“The Brightest Star is Stolen”: Our Posts on Eclipses

Plutarch, The Face in the Moon

“If you don’t [remember the eclipse], this Theon will introduce Mimnermus, Kydias, and Archilochus and will add to these Stesichorus and Pindar who mourn over eclipses as when “the brightest star is stolen” and “it is night in the middle of the day and the ray of the sun “hastens on darkness’ path”.

20 Plut. de facie lun. 19.931e
εἰ δὲ μή, Θέων ἡμῖν οὗτος τὸν Μίμνερμον ἐπάξει καὶ τὸν Κυδίαν (fr. 715 PMG) καὶ τὸν Ἀρχίλοχον (fr. 112 W.), πρὸς δὲ τούτοις τὸν Στησίχορον (fr. 271 PMGF) καὶ τὸν Πίνδαρον (Pae. 9.2–5 S.-M.) ἐν ταῖς ἐκλείψεσιν ὀλοφυρομένους, “ἄστρον φανερώτατον κλεπτόμενον” καὶ “μέσῳ ἄματι νύκτα γινομέναν” καὶ τὴν ἀκτῖνα τοῦ ἡλίου “σκότους ἀτραπὸν <ἐσσυμέναν>“φάσκοντας

We went a little overboard in posts about eclipses. Part of this is because eclipse is a Greek word (ἔκλειψις!); part of this is because it is super cool and we are not beyond being overawed by nature; and another is because some people told us too (our friend Justin Arft, for example started making suggestions to us last week).

So, in the almost totally unexpected event that you missed one, here’s a list of them. ( We intentionally said nothing about the Antikythera machine.)

  1. We started off with Pliny’s attempt in the Natural Histories (2.47) to explain how an eclipse happens.
  2. We followed this with a selection of other ancient authors’ explanations, some more scientifically accurate than others.
  3. We then turned to Plutarch’s Marital Advice for a discourse on why wives should learn astronomy.
  4. And then we offered another take on whether or not there is a real eclipse mentioned in the Odyssey.
  5. Because that was just a little too serious, we followed with a list of excerpts on medical and superstitious responses to eclipses.
  6. On Eclipse Day, we started early with Ovid’s presentation of the death of Phaethon as a reason for Apollo causing an eclipse.
  7. And what would any eclipse of the sun be without Archilochus’s famous poem on the topic?
  8. During the eclipse, we turned to philosophy, with Plato’s metaphor of looking away from the eclipse for the investigation of reality.
  9. And we closed with Valerius Maximus and Dionysus of Halicarnassus discoursing on Roman responses to solar eclipses.

We certainly missed some great passages. Send your suggestions for the next eclipse.

geometry drawing on papyrus with greek letters

Image of Euclidean Geometry Papyrus from quatr.us

This is an Omen; This is Not an Omen

Dionysus of Halicanarssus, II.56

“For they claim that there was a total solar eclipse at the moment when his mother was raped (whether by some mortal or some god) and darkness completely covered the earth as it would it night and that the same thing happened when Romulus died. So, Romulus is said to have obtained this kind of end, the man who was first selected king by Rome and who build the city.

ἔν τε γὰρ τῷ βιασμῷ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ εἴθ᾿ ὑπ᾿ ἀνθρώπων τινὸς εἴθ᾿ ὑπὸ θεοῦ γενομένῳ τὸν ἥλιον ἐκλιπεῖν φασιν ὅλον καὶ σκότος παντελῶς ὥσπερ ἐν νυκτὶ τὴν γῆν κατασχεῖν ἔν τε τῇ τελευτῇ αὐτοῦ ταὐτὸ συμβῆναι λέγουσι πάθος. ὁ μὲν δὴ κτίσας τὴν Ῥώμην καὶ πρῶτος ἀποδειχθεὶς ὑπ᾿ αὐτῆς βασιλεὺς Ῥωμύλος τοιαύτης λέγεται τελευτῆς τυχεῖν…

Valerius Maximus, 7.1

“The extreme effort of Sulpicius Galus in grasping every type of literature was especially helpful to the republic. For, when he was legate when Lucius Paullus was waging war against king Perses, the moon suddenly eclipsed during a quiet night. Our army was horrified by that as if it were a terrible omen and lost the confidence to meet the enemy in battle. But he returned them quickly to the battle line by offering an expert lecture on the logic of the heavens and the nature of the stars. Thus the liberal arts gave to Galus a means to win that famous Paulline victory—since, if he had not conquered the fear of our soldiers, the general would have been incapable of conquering the enemy.”

