“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.

 

Image result for Death of Romulus

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.

Image result for Ancient Greek Astronomy Plato

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.

 

Related image

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;

Image result for Ancient Roman Astronomy

Learning to Think in Greek

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:

“I arrived at Gastons (so the Knock’s home was called) on a Saturday, and he announced that we would begin Homer on Monday. I explained that I had never read a word in any dialect but the Attic, assuming that when he knew this he would approach Homer through some preliminary lessons on the Epic language. He replied merely with a sound very frequent in his conversation which I can only spell ‘Huh’. I found this rather disquieting; and I woke on Monday saying to myself, ‘Now for Homer. Golly!’ The name struck awe into my soul. At nine o’clock we sat down to work in the little upstairs study which soon became so familiar to me. It contained a sofa (on which we sat side by side when he was working with me), a table and chair (which I used when I was alone), a bookcase, a gas stove, and a framed photograph of Mr. Gladstone. We opened our books at Iliad, Book I. Without a word of introduction Knock read aloud the first twenty lines or so in the “new” pronunciation, which I had never heard before. Like Smewgy, he was a chanter; less mellow in voice, yet his frill gutturals and rolling R’s and more varied vowels seemed to suit the bronze-age epic as well as Smewgy’s honey tongue had suited Horace. For Kirk, even after years of residence in England, spoke the purest Ulster. He then translated, with a few, a very few explanations, about a hundred lines. I had never seen a classical author taken in such large gulps before. When he had finished he handed me over Crusius’ Lexicon and, having told me to go through again as much as I could of what he had done, left the room. It seems an odd method of teaching, but it worked. At first I could travel only a very short way along the trail he had blazed, but every day I could travel further. Presently I could travel the whole way. Then I could go a line or two beyond his furthest North. Then it became a kind of game to see how far beyond. He appeared at this stage to value speed more than absolute accuracy. The great gain was that I very soon became able to understand a great deal without (even mentally) translating it; I was beginning to think in Greek. That is the great Rubicon to cross in learning any language. Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and who then substitute the English word for it, are not reading the Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle. The very formula, ‘Naus means a ship,’ is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind Naus, as behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding.”

No Irrelevant Erudition

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. 1:

“Aristophanes of Byzantium was probably nearly 60 when he counted among his pupils his successor Aristarchus of Samothrace (c. 217-5 — 145-3 B.C), who lived in Alexandria under Ptolemy Philometor (181-146), and, on the murder of his pupil Philopator Neos and the accession of Euergetes II (146), fled to Cyprus, where he died soon after. His continuous commentaries (ὑπομνήματα) filled no less than 800 volumes, partly as notes for lectures, partly in finished form. These were valued less highly than his critical treatises (συγγράματα) on such subjects as the Iliad and Odyssey, on the naval camp of the Achaeans, and on Philetas and on Xenon (one of the earliest of the chorizontes, who ascribed the Iliad and the Odyssey to different poets). As a commentator he avoided the display of irrelevant erudition, while he insisted that each author was his own best interpreter. He also placed the study of grammar on a sound basis ; he was among the earliest of the grammarians who definitely recognised eight parts of speech, Noun, Verb, Participle, Pronoun, Article, Adverb, Preposition and Conjunction’. As a grammarian he maintained the principle of Analogy, as opposed to that of Anomaly. He produced recensions of Alcaeus, Anacreon and Pindar; commentaries on the Lycurgus of Aeschylus, and on Sophocles and Aristophanes; and recensions, as well as commentaries, in the case of Archilochus and Hesiod. He had a profound knowledge of Homeric vocabulary, and was the author of two recensions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, with critical and explanatory symbols in the margin of each.”