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:

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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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.”

The Return to School: A Preparation for Death

This Monday marks my return to school. I love teaching, but I distinctly remember when, in the summer before entering 4th grade, I was lying in a hammock at my aunt’s house on the coast. The warm sea breeze and the *sense* of total freedom made it all the more painful to reflect that in three short weeks, I would be 600 miles north in one of those tortuous school desks. Can a child get a taste of nihilistic despair? I abandoned all hope of future happiness, and could no longer enjoy even the three weeks still left to me. All the sorrows of a Sunday were drawn out for twenty one days. That was twenty years ago, but the dread of returning never disappears. So, although this has nothing to do with antiquity, I am posting my favorite passage from C.S. Lewis. Here’s to next summer!

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:

“So much for Oldie’s; but the year was not all term. Life at a vile boarding-school is in this way a good preparation for the Christian life, that it teaches one to five by hope. Even, in a sense, by faith; for at the beginning of each term, home and the holidays are so far off that it is as hard to realise them as to realise heaven. They have the same pitiful unreality when confronted with immediate horrors. To-morrow’s geometry blots out the distant end of term as to-morrow’s operation may blot out the hope of Paradise. And yet, term after term, the unbelievable happened. Fantastical and astronomical figures like “This time six weeks” shrank into practicable figures like “This time next week”, and then “This time to-morrow”, and the almost supernatural bliss of the Last Day punctually appeared. It was a delight that almost demanded to be stayed with flagons and comforted with apples; a delight that tingled down the spine and troubled the belly and at moments went near to stopping the breath. Of course this had a terrible and equally relevant reverse side. In the first week of the holidays we might acknowledge that term would come again–as a young man, in peace time, in full health, acknowledges that he will one day die. But like him we could not even by the grimmest memento mori be brought to realise it. And there too, each time, the unbelievable happened. The grinning skull finally peered through all disguises; the last hour, held at bay by every device our will and imaginations knew, came in the end, and once more it was the bowler-hat, the Eton collar, the knickerbockers, and (clop-clop-clop-clop) the evening drive to the quay. In all seriousness I think that the life of faith is easier to me because of these memories. To think, in sunny and confident times, that I shall die and rot, or to think that one day all this universe will slip away and become memory (as Oldie slipped away into memory three times a year, and with him the canes and the disgusting food, the stinking sanitation and the cold beds)–this is easier to us if we have seen just that sort of thing happening before. We have learned not to take present things at their face value.”

Still Life - Infinite Vanitas by Kevin Best, 2011. Digital art.As you might imagine, I look at a lot of art. On a normal day, I usually reject about three pieces for every one I post. One of the problems I often have when posting to this blog...

Infinite Vanitas by Kevin Best

Theft and Fraud for Love of Books

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

“The Ptolemies are said to have resorted to many ingenious devices with a view to adding to the treasures of their Libraries. We are told by Galen (xvii a p. 606) that the numerous vessels which entered the harbour were compelled to surrender any mss which they had on board, and that the owners of these mss had to rest content with copies of the same ; these mss were known as τὰ ὲκ πλοίων [‘the ones from the ships’], and among them (according to one version of the story) was a MS of a book of Hippocrates brought to Alexandria by the physician Mnemon of Side in Pamphylia. Galen is also the authority for the story already quoted (p. 58) as to the way in which the official text of the three great tragic poets of Athens was secured for Alexandria by Ptolemy Euergetes, i.e. either the first of that name (247-222 B.C.), or the second, also known as Ptolemy Physcon (146-117 B.C.). The keenest rivalry arose between the royal patrons of learning at Alexandria and Pergamon. It is even stated that one of the Ptolemies, probably Philadelphus, prohibited the export of paper made from the Egyptian papyrus, and thus led to the use of skins of animals as materials for writing in the reign of the Pergamene prince, Eumenes (I, 263-241 B.C.) But such materials had been long in use, so that we can only infer that improvements in their preparation were introduced at Pergamon. In process of time skins were made smooth for writing on both sides, instead of only one, and the material thus manufactured was called charta pergamena, or ‘parchment’; but the word is not found earlier than the Edict of Diocletian (301 A.D.) Eumenes II (197-159 B.C.) is said to have invited the Alexandrian Librarian, Aristophanes of Byzantium, to leave Alexandria for Pergamon, and the mere suspicion that the Librarian was ready to accept such an invitation prompted Ptolemy Epiphanes (205-182 b.c) to put him in prison. The royal passion for collecting mss at Alexandria and Pergamon naturally led to the fabrication of many spurious works; and to various devices tor giving recent copies a false appearance of antiquity; it also led to careless transcription for the mere sake of rapidity of production.”

Science This! Some Ancient Theories on Eclipses

N.B. This selection is by no means exhaustive.

Xenophanes, fr.  D34

“Xenophanes [says eclipses] come from flames going out and that a different one happens again in the east. He reports in addition that there was an eclipse for an entire month and also a total eclipse that made the day seem like night.”

D34 (A41) Aët. 2.24.4 (Ps.-Plut.) [περὶ ἐκλείψεως ἡλίου]

Ξενοφάνης κατὰ σβέσιν· ἕτερον δὲ πάλιν πρὸς ταῖς ἀνατολαῖς γίνεσθαι· παριστόρηκε δὲ καὶ ἔκλειψιν ἡλίου ἐφ᾽ ὅλον μῆνα καὶ πάλιν ἔκλειψιν ἐντελῆ, ὥστε τὴν ἡμέραν νύκτα φανῆναι.

Xenophanes fr. D35

“Xenophanes says that there are many suns and moons arrayed along the earth’s latitudes, segments and zones. At certain times, he says, the disk falls out of the sky to some uninhabited place of the earth and an eclipse appears because it left empty space.”

D35 =(Stob.; cf. Ps.-Plut.) [περὶ ἐκλείψεως ἡλίου]

Ξενοφάνης· πολλοὺς εἶναι ἡλίους καὶ σελήνας κατὰ τὰ κλίματα τῆς γῆς καὶ ἀποτομὰς καὶ ζώνας. κατὰ δέ τινα καιρὸν ἐκπίπτειν τὸν δίσκον εἴς τινα ἀποτομὴν τῆς γῆς οὐκ οἰκουμένην ὑφ’ ἡμῶν καὶ οὕτως ὡσπερεὶ κενεμβατοῦντα ἔκλειψιν ὑποφαίνειν [. . . = D31].

Anaximander, Fr. 26

“Anaximander says that the [moon] is a wheel nineteen times larger than the earth, like the wheel of a chariot it has a hollow rim filled with fire similar to that of the sun, situated at an angle, like that one. It has a single exhalation point like the mouth of bellows. An eclipse happens when the wheel turns.”

Aët. 2.25.1 (Stob., cf. Ps.-Plut.)

Ἀναξίμανδρος κύκλον εἶναι ἐννεακαιδεκαπλασίονα τῆς γῆς, ὅμοιον ἁρματείῳ τροχῷ κοίλην ἔχοντι τὴν ἁψῖδα καὶ πυρὸς πλήρη καθάπερ τὸν τοῦ ἡλίου, κείμενον λοξόν, ὡς κἀκεῖνον, ἔχοντα μίαν ἐκπνοὴν οἷον πρηστῆρος αὐλόν. ἐκλείπειν δὲ κατὰ τὰς ἐπιστροφὰς τοῦ τροχοῦ.

Heraclitus Fr. 20 (=Stob)

“Herakleitos and Hekateios say that the sun is a burning specter from the sea and that it is bowl-shaped and curved on one-side. They say an eclipse happens because of the turn of the bowl shape so that the hollow side turns up and the curved side turns down to our vision.”

     ῾Ηράκλειτος καὶ ῾Εκαταῖος ἄναμμα νοερὸν τὸ ἐκ θαλάττης εἶναι τὸν ἥλιον. —Σκαφοειδῆ δ’ εἶναι, ὑπόκυρτον. —Γίνεσθαι δὲ τὴν ἔκλειψιν κατὰ τὴν τοῦ σκαφοειδοῦς στροφήν, ὥστε τὸ μὲν κοῖλον ἄνω γίγνεσθαι, τὸ δὲ κυρτὸν κάτω πρὸς τὴν ἡμετέραν ὄψιν.

Empedocles, Fr. D133

“Empedocles says that an eclipse happens when the moon moves under the sun”

D133 = Aët. 2.24.7 (Stob.) [περὶ ἐκλείψεως ἡλίου]

ἔκλειψιν δὲ γίνεσθαι σελήνης αὐτὸν ὑπερχομένης.

Antiphon fr. D21 and D24

 “Antiphon says that [the sun] is made of fire that feeds on the wet mist around the earth and that its rising and setting come from it leaving air that has been consumed as it attaches to air with moisture.”

     ᾿Αντιφῶν πῦρ ἐπινεμόμενον μὲν τὸν περὶ τὴν γῆν ὑγρὸν ἀέρα, ἀνατολὰς δὲ καὶ δύσεις ποιούμενον, τῷ τὸν  μὲν ἐπικαιόμενον αἰεὶ προλείπειν, τοῦ δ’ ὑπονοτιζομένου πάλιν ἀντέχεσθαι.

 “And Antiphon says [lunar eclipses] happen because of the turn of the bowl-like celestial body and its angles.”

 Ἀντιφῶν κατὰ τὴν τοῦ σκαφοειδοῦς στροφὴν καὶ τὰς περικλίσεις

Anaxagoras, fr. D4.7

“Anaxagoras says that the moon eclipses when the earth is in the way and sometimes because of the celestial bodies below the moon; the sun eclipses because the moon gets in the way during its new phase.”

D4 (< A42) Ps.-Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies

ἐκλείπειν δὲ τὴν σελήνην γῆς ἀντιφραττούσης, ἐνίοτε δὲ καὶ τῶν ὑποκάτω τῆς σελήνης, τὸν δὲ ἥλιον ταῖς νουμηνίαις σελήνης ἀντιφραττούσης.

Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, II 90a (On Lunar Eclipses)

“What is an eclipse? The stealing of light from the moon by the superposition of the earth. Saying “what is an eclipse” is the same thing as saying “why does the moon eclipse”. Because the light of the sun leaves it when the earth gets in the way.”

τί ἐστιν ἔκλειψις; στέρησις φωτὸς ἀπὸ σελήνης ὑπὸ γῆς ἀντιφράξεως. διὰ τί ἔστιν ἔκλειψις, ἢ διὰ τί ἐκλείπει ἡ σελήνη; διὰ τὸ ἀπολείπειν τὸ φῶς ἀντιφραττούσης τῆς γῆς.

Seneca the Younger, Natural Questions 7

“The sun has no audience unless it starts to disappear. No one looks at the moon unless it is eclipsing. Then, cities scream together and everyone makes a ruckus because of silly superstition.”

Sol spectatorem, nisi deficit, non habet. Nemo observat lunam nisi laborantem; tunc urbes conclamant, tunc pro se quisque superstitione vana strepitat.

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