An Eclipse in the Odyssey? [Updated]

When he arrives in Odysseus’ household, the seer Theoklymenos gets a little judgy:

Homer, Odyssey 20.351-57

“Wretches! What evil is this you are suffering? Now your heads
Are covered with night along with your faces and legs below.
A wailing burns and your cheeks streak with tears
As the walls and fine rafters are sprayed with blood.
The entryway is filled with ghosts, the courtyard is filled with ghosts
Heading to Erebos under the darkness. The sun has perished
From the sky and a wicked mist rushes over us.”

“ἆ δειλοί, τί κακὸν τόδε πάσχετε; νυκτὶ μὲν ὑμέων
εἰλύαται κεφαλαί τε πρόσωπά τε νέρθε τε γοῦνα,
οἰμωγὴ δὲ δέδηε, δεδάκρυνται δὲ παρειαί,
αἵματι δ’ ἐρράδαται τοῖχοι καλαί τε μεσόδμαι·
εἰδώλων δὲ πλέον πρόθυρον, πλείη δὲ καὶ αὐλή,
ἱεμένων ῎Ερεβόσδε ὑπὸ ζόφον· ἠέλιος δὲ
οὐρανοῦ ἐξαπόλωλε, κακὴ δ’ ἐπιδέδρομεν ἀχλύς.”

A suitor’s response is appropriately dismissive: 20.360-362

“A crazy stranger has just arrived from somewhere else.
Come, quick, young men, send him out of the house
To to to the assembly since he thinks this is like the night!”

“ἀφραίνει ξεῖνος νέον ἄλλοθεν εἰληλουθώς.
ἀλλά μιν αἶψα, νέοι, δόμου ἐκπέμψασθε θύραζε
εἰς ἀγορὴν ἔρχεσθαι, ἐπεὶ τάδε νυκτὶ ἐΐσκει.”

People have, of course, figured out which eclipse this might have been. Despite, you know, that this is poetry.  A scholion is having nothing to do with that:

Schol. B ad Od. 20.356

“A solar eclipse did not happen but Theoklymenos sees it this way as he tells a prophecy under divine influence since the sun will eclipse for these guys.”

ἠέλιος δὲ οὐρανοῦ ἐξαπόλωλε] οὐ γὰρ ἡλίου ἔκλειψις ἐγένετο,
ἀλλὰ Θεοκλύμενος οὕτως ὁρᾷ ὑπό τινος ἐνθουσιασμοῦ μαντευόμενος
ὅτι ἐκλείψει αὐτοῖς ὁ ἥλιος.

People cite Plutarch (On the Face in the Moon 19), suggesting that he presents this scene as being an eclipse: but he is, in my opinion, satirizing a man who marshals an excess of questionable poetic ‘proofs’ to display his own erudition about eclipses. You can read a free version of this at Lacus Curtius.

Image result for Ancient Greek Odyssey eclipse
“I’ll put your lights out….”

Peter Gainsford has a great piece about this from 2012 (TAPA 142 1-22). Over twitter, he pointed out that he did not include P. Oxy. 53, 3710 (M.W. Haslam, 1986) which contains a lot of information about eclipses in conjunction with the passage from the Odyssey.

I have read a good deal of scholia and I am not convinced that the passage changes anything about whether or not this part of Odyssey refers to an eclipse. Some ancient scholars may have thought so—and the scholion implies that—but scholiasts also tend to fill commentary with displays of erudition and minutiae. But, here’s my [hasty] translation of a section of the fragment. You can view the whole fragment here. Also, I welcome any suggestions for cleaning up this translation.

“Aristonikos says that it was the new moon then, from which [we get?] Apollo, since he is the sun himself. Aristarkhos of Samos writes that this is because eclipses happen on the new moon. Thales says that the sun goes into eclipse when the moon is in front of it and when the day [….] marks it, on which it makes the eclipse which some call the thirtieth day and others call the new moon.

Heraclitus says as follows: when the months come together [the eclipse?] appears then before the second new moon and then they grow sometimes less and at other times more. Diodorus explains the same thing. For, after the moon is hidden it moves towards the sun during the final [days] of the month until it impedes the rays of the sun and…..makes it disappear and then in turn….”