Sulpicii Gali maximum in omni genere litterarum recipiendo studium plurimum rei publicae profuit: nam cum L. Paulli bellum adversum regem Persen gerentis legatus esset, ac serena nocte subito luna defecisset, eoque velut diro quodam monstro perterritus exercitus noster manus cum hoste conserendi fiduciam amisisset, de caeli ratione et siderum natura peritissime disputando alacrem eum in aciem misit. itaque inclitae illi Paullianae victoriae liberales artes Gali aditum dederunt, quia nisi ille metum nostrorum militum vicisset, imperator vincere hostes non potuisset.

 

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Eclipse and a Metaphor for Seeing the Real

Plato, Phaedo 99d-e

“So it seemed to me, he said, that after these travails, since I had come away with nothing while examining reality, that I should be careful not to suffer the very thing which people who gaze at the sun during an eclipse do. For some of them go blind, I think, unless they examine the sight in water or something like that. I mulled over this sort of thing and I feared that my soul might be similarly blinded should I try to grasp these matters with my eyes and each of my other senses. That’s why it seemed right to me to retreat into ideas and use them to examine the truth of reality.”

Ἔδοξε τοίνυν μοι, ἦ δ’ ὅς, μετὰ ταῦτα, ἐπειδὴ ἀπειρήκη τὰ ὄντα σκοπῶν, | δεῖν εὐλαβηθῆναι μὴ πάθοιμι ὅπερ οἱ τὸν ἥλιον ἐκλείποντα θεωροῦντες καὶ σκοπούμενοι πάσχουσιν· διαφθείρονται γάρ που ἔνιοι τὰ ὄμματα, ἐὰν μὴ ἐν ὕδατι ἤ τινι τοιούτῳ σκοπῶνται τὴν εἰκόνα αὐτοῦ. τοιοῦτόν τι καὶ ἐγὼ διενοήθην, καὶ ἔδεισα μὴ παντάπασι τὴν ψυχὴν τυφλωθείην βλέπων πρὸς τὰ πράγματα τοῖς ὄμμασι καὶ ἑκάστῃ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἐπιχειρῶν ἅπτεσθαι αὐτῶν. ἔδοξε δή μοι χρῆναι εἰς τοὺς λόγους καταφυγόντα ἐν ἐκείνοις | σκοπεῖν τῶν ὄντων τὴν ἀλήθειαν.

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While reading this the other day, I discovered I was not the only one:

Nothing Unexpected: An Ancient Poem on Solar Eclipse

Archilochus, fr. 122

“Nothing is unexpected, nothing can be sworn untrue,
and nothing amazes since father Zeus the Olympian
has veiled the light to make it night at midday
even as the sun was shining: now dread fear has overtaken men.
From this time on everything that men believe
will be doubted: may none of us who see this be surprised
when we see sylvan beasts taking turns in the salted field
with dolphins, when the echoing waves of the sea become
dearer to them than the sand, and should the dolphins love the wooded glen…”

χρημάτων ἄελπτον οὐδέν ἐστιν οὐδ’ ἀπώμοτον
οὐδὲ θαυμάσιον, ἐπειδὴ Ζεὺς πατὴρ ᾿Ολυμπίων
ἐκ μεσαμβρίης ἔθηκε νύκτ’, ἀποκρύψας φάος
ἡλίου †λάμποντος, λυγρὸν† δ’ ἦλθ’ ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπους δέος.
ἐκ δὲ τοῦ καὶ πιστὰ πάντα κἀπίελπτα γίνεται
ἀνδράσιν• μηδεὶς ἔθ’ ὑμέων εἰσορέων θαυμαζέτω
μηδ’ ἐὰν δελφῖσι θῆρες ἀνταμείψωνται νομὸν
ἐνάλιον, καί σφιν θαλάσσης ἠχέεντα κύματα
φίλτερ’ ἠπείρου γένηται, τοῖσι δ’ ὑλέειν ὄρος.

