‘Minds’ in ‘Homer’: A quantitative psycholinguistic comparison of the Iliad and Odyssey

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“My child, why do you weep? What grief has come upon your phrenes (φρένες)? Speak—conceal not in noos (νόος) in order that we both may know,” so speaks Achilles’ mother Thetis as the fierce warrior weeps tears of wrath on the beaches of Troy (Il. 1.362-363). To be sure, noos likely translates as mind in English in the above passage. However, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey include a total of eight such words that may be rendered as mind, heart, or spirit: noos (νόος), thymos (θυμός), psykhe (ψυχή), phrenes (φρένες), prapides (πρᾰπῐ́δες), kardia (κᾰρδῐ́ᾱ), kradie (κρᾰδῐ́η), ker (κῆρ), and etor (ἦτορ). This complicated situation with Greek translations of mind is at the heart of this study’s empirical investigation. To wit, what is mind in the Il. compared to the Od.? The present investigation sought to quantify and compare the use of mental language in the Homeric epics by means of computational linguistics. Prior scholarly investigations have been mostly qualitative; the few quantitative studies conducted utilized miniscule sample sizes of English translations. Two studies were conducted. 17 translators who translated both the Il. and Od. into English were selected (within-subjects design). The texts were sanitized and compiled for lexical frequency analyses in Voyant, a digital linguistic analysis tool. Study 1 compared how often mental language terms appeared in both works. Results showed that total word density of mental language increased significantly from the Il. to the Od. in both English translations as well as in the original Greek version. Study 2 compiled an English glossary of mental language terms and counted the frequencies for the 34 total works. A paired-samples t-test was conducted to compare the mean mental language densities of the Il. and Od. across 17 translators. There was a significant difference in the mean densities for the Il. (M = 68.2, SD = 8.9) and Od. (M = 91.9, SD = 11.6) conditions; t(16) = -17.798, N = 17, p < .001, d = -4.317. Further correlational tests as well as ANCOVA were conducted in order to determine if various factors could explain the large effect size. No significant results were observed or relevant. All hypotheses were supported. These data suggest that the Od. contains much more mental language than the Il. Implications and limitations are discussed.


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Winner of the 2021 Library Award for Undergraduate Research