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The Ancient Greek social network

By David, 9 July 2013 News

An ancient Greek jug with a picture of a man sitting, surrounded by others.

Odyssius was so famous he appears on jugs like this one!

In the last decade, services such as Facebook have provided scientists with lots of information about current friendship links. However, they tell us little about historical friendships. So what might be the structure of an Ancient Greek social network?

To answer the question, an international team of researchers turned to Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. The Odyssey tells the story of Odysseus, trying to get home after the Trojan War. Odysseus overcomes monsters and is helped and hindered by gods, while his wife Penelope deals with his long absence.

The researchers compiled a list of more than 300 characters. They linked two characters if they met, talked directly, or referred to each other as if they knew each other. They found more than 1700 of these links, similar to friending on a social network.

The poem’s network looked similar to modern day social networks. There were several highly connected clusters of friends, and some characters acted as ‘bridges’ between groups. Even though most people had relatively few friends, they had lots of friends of friends. These similarities suggest friendships networks have had similar structures for thousands of years.

When the researchers removed highly connected mythical heroes, legends and gods, their network looked even more like a modern social network. So The Odyssey might be based on real people, with mythical elements added to make a good story.

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