The Odyssey as Metadata

Odysseus could probably have saved everyone a lot of bother by posting a quick Facebook update before leaving Troy. "On my way home," perhaps? 

But in the original sense of "social network," Homer's epic actually turns out to be a rich source for the study of human interaction. A paper by P.J. Miranda of the Federal Technological University of Paraná in Brazil and several others analyzes the text of the Odyssey to map the relationships of the characters. In total, the found 342 unique characters bounded socially by 1747 relations, which look something like this when mapped: 

A bit complex but nothing the 13-century B.C. NSA couldn't untangle. 

As the MIT Technology Review writes, this detailed map could change the way we view the story: 

"Odyssey's social network is small world, highly clustered, slightly hierarchical and resilient to random attacks," they say.

What's interesting about this conclusion is that these same characteristics all crop up in social networks in the real world. Miranda and co say this is good evidence that the Odyssey is based, at least in part, on a real social network and so must be a mixture of myth and fact.

In case you're wondering, the patterns still looked realistic when the researchers removed mythological characters -- Zeus, for instance -- from the map. 

If you're interested on trying something like this out on yourself, check out MIT Media Lab's program Immersion, which uses your Gmail metadata to create an interactive map of your own social network. Though for me, the program revealed more about how and with whom I use Gmail as opposed to other methods of communications, rather than anything unexpected. about the relationships between by friends, family, and coworkers. 

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