 

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The Death of Phaethon: An Aetiology for an Eclipse

Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.381-93

“All along, Phaethon’s father, filthy and bereft
Of his own light, the way he is when the sun is eclipsed,
He hates the light and himself and the day
And he dedicates his soul to sorrow and adds rage
To his mourning as he refuses his duty to the world.

‘I’m done. From the beginning my lot has been restless.
My job without end, without honor for my work, has embittered me.
Let some other, anyone, drive the chariot carrying the light.
If there is no one and all the gods claim they cannot do it,
Let the father himself drive it so that, at some point, as he controls the reins,
And he puts down the bolts that make fathers barren,
Then he will understand, once he knows the strength of the fire-footed stallions,
That he did not earn death just because he did not rule them well.’ ”

Squalidus interea genitor Phaethontis et expers
ipse sui decoris, qualis, cum deficit orbem,
esse solet, lucemque odit seque ipse diemque
datque animum in luctus et luctibus adicit iram
officiumque negat mundo. “satis” inquit “ab aevi
sors mea principiis fuit inrequieta, pigetque
actorum sine fine mihi, sine honore laborum!
quilibet alter agat portantes lumina currus!
si nemo est omnesque dei non posse fatentur,
ipse agat ut saltem, dum nostras temptat habenas,
orbatura patres aliquando fulmina ponat!
tum sciet ignipedum vires expertus equorum
non meruisse necem, qui non bene rexerit illos.”

 

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Occult and Medical in the Ancient Eclipse

Historia Augusta The Three Gordians, 23.2-4

“The consulship went to Gordian, the boy. But there was a sign that Gordian would be emperor for a short time. It was this: there was a solar eclipse so much like night that it was not possible to do anything without burning torches. And yet, afterwards,  the Roman people distracted itself with pleasures and entertainment, in order to soften the memory of the things that had happened.”

Gordiano puero consulatus. sed indicium non diu imperaturi Gordiani hoc fuit quod eclipsis solis facta est, ut nox crederetur, neque sine luminibus accensis quicquam agi posset, post haec tamen voluptatibus et deliciis populus Romanus vacavit, ut ea quae fuerant aspere gesta mitigaret.

Hippocrates of Cos, The Sacred Disease, IV

“If they pretend to know how to summon down the moon and obscure the sun, to make it storm or sunny, to bring rain or drought, to render the sea non-navigable and the earth fallow and other types of miracles, whether they say they can do with from magic rites or from some other ability or practice, which  ‘experts’ say are possible, then they seem to me to be impious, to be atheists, without any strength but unlikely to refrain from any of the craziest actions.”

IV. Εἰ γὰρ σελήνην καθαιρεῖν καὶ ἥλιον ἀφανίζειν καὶ χειμῶνά τε καὶ εὐδίην ποιεῖν καὶ ὄμβρους καὶ αὐχμοὺς καὶ θάλασσαν ἄπορον καὶ γῆν ἄφορον καὶ τἄλλα τὰ τοιουτότροπα πάντα ὑποδέχονται ἐπίστασθαι, εἴτε καὶ ἐκ τελετέων εἴτε καὶ ἐξ ἄλλης τινὸς γνώμης καὶ μελέτης φασὶ ταῦτα οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι γενέσθαι οἱ ταῦτ᾿ ἐπιτηδεύοντες, δυσσεβεῖν ἔμοιγε δοκέουσι καὶ θεοὺς οὔτε εἶναι νομίζειν οὔτε ἰσχύειν οὐδὲν οὔτε εἴργεσθαι ἂν οὐδενὸς τῶν ἐσχάτων.

Pliny, Natural History 36.69

“Even on its own, flames have medical applications. It is known that if fires are set they bring many types of relief to the diseases which are caused by a solar eclipse.”

LXIX. Est et ipsis ignibus medica vis. pestilentiae quae obscuratione solis contrahitur, ignes si fiant, multifariam auxiliari certum est. Empedocles et Hippocrates id demonstravere diversis locis.

Manetho, On Festivals, Fr. 84.( Joannes Lydus, De Mensibus, IV, 87)

“We should note that Manetho in his work On Festivals says that a solar eclipse imposes a wretched influence on people, especially in their head and stomach.”

