Scientists from the University of Texas at Arlington have recreated the night sky in Ancient Greece and believe they discovered the inspiration behind a Sappho poem.
The experiment is described in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage. The scientists used the planetarium software Starry Night version 7.3 and Digistar 5 and found the exact date of an ancient lyric poem.
Specifically, the physicists and astronomers recreated the night sky over the Greek island of Lesbos which is the inspiration of the “Midnight Poem” by Sappho.
The scientists marvelled at the night sky of the particular era, and also managed to identify when Sappho’s poem was written. Through the description of the firmament found in the five stanzas of the poem, the experts established that it was written in 570 B.C.
“Estimations had been made for the timing of this poem in the past, but we were able to scientifically confirm the season that corresponds to her specific descriptions of the night sky in the year 570 B.C.,” according to Manfred Cuntz, lead author and physics professor at UTA.
Sappho’s work mentions the Pleiades – one of the nearest and most noticeable star clusters to Earth – a constellation often used by sailors for navigation.
Cuntz, his team and astronomer Levent Gurdemir, director of the Planetarium at UTA, identified the earliest day, January 25, and the latest day, March 31, that the luminous group of stars would have been visible to Sappho in 570 B.C.
“From there, we were able to accurately seasonally date this poem to mid-winter and early spring, scientifically confirming earlier estimations by other scholars,” Cuntz said.
“The timing question is complex as at that time they did not have accurate mechanical clocks as we do, only perhaps water clocks. For that reason, we also identified the latest date on which the Pleiades would have been visible to Sappho from that location on different dates some time during the evening,” the scientist added.