Like anyone passionate about their work field and religion, I greatly enjoy it when the two overlap. Through the wonders of Facebook, I was made aware of a recent study by Pedro Miranda, Murilo Babtisa, and Sandro de Souza Pinto, who appear to be students at Cornell University. Their study analyses the social network between characters in Hómēros' Odysseia, and they have discovered that this network is remarkably similar to real social networks today. That suggests the story is based, at least in part, on real events.

The study itself is full of math and statistical data, and exposes the network to a variety of tests to examine basic characteristics of networks, mostly determined by psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960's. Milgram's work was the foundation for the 'six degrees of separation' theory which states that in any given social network, it requires only six (sometimes less) steps to connect everyone to each other in the network. Real world social networks all have this characteristic, and it is reflected in the Odysseia.

We know that social networks are often layered in hierarchical terms and is highly clustered. Both characteristics of the Odysseia, the researchers have found. The model also held up under 'random attack', in which non-specific people were taken out of the model to see if Milgram's theory was upheld. This was the case. Interestingly enough, when the researchers took central figures out of the model, the strength of the network faltered--another feature of real social networks. 

In order to test that last statistic, the researchers first had to remove 'loose verticals'--characters, mostly mythological ones like Gods and heroes, who have no connection to anyone but a single (main) character. This indicates to the researchers that the Odysseia is part factual, part narrative, where the mythological undercurrent of the tale was added to the existing facts.

This is a conclusion drawn before, by those this research was based upon. The existing study, conducted by P.M. Carron and R. Kenna in 2012 on the Iliad, Beowulf and Táin Bó Cuailnge, concluded that only the Iliad (and to a lesser degree, Beowulf) matched real world social network behavior, when the mythological under layer was removed.

Personally, I would be curious to see if the skill of the author has an influence on the model. I would love to see Harry Potter plotted like this, or the Lord of the Rings. We know those are entirely fictional, but will the model reflect that if the interconnectedness is tested? All in all, I am a fan of this type of research, and hope to see more of it in the future. It does add another layer to the epic, don't you think?