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At ten past ten each Friday morning, he would take a seat among the freshmen, who were not even a quarter his age, and join in the discussion of this old poem, an epic about long journeys and long marriages and what it means to yearn for home.

It was deep winter when the term began, and my father was worrying a great deal about the weather: the snow on the windshield, the sleet on the roads, the ice on the walkways.

Often, if he was too worn out after class to make the three-hour drive back home, he would sleep over in the extra bedroom that serves as my study, lying on a narrow daybed that had been my childhood bed.

This bed, which he had built himself fifty years earlier, had a little secret: it was made out of a door, a cheap, hollow door, to which he’d attached four wooden legs that are as sturdy today as they were when he built it.

It would begin at Troy, the site of which is in present-day Turkey, and end on Ithaki, a small island in the Ionian Sea which purports to be Ithaca, the place Odysseus called home.

And 33 days before, Homer may be suggesting that Mercury is high at dawn and near the western end of its trajectory.

I would think of this bed often a year later, after he became seriously ill, and my brothers and sister and I had to start fathering our father, anxiously watching him as he slept fitfully in a series of enormous, elaborately mechanized contraptions that hardly seemed like beds at all. Now, in the early months of 2011, he would come each week and spend the night in the bed he had made, in the house where I spent a part of each week.

It used to amuse my father that I divided my time among several places: this house on the rural campus; the mellow old home in New Jersey, where my boys and their mother lived and where I would spend long weekends; my apartment in New York City, which, as time passed and my life expanded, had become little more than a pit stop between train trips.

Then, according to Homer, the Greek warrior Odysseus, who came up with the horse idea, took another 10 years to return to his wife Penelope, the reunion associated with the eclipse.

On his return he is said to have murdered all the suitors who had taken advantage of his long absence.

(Homer actually writes that Hermes - known to the Romans as Mercury - travelled far west only to deliver a message and fly all the way back east again; the team interprets this as a reference to the planet.) They looked to see whether there was any date within 100 years of the fall of Troy that would fit the pattern of the astronomical timeline.


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