The Infantile Mind: Pliny on Where Amber Comes From

Pliny, NH 37 40-42

“[Sophocles] has described how [amber] is made on the other side of India from the tears of the birds called the “daughters of Meleager” as they weep for Meleager. Who doesn’t wonder at the fact that he believed this or expected to convince others to do so. What mind is so infantile or foolish that it could believe that there are birds who weep every year and shed such large tears or that they left Greece where Meleager perished and went to weep for him in India?

What, then? Don’t the poets offer us many tales equally fantastic? Indeed they do, but when it comes to this substance, which is imported daily and fills the market revealing the poet’s lie, this is a grave offense to human intelligence and and unendurable misuse of our ability to lie.

It is known that amber comes from islands in the Northern Oceans and that the Germans call it glaesum and, as a result of this, one of the islands which the natives called Austeravia was named Glaesariam by us when Caesar Germanicus was on campaign there with his fleet [16 CE]. Amber is created, moreover, as the pitch of a particular type of pine drips down in the same way as gum from cherry trees or resin in local pines bursts out because of an excess of liquid.”

hic ultra Indiam fieri dixit e lacrimis meleagridum avium Meleagrum deflentium. quod credidisse eum aut sperasse aliis persuaderi posse quis non miretur? quamve pueritiam tam inperitam posse reperiri, quae avium ploratus annuos credat lacrimasve tam grandes avesve, quae a Graecia, ubi Meleager periit, ploratum adierint Indos? quid ergo? non multa aeque fabulosa produnt poetae? sed hoc in ea re, quae cotidie invehatur atque abundet ac mendacium coarguat, serio quemquam dixisse summa hominum contemptio est et intoleranda mendaciorum inpunitas.

Certum est gigni in insulis septentrionalis oceani et ab Germanis appellari glaesum, itaque et ab nostris ob id unam insularum Glaesariam appellatam, Germanico Caesare res ibi gerente classibus, Austeraviam a barbaris dictam. nascitur autem defluente medulla pinei generis arboribus, ut cummis in cerasis, resina in pinis erumpit umoris abundantia.

British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 10v

On (the many) Signs of Rain

It is rainy today. I wore the wrong shoes and jacket and brought no umbrella. How could I have predicted this?

Theophrastus, Concerning Weather Signs 13

“Many shooting stars [are indications of] rain or wind and the wind or rain will originate from their directions. If the rays of the sun are think together at sunrise or sunset, it might be a sign of rain. It is also a sign when during sunrise the raise have the color of an eclipse. And also when there are clouds that are similar to the hair of wool—that’s a sign of rain. Many bubbles rising on the surface of rivers are signs of rain. And, generally speaking, when a rainbow appears around or through the light of the lamp, it means rain from south.”

Ἀστέρες πολλοὶ διᾴττοντες ὕδατος ἢ πνεύματος, καὶ ὅθεν ἂν διᾴττωσιν ἐντεῦθεν τὸ πνεῦμα ἢ τὸ ὕδωρ. καὶ ἐὰν ἀκτῖνες ἀθρόαι ἀνίσχωσιν ἀνιόντος ἢ δύνοντος, σημεῖον <ὕδατος>. καὶ ὅταν ἀνίσχοντος τοῦ ἡλίου αἱ αὐγαὶ οἷον ἐκλείποντος χρῶμα ἴσχωσιν, ὕδατος σημεῖον. καὶ ὅταν νεφέλαι πόκοις ἐρίων ὅμοιαι ὦσιν, ὕδωρ σημαίνει. [ὑετοῦ δὲ σημεῖα] πομφόλυγες ἀνιστάμεναι πλείους ἐπὶ τῶν ποταμῶν ὕδωρ σημαίνουσι πολύ. ὡς δ᾿ ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ ἶρις περὶ λύχνον ἢ διὰ λύχνου διαφαινομένη νότια σημαίνει ὕδατα.

Some excerpts from following paragraphs

15

“When birds who do not live in the water bathe, it is a sign of rain or storm. It is also a sign when frogs sing louder or when a toad takes a bath.”

Ὄρνιθες λουόμενοι μὴ ἐν ὕδατι βιοῦντες ὕδωρ ἢ χειμῶνας σημαίνουσι. καὶ φρύνη λουομένη καὶ βάτραχοι μᾶλλον ᾄδοντες σημαίνουσιν ὕδωρ.

16

“When a crow places its head on a rock which is washed by waves it is a sign of rain. Also: when it frequently dives down and flies around near the water, it is a sign of rain.”

Κορώνη ἐπὶ πέτρας κορυσσομένη ἣν κῦμα κατακλύζει ὕδωρ σημαίνει· καὶ κολυμβῶσα πολλάκις καὶ περιπετομένη ὕδωρ σημαίνει.

17

“If a hawk sits on a tree and then flies straight in a search for bugs, it is a sign of  rain.”

Ἐὰν ἱέραξ ἐπὶ δένδρου καθεζόμενος καὶ εἴσω εἰσπετόμενος φθειρίζηται, ὕδωρ σημαίνει.

18

“If a domesticated duck goes under the eaves of a roof and flaps its wings, it is a sign of rain.”

Καὶ ἡ νῆττα ἥμερος <ἐὰν> ὑπιοῦσα ὑπὸ τὰ γεῖσα ἀποπτερυγίζηται

Image result for ancient greek weather vase

 

Also, Theophrastus is like….

 

But then later he says….

Ignorant in a Special Kind of Ignorance

Hippocrates of Cos, The Art 8

 “There are some who find fault with medicine because of doctors who are not willing to attempt cases completely overpowered by diseases, saying that while doctors will try to heal patients whose diseases would heal themselves, they do not touch cases for which there is a great need of help—and, if [medicine] were truly an art, it would be necessary to treat all diseases equally.

The people who say these things, if they are really criticizing doctors because they do not care about the people who say these kinds of things as if they were delirious, perhaps they might make a more pointed critique than the one they offer. For, if someone believes that a skill can do something it cannot do or a exhibit a character which it does not have by nature, he is ignorant with the kind of ignorance that is closer to madness than a lack of education. For it is possible for us to master some fields by a natural disposition and with the tools of the art and then to become practitioners of these fields, but it is not possible for others.”

VIII. Εἰσὶ δέ τινες οἳ καὶ διὰ τοὺς μὴ θέλοντας ἐγχειρεῖν τοῖσι κεκρατημένοις ὑπὸ τῶν νοσημάτων μέμφονται τὴν ἰητρικήν, λέγοντες ὡς ταῦτα μὲν καὶ αὐτὰ ὑφ᾿ ἑωυτῶν ἂν ἐξυγιάζοιτο ἃ ἐγχειρέουσιν ἰῆσθαι, ἃ δ᾿ ἐπικουρίης δεῖται μεγάλης οὐχ ἅπτονται, δεῖν δέ, εἴπερ ἦν ἡ τέχνη, πάνθ᾿ ὁμοίως ἰῆσθαι. οἱ μὲν οὖν ταῦτα λέγοντες, εἰ ἐμέμφοντο τοῖς ἰητροῖς, ὅτι αὐτῶν τοιαῦτα λεγόντων οὐκ ἐπιμέλονται ὡς παραφρονεύντων, εἰκότως ἂν ἐμεμφοντο μᾶλλον ἢ ἐκεῖνα μεμφόμενοι. εἰ γάρ τις ἢ τέχνην ἐς ἃ μὴ τέχνη, ἢ φύσιν ἐς ἃ μὴ φύσις πέφυκεν