The story of the Trojan horse, a renowned episode from the Iliad, held great appeal to the ancient Greeks. It depicted them as clever and crafty, highlighting the perceived gullibility of the Phrygians of Troy. However, what truly made the story remarkable for others was the unprecedented nature of the idea itself.
I mean, who would ever think of constructing a large wooden horse and deliberately leaving it outside the enemy’s city walls, with the hope that they would bring it inside??
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. According to him, the story might have been a result of a translation error or confusion stemming from 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
The constellation Argo Navis had held the distinction of being the largest known constellation until the 18th century when it was divided into three parts. For the ancient Greeks, this constellation represented Argo, the famous ship of Jason and the Argonauts.
However, the myth of Jason likely had Caucasian origins, as the mainland Greeks were unable to observe this particular constellation. During classical times, Argo Navis remained below the horizon during the night, making it invisible to the ancient Greeks.
Due to its close proximity to the Milky Way, often referred to as the celestial river, the constellation Argo Navis was known as “the boat” in both Vedic India and ancient Egypt. Scholars speculate that the ancient Greeks likely adopted this concept from the Egyptians around 1,000 BC.
Argo Navis and Sirius
The Argo constellation was significant to the Egyptians. Its proximity to the star Sirius Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, was noteworthy as it marked the annual flooding of the Nile river, which was crucial for agriculture and their way of life. Similarly, the Persians associated Sirius with their deity Thistrya, the rainmaker.
However, the most famous representation comes from the Old Testament, where Argo Navis represented the Ark of the Covenant. The motif of the flood, which is linked to the Ark, fits remarkably well with the constellation’s positioning near Sirius, a star linked to life-giving waters in other cultures.
The constellation Columba, which represents the dove, is a relatively recent addition to the constellation system and was influenced by Christian symbolism. It was introduced in the 16th century, and its association with the biblical story of the dove bringing news of dry land to Noah after the flood aligns with Christian narratives.
While the specific Columba constellation was not known to the ancient civilizations, it is possible that they might have associated certain neighboring clusters of stars with a dove or similar celestial imagery.
Canopus – the brightest star of Argo Navis
Constellation Argo Navis consisted of some 160 easily visible stars. The most important one is 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 had not been possible until 2016 when Mr. Tiboni proposed his groundbreaking theory. In this article, I tried to shed light on some of the further implications.
The time during which the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed was indeed a tumultuous period in history. The region saw the passage of numerous invaders, both from the land and the sea, leading to significant interactions between different ancient cultures. These encounters provided fertile ground for cultural exchange, where ideas, customs, languages, and beliefs were shared and integrated.
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.
The star lore template found in the Iliad and other ancient myths predates their written narratives by possibly hundreds or even thousands of years. Some authors propose that the constellation Argo Navis might have been known to the ancient Sumerians. This seems plausible, given that the Sumerians had their own flood myth that included an ark, which could have been a collective memory of an actual flood event around 12,000 years ago, during the Younger Dryas period.
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.