Celestial Events in the Iliad

The eighth century, starting with -776, was together with the beginning of the seventh a period of great natural upheavals. Populations migrated, partly to Asia Minor, and other populations descended from the north. The siege of Troy might therefore have been an effort of the Greeks to plant a foothold on the coast of Asia Minor. The true time of the events recounted in the Iliad was the second half of the eighth and the beginning of the seventh centuries before the present era.

In Worlds in Collision an effort was made to recognize in the description of theomachy and of the natural phenomena that accompanied the battle of the gods, the events that took place in the sky and on earth between -747 and -687.1

The Trojan War was waged to the accompaniment of blows exchanged by the planetary gods—Earth (Hera), Moon (Aphrodite), Venus (Athene), Mars (Ares) and Jupiter (Zeus).

These celestial phenomena could not have taken place in the sky over Troy alone: the entire world had to witness the events, if they were not mere creations of the bard. That they were not can be deduced from the fact that these very events, witnessed in all parts of the world, are also described in sacred epics from Finland (Kalevala), Lapland and Iceland (Edda), from Mexico, Peru, India, the South Sea Islands, China and Japan, and, of course, by the poets and dramatists, annalists and astronomers, of the Near and Far East. It would require repeating close to two hundred pages of Worlds in Collision, actually the entire part II (Mars) of that book, should we desire here to evidence and illuminate this in some detail.

Perturbations in the celestial sphere, or Theomachy, in which Mars endangered the Earth at nearly regular intervals during this century, preoccupied the minds of men and repeatedly intervened in human history. Pestilence also broke out, and many references in the cuneiform literature ascribe its cause to Nergal (Mars). Earthquakes, overflooding, change of climate, evidenced by Klimasturz, did not spare a single land. These changes moved entire nations to migrations. Calendars were repeatedly thrown out of order and reformed—and the reader will find abundant material in the second part of Worlds in Collision and also in Earth in Upheaval, where no human testimony, but only the testimony of nature was presented; and this material could be multiplied by any dedicated researcher.

It appears, however, that in the Iliad Homer telescoped into a few weeks events that took place in the space of several decades. At least some of the events may be placed in a chronological order with the help of ancient Israelite sources: namely, on the day when King Ahaz was interred the motion of the Earth was disturbed so that the Sun set before its appointed time;2

at the time of the destruction of Sennacherib’s army in the days of Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, another disturbance occurred with the contrary effect: the Sun appeared to return several degrees to the east before proceeding on its regular westward path. It is asserted in the rabbinical literature that the second disturbance rectified the effects of the first—and this is also the meaning of the sentence in Isaiah 38:8: “So the sun returned ten degrees by which degrees it was gone down.”3

In Greek legendary tradition the first event took place in the days of the two brothers, Atreus and Thyestes, contesting the throne of Mycenae—when, according to Seneca, the Sun set earlier than usual.4

Yet a certain compression or amalgamating of two events, separated in time, must have taken place, for another version of the story tells of a reversal of the sun’s motion. This version is recorded by Apollodorus and several other authors.5

The event described as the reversal of motion of the sun took place, as illuminated Worlds in Collision, on March 23rd, -687.6

The fixing of the event to the early spring of -687 is made on the strength of the information from Hebrew sources that the event took place on the night of Passover, during the second campaign of Sennacherib against Judah, the ninth campaign of his reign. The exact date for the last of this series of catastrophes7 is provided by the records of the astronomical observations of the Chinese, where we learn that in the year -687, on the 23rd of March, “during the night the fixed stars did not appear, though the sky was clear. In the middle of the night stars fell like rain.”8

This date is also confirmed by Roman sources—Romulus found his end during a celestial-terrestrial catastrophe connected with the planet Mars:

Both the poles shook, and Atlas lifted the burden of the sky . . . The sun vanished and rising clouds obscured the heaven . . . the sky was riven by shooting flames. The people fled and the king [Romulus] upon his father’s [Mars’] steeds soared to the stars.9

Romulus was a contemporary of Hezekiah;10 and the 23rd of March was the most important day in the Roman cult of Mars.11

We must not forget that the Romans and the Greeks worshipped their gods in the planets, not as gods of the planets. Invocations to the gods, such as the Homeric Hymn to Ares (Mars) are addressed directly to the planet as an astral power.12

The siege of Troy under Agamemnon followed by less than one generation the natural disturbances of the days of his father Atreus, when this king of Mycenae competed with his brother Thyestes for the crown of the realm and the Sun was disrupted in its motion.

Atreus and Thyestes, being contemporaries of Ahaz and Hezekiah, and Agamemnon, son of Atreus, a contemporary of the latter king of Jerusalem, it seems that the time in which the drama of the Iliad was set was the second half of the eighth century, and not later than -687;13 yet the poet condensed the events separated by decades into the tenth year of the Trojan siege, the time of the Iliad’s action.14

Thus we come to realize that it was a rather late time; clearly Homer could not have lived before the events he described; and therefore Homer’s time cannot be any earlier than the end of the eighth century. But more probably he wrote several decades after the Trojan War, when the events of the war had become enveloped in a veil due to a certain remoteness in time, and obtained a halo of heroic, god-like exploits. The Odyssey, describing the wanderings of Odysseus after the Trojan War, requires, too, a distancing between the poet and the Trojan War, on the assumption that both Homeric poems were the product of one author. If not of one, then we must assume that two poets of unique genius lived close in time to one another.

Placed in its true time, the Trojan War may obtain some historical plausibility; and, as we have seen, its mythological parts also serve, instead of obfuscation, to the elucidation of some complex chronological problems. With theomachy displayed on the celestial screen, the story in the Iliad gains, rather than loses, its historical validity.


  1. See Worlds in Collision, section “When Was the Iliad Created?”

  2. Tractate Sanhedrin 96a; Pirkei Rabbi Elieser 52. Cf. L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, (Philadelphia, 1929) vol. VI, p. 367, n. 81.

  3. Cf. II Kings 20:9ff.; Hippolytus on Isaiah, and sources cited above, fn. 1.

  4. Seneca, Thyestes: “Not yet does Vesper, twilight’s messenger, summon the fires of night . . . the ploughman with oxen yet unwearied stands amazed at his supper hour’s quick coming.”

  5.  [Cf. Plato The Statesman 269a.]
  6. Apollodorus, Bk. II, ch. xii; cf. scholium to the Iliad II.106; Euripides, Electra 699-730; Orestes 996-1012; Plato, The Statesman 268e.

  7. See Worlds in Collision, section “March 23rd.” [See also Iliad II 413ff. where an expected delay in the setting of the Sun during the siege of Troy is mentioned.]

  8. The other dates are -747, and -701; -776 is also connected with celestial events between Venus and Mars that did not, however, directly affect the Earth. See Worlds in Collision, p.

  9. E. Biot, Catalogue general des étoiles filantes et des autres meteors observés en Chine après le VIIe siècle avant J.C. (Paris, 1846). The statement is based on old Chinese sources ascribed to Confucius. “The night was bright” adds the Tso Chuen commentary (J. Legge, The Chinese Classics vol. 15, p. 80).

  10. Ovid, Fasti, transl. by J. Frazer, Vol. II, lines 489ff.

  11. Augustine, The City of God, Bk. XVIII, Chap. 27.

  12. W. W. Fowler, “Mars” in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed.

  13. W. H. Roscher, Ausfürhrliches Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, s.v. “Ares.”

  14. If to harmonize the involved chronological problems the debacle of Sennacherib’s army needs to be placed fifteen years earlier (not in -687 but in -701), and the first invasion in -715, and the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign in -729, then I would need to change the date for the last global catastrophe from -687 to -701 or -702. [See also Worlds in Collision, pp. 245-253. “. . . The time of the birth of the Iliad must be lowered to -747 at least, and probably to an even later date.” ]

  15. At least two conjunctions between Venus and Mars are described in the Iliad, in the Fifth and Twenty-first Books. See Worlds in Collision, pp. 252f.