Ἰστέον δέ, ὡς ὁ Μανέθων ἐν τῷ περὶ ἑορτῶν λέγει τὴν ἡλιακὴν ἔκλειψιν πονηρὰν ἐπίρροιαν ἀνθρώποις ἐπιφέρειν περί τε τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ τὸν στόμαχον.’’

Pseudo-Lucian, The Patriot 24

“So they were inquiring like men who have their heads in the clouds how things were in the city and the world. I said, “All are happy and they will be happy still”. They looked askance and said “If this is true, the city is knocked up with evil”.

I said I was of the same opinion and then: “Because you are raised so high and looking down at everything from a distance, you have noticed these things most perceptively. But how are affairs of the sky? Will the sun go into eclipse? Will the moon rise straight up? Will Mars take a quarter turn toward Jupiter and will Saturn stand directly opposite to the sun? Will Venus share its path with Mercury and bear those Hermaphrodites you love so much? Will they send soaking rain? Will they pour out drifts of snow on the earth? Will they cast down hail, disease, plague, hunger and drought? Is the thunderbolt pail empty? Is the lightning box full again?”

ὡς δ᾿ ἀεροβατοῦντες ἐπυνθάνοντο, Πῶς τὰ τῆς πόλεως καὶ τὰ τοῦ κόσμου; ἦν δ᾿ ἐγώ, Χαίρουσί γε πάντες καὶ ἔτι γε χαιρήσονται. οἱ δὲ ἀνένευον ταῖς ὀφρύσιν, Οὐχ οὕτω. δυστοκεῖ γὰρ ἡ πόλις.

ἦν δ᾿ ἐγὼ κατὰ τὴν αὐτῶν γνώμην· Ὑμεῖς πεδάρσιοι ὄντες καὶ ὡς ἀπὸ ὑψηλοῦ ἅπαντα καθορῶντες ὀξυδερκέστατα καὶ τάδε νενοήκατε. πῶς δὲ τὰ τοῦ αἰθέρος; μῶν ἐκλείψει ὁ ἥλιος, ἡ δὲ σελήνη κατὰ κάθετον γενήσεται; ὁ Ἄρης εἰ τετραγωνίσειτὸν Δία καὶ ὁ Κρόνος διαμετρήσει τὸν ἥλιον; ἡ Ἀφροδίτη εἰ μετὰ τοῦ Ἑρμοῦ συνοδεύσει καὶ Ἑρμαφροδίτους ἀποκυήσουσιν, ἐφ᾿ οἷς ὑμεῖς ἥδεσθε; εἰ ῥαγδαίους ὑετοὺς ἐκπέμψουσιν; εἰ νιφετὸν πολὺν ἐπιστρωννύσουσι τῇ γῇ, χάλαζαν δὲ καὶ ἐρυσίβην εἰ κατάξουσι, λοιμὸν καὶ λιμὸν καὶ αὐχμὸν εἰ ἐπιπέμψουσιν, εἰ τὸ κεραυνοβόλον ἀγγεῖον ἀπεγεμίσθη καὶ τὸ βροντοποιὸν δοχεῖον ἀνεμεστώθη;

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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.

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“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 ed.pr. : αριΝι P
36 n. 12 αἱ ἐκλείψεις add m2 : εκλειψεις m1
41 n. 13 ἔκλει̣ψιν corr ed.pr. : εγλει̣ψιν P
44 n. 14 ἐξ [ὅ]τ̣ου̣ ed.pr. : ἑξ[ῆς] γ̣̅ οὐ̣ Mouraviev
45 n. 15 ν̣ε̣ται ed.pr : / 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 ed.pr. : ἐξηγεῖτο corr Mouraviev
49 n. 18 μ̣ὲν ἡ ed.pr. : μὴν ἢ corr Mouraviev
51 n. 19 α̣ὐγὰς corr ed.pr. : α̣υτας P
52 n. 20 α̣φανι̣σ̣[θε]ῖ̣σα ed.pr. : ἀ̣φανι̣σ̣[θε]ὶ̣ς del Mouraviev
05 n. 21 ̣εωσμεσο̣ del m1 : ̣εωσμεσαι̣ο̣ P