” – hippo, was also used for Phoenician cargo boats. These boats were often transporting treasures and as such, they would have made an appropriate votive gift. This fact was not necessarily known to the mainland Greeks who came centuries after Homer, so the confusion could have been made already in antiquity.
Indeed, it sounds much more plausible that the Greeks would leave a cargo ship on the beach and hide inside of a secret compartment. For this reason, Mr. Tiboni’s theory has caused a small sensation in archaeological circles over the past couple of years. But the media support didn’t follow, and the saga of the Trojan horse continues even to this day.
Trojan horse as the constellation Argo Navis
Identifying the Trojan horse as a boat, allows us to make some other interesting connections. As you might know, I believe that most of the myths originated in star lore. I wrote a separate article about the astronomical symbolism of Argonautica (here), as well as another one on the astronomical symbolism of the Odyssey (here). Knowing that most of the ancient myths use the same stellar template, I was curious whether the Trojan boat could relate to the only “boat” in the night sky – the Argo Navis.
The constellation Argo Navis had been the largest constellation known to men until it was broken down into three parts in the 18th century. To the ancient Greeks, it represented Argo, the ship of Jason and his Argonauts. However, the origins of the Jason myth are probably Caucasian, as the mainland Greeks could not see this constellation. In classical times it stayed below the horizon during the night.
Because of its proximity to the Milky Way, or the celestial river, this constellation was known as “the boat” in both Vedic India and ancient Egypt. Scholars assume that the Greeks borrowed the idea from the Egyptians, somewhere around 1,000 BC.
Argo Navis and Sirius
The Argo constellation was significant to the Egyptians. In its proximity lies the star Sirius, the brightest star of the night sky. Sirius was highly revered as it marked the annual flooding of the Nile river. But even the Persians had the same association. They saw it as a deity Thistrya, the rainmaker. However, the most famous representation comes from the Old Testament, where Argo Navis represented the Ark of the Covenant. This also is where the motif of the flood fits perfectly.
The constellation Columba – the dove, represents the dove that brought the news of the dry land to Noah. However, this is a 16th-century addition, influenced by Christianity. Columba constellation was not known to the ancients, although this doesn’t mean that they didn’t see a dove in some other neighboring cluster of stars.
Canopus – the brightest star of Argo Navis
Constellation Argo Navis consisted of some 160 easily visible stars. But the most important one was Canopus.
Canopus is the second-brightest star in the night sky. As such, it was used for navigation by many ancient civilizations, from bedouins of the desert to the seafarers of Polynesia. The southeastern wall of Kaaba in Mecca is aligned to the rising point of this star.
Isn’t it, therefore, amusing that during the Trojan war, the pilot of the Menelaus ship was named Canopus? According to the myth, he even visited Egypt, where he was bitten by a serpent. They buried him at one of the mouths of the river Nile and the Egyptian city Canopus was later established at this place.
But that is not all. Even among the men hidden inside the Trojan horse, there was one named Cyanippus – the name that sounds somewhat similar to Canopus. In fact, different ancient sources provide different numbers of Achaeans who were hidden in the horse. They varied between 23-50 and were later standardized to 40. All of these forty names are known. This begs the question: What if what they represented were the most prominent stars of the Argo Navis constellation?
This idea was not necessarily foreign to ancient Greeks, who depicted the warriors’ heads (stars) scattered around the body of the Trojan horse. (see the first image)
Achilles and the rising of Sirius in the Iliad
There are numerous references to stars and planets in the Iliad, reinforcing the theory that the story was based on star lore. But in this context, the most interesting one would be the arrival of Achilles to Troy, announced by the rising of the Sirius.
“Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent…”
Achilles, the greatest of the warriors, was probably a personification of Orion. He was usually depicted with one arm raised, mimicking the shape of the constellation. Orion lies in the proximity of Sirius and Argo Navis.
Laocoön as Ophiuchus
According to the myth, Laocoön was a Trojan who suspected that something is wrong with this “horse” and begged the Greeks to burn it instead of taking it inside of the city walls. The famous saying: “I fear the Greeks, even bearing gifts”, is attributed to him. But before he could convince the Trojans, the gods killed him with two venomous serpents.
Interestingly, in Classical art, he was portrayed much like the constellation Ophiuchus – the serpent bearer, complete with the altar (the constellation Ara) underneath his leg. Of course, the constellation Ophiuchus is relatively close to the constellation Argo Navis.
The connection between the Trojan horse and the constellation Argo Navis was not possible until 2016 when Mr. Tiboni proposed his groundbreaking theory. In this article, I tried to shed light on some of the further implications.
Without a doubt, Iliad and Odyssey come from a very turbulent period of history. During those centuries, numerous invaders passed through the region, some coming from the land, the others from the sea. Countless ancient cultures met for the first time. But it was not only death and destruction that took place – at the same time, there was undoubtedly an incredible cultural exchange. Before the Achaean ships reached this part of the world, first came the Sea peoples, followed by Phoenicians, whose ships reached even the shores of Kerala, India. Therefore, I am not saying that the core events described in the Illiad had never happened. Almost by definition, ancient myths are a mixture of supernatural and historical events, and the real challenge is separating the two.
On the other hand, the star lore template of the Iliad predates its narrative by hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Some authors believe that the constellation Argo Navis was known even to the ancient Sumerians. This is more than likely, as the Sumerians had the flood myth, with the ark included. And this myth was probably only a memory of the actual flood that happened some 12,000 years ago, during the Younger Dryas.
However, somewhere between the 2nd and 1st millennia BC, when the first Mediterranean explorers started discovering the seas, the constellation Argo Navis became important once again. This time, Argo was not an ark that will save the chosen, but a vessel that will take them to the realms of glory and marvel. It is therefore hardly a coincidence that separated by only centuries, Argonautica, Iliad, and the Odyssey, use very similar language – the language of the sea navigators.