Padraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna: If Achilles Used Facebook...





Padraig Mac Carron is a doctoral student and Ralph Kenna is a reader in mathematical physics at Coventry University in England.

WHEN we pick up a mythological text like “The Iliad” or “Beowulf,” we like to imagine that the societies they describe existed. Even if the stories are fiction, we believe that they tell us something about ancient Greece or the Anglo-Saxons, and that some of the characters and events were based on reality....

To investigate that question, we turned to a decidedly modern tool: social-network analysis. In a study published in Europhysics Letters, we use a mathematical approach to examine the social networks in three narratives: “The Iliad,” “Beowulf” and the Irish epic “Tain Bo Cuailnge.” If the social networks depicted appeared realistic, we surmised, perhaps they would reflect some degree of historical reality....

The myth networks were found to have some of the characteristics, including the small-world property and structural balance (related to the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend), typical of real-world networks....

These and other features may corroborate scholars’ belief in the narratives’ historical basis: i.e., the societies underlying “The Iliad” and “Beowulf” may have traces of reality, while that of the “Tain” appears more artificial....



comments powered by Disqus