Ἀριστόνικός11 φησι̣ν ὅτι νουμη̣νία ἦν̣ τότε,
35 ὅθεν Ἀ[πόλ]λ̣ωνος, ἐπεὶ ὁ α̣ὐτὸς ἡλίωι·
36 ὅτι ἐν νο̣υ̣μη̣ν̣ίαι αἱ ἐκλείψεις12 δηλο̣[ῖ]
37 Ἀρίσταρχ̣ο̣ς̣ ὁ Σάμ[ι]ος γράφων· ἔφη τε
38 ὁ μὲν Θαλῆς ὅτι ἐκλείπει̣ν τὸν ἥλ[ι]‐
39 ον σ̣ελήνης ἐπίπροσθεν̣ αὐτῶι γεν̣ο̣‐
40 μένης, σημ̣ειουμέ̣[νης ] ̣ ̣ ̣ τῆς
41 ἡμέρα̣ς̣, ἐν ἧ̣ι ποιεῖτα̣ι̣ τ̣ὴν ἔκλει̣ψιν13,
42 ἣ[ν] ο̣ἱ̣ μ̣ὲν τ̣ριακάδα καλοῦσιν ο[ἱ] δὲ νου‐
43 μηνί̣α̣ν. Ἡράκλειτος· συνϊόντ̣ων 〉
44 τῶν μηνῶν ἡμέρας ἐξ [ὅ]τ̣ου̣14 φαί‐ 〉
45 ν̣ε̣ται15 προτέρην νουμην[ί]ην̣ δ̣ευ‐16
46 τέρ̣ην ἄλλοτ’ ἐλάσσονας μ̣εταβάλ̣λ̣ε‐
47 τ̣α̣ι̣ ἄλλοτε πλεῦνας. Διόδωρος οὕτω̣ς̣
48 α̣ὐ̣τ̣ὸ εξαγει̣το17· ἐπεὶ γὰρ ἀπ[ο]κρύπτετ̣αι
49 μ̣ὲν ἡ18 σ̣ελήνη προσάγουσ̣α τῶι ἡλίωι
50 κ̣α̣τ̣ὰ̣ τὰς τῶν μην̣ῶν τελ̣ευτάς, ὅτ̣αν
51 ε̣ἰς τὰς̣ α̣ὐγὰς19 ἐμπέσηι τὰ̣ς̣ τοῦ ἡλίου, 〉
52 ̣ ̣] ̣χρον̣[ ] ̣α̣φανι̣σ̣[θε]ῖ̣σα20, πάλιν
53 ] ̣ ̣ ̣να[ ̣] ̣ωνεκφα ̣[ ] ̣ ̣τ̣ι̣
54 ]μεισοταντηνεκτων 〉
55 ] ̣πρωτωσπ[ ̣ ̣ ̣]ηταιν[ ]υ

Notes from the site: 34 n. 11 Ἀριστόνικός res : αριΝι P
36 n. 12 αἱ ἐκλείψεις add m2 : εκλειψεις m1
41 n. 13 ἔκλει̣ψιν corr : εγλει̣ψιν P
44 n. 14 ἐξ [ὅ]τ̣ου̣ : ἑξ[ῆς] γ̣̅ οὐ̣ Mouraviev
45 n. 15 ν̣ε̣ται : / ν̣ε̣ται Mouraviev
45 n. 16 προτέρην νουμην[ί]ην̣ δ̣ευ‐ del m1 : προτέρην νουμην[ί]α̣νην̣ δ̣ευ P : προτέρη νουμηνίη vel νεομηνίη ἐς δευ‐ corr West
48 n. 17 εξαγει̣το : ἐξηγεῖτο corr Mouraviev
49 n. 18 μ̣ὲν ἡ : μὴν ἢ corr Mouraviev
51 n. 19 α̣ὐγὰς corr : α̣υτας P
52 n. 20 α̣φανι̣σ̣[θε]ῖ̣σα : ἀ̣φανι̣σ̣[θε]ὶ̣ς del Mouraviev
05 n. 21 ̣εωσμεσο̣ del m1 : ̣εωσμεσαι̣ο̣ P

2 thoughts on “An Eclipse in the Odyssey? [Updated]

  1. The idea of finding eclipses in the Odyssey and the Iliad is speciously proposed by many more than Baikouzis and Magnasco, but all of them seem to be astronomers with little, if not absolutely no, schooling in Homeric Scholarship and thus they fall into many errors.

    Their article you have a link to has been refuted by Peter Gainsford,
    “Odyssey 20.356-57 and the Eclipse of 1178 B.C.E. A Response to Baikouzis and Magnasco”,
    Transactions of the American Philological Association 142 (2012):1-22.

    I had independently replied in 2012 to Baikouzis and Magnasco on The History of Astronomy List (HASTRO_L), setting forth many of the same arguments as Professor Gainsford, as well as a few others. I have also replied to another speculation about an eclipse “sighted” in Iliad 17.366-369. These will be combined into a future publication.
    Lorenzo Smerillo
    Department of classics and Humanities
    Montclair State University
    Montclair NJ 07043

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