Plants in Greek Mythology and Homer's Epics

Project: National Science and Technology CouncilNational Science and Technology Council Academic Grants

Project Details


This project is an attempt to explore how the multifarious dimensions pertaining to ancient Greek plants and plant lore are interconnected in Greek mythology and Homer’s epics Iliad and Odyssey, including literature allusions, linguistic and etymological resources, the trade and exchange in the Mediterranean area, and the intermarriage and immigration between Europe, Africa, and Asia. Three core concerns of this program are on literature, history, and ecology and the ultimate goals are to better the curriculum of the related courses such as Introduction to Western Literature and Introduction to Ancient Greek Literature, to raise the awareness of humanistic concerns and aesthetic cultivation in our higher education, and to put into practice the concept of interdisciplinarity. In practice, this project involves three aspects: curriculum materials, plant resources, and in-depth research. First of all, the summary of and comments on each book of Iliad and Odyssey will be compiled to be the supplementary lecture notes. Besides, the systematic e-portfolios on Greek plant data will be of substantial use for further research. My research will be conducted under three major themes and completed in consecutive three years: first, Helen’s drug; second, date palm (phoenix dactylifera) and the Mediterranean traffic in ancient times; third, war and plants. The focus of the first thematic research is to cast a light on “a drug to quiet all pain and strife” [φάρμακον, ἔνθεν ἔπινον νηπενθές τ᾽ ἄχολόν τε] (Odyssey IV. 220-221), which include three potential referents, opium poppy, henbane and bugloss. Yet what is more important hinges on the issue how this scenario alerts us to the interaction between Egypt and ancient Greece, especially in term of medicine. The second thematic research is to investigate the process of how the date palm (phoenix dactylifera) is imported into the Greek world from the near East, through the long-distance maritime trade and via the so-called Phoenicians. The third thematic research is to address the problem of how certain medicinal herbs are applied during the war time and how warfare may cause irreversible deforestation.

Project IDs

Project ID:PE10207-0471
External Project ID:NSC102-2410-H182-019
Effective start/end date01/08/1331/07/14


  • Greek mythology
  • Iliad
  • Odyssey
  • Plants
  • Opium Poppy (papaver somniferum)
  • Date Palm (phoenix dactylifera)
  • Medical Herbs


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