Date:

Physicists study the classics for hidden truths

Achilles tending the wounded Patroclus : Wiki Commons

- Advertisement -

The truth behind some of the world’s most famous historical myths, including Homer’s epic, the Iliad, has been bolstered by two researchers who have analysed the relationships between the myths’ characters and compared them to real-life social networks.

In a study published online today, 25 July, in the journal EPL (Europhysics Letters), Pádraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna from Coventry University performed detailed text analyses of the Iliad, the English poem, Beowulf, and the Irish epic, the Táin Bó Cuailnge.

They 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.

“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.

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.

Táin Bó Cúailnge, Cú Chulainn in battle : Wiki Commons

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.

- Advertisement -

The types of relationships that existed between the characters were also analysed 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.

Of the three myths, the Táin is the least believed. But Mac Carron and Kenna found that its apparent artificiality can be traced back to only 6 of the 404 characters.

“In terms of degree distributions, all three myths were like real social networks; this wasn’t the case for the fictional networks. Removing the eponymous protagonist from Beowulf also made that network assortative, like real networks.

“For the Táin we removed the ‘weak links’ associated with the top six most connected characters which had previously offset the degree distribution, this adjustment made the network assortative,” continued Mac Carron.

The barrow of Skalunda, a barrow that was identified by the archaeologist Birger Nerman as Beowulf’s burial mound. : Wiki Commons

The researchers hypothesise that if the society of the Táin is to be believed, the top six characters are likely to have been fused together from other characters as the story passed orally through the generations.

The researchers acknowledge that there are elements of each of the myths that are clearly fantasy, such as the character Beowulf slaying a dragon; however, they stress they are looking at the society rather than specific events. Historical archaeological evidence has been interpreted as indicating that some elements of the myths, such as specific locations, landmarks and characters, are likely to have existed.

 

Contributing Source : Institute of Physics

HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Press Releases

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

9,000-year-old Neolithic stone mask unveiled

A rare stone mask from the Neolithic period has been unveiled for the first time by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Archaeologists recover two medieval grave slabs from submerged shipwreck

Underwater archaeologists from Bournemouth University have recovered two medieval grave slabs from a shipwreck off the coast of Dorset, England.

Study confirms palace of King Ghezo was site of voodoo blood rituals

A study, published in the journal Proteomics, presents new evidence to suggest that voodoo blood rituals were performed at the palace of King Ghezo.

Archaeologists search for home of infamous Tower of London prisoner

A team of archaeologists are searching for the home of Sir Arthur Haselrig, a leader of the Parliamentary opposition to Charles I, and whose attempted arrest sparked the English Civil War.

Tartessian plaque depicting warrior scenes found near Guareña

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM) and the CSIC have uncovered a slate plaque depicting warrior scenes at the Casas del Turuñuelo archaeological site.

Archaeologists find a necropolis of stillborn babies

Excavations by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) have unearthed a necropolis for stillborn and young children in the historic centre of Auxerre, France.

Researchers find historic wreck of the USS “Hit ‘em HARDER”

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has confirmed the discovery of the USS Harder (SS 257), an historic US submarine from WWII.

Archaeologists uncover Roman traces of Vibo Valentia

Archaeologists from the Superintendent of Archaeology Fine Arts and Landscape have made several major discoveries during excavations of Roman Vibo Valentia at the Urban Archaeological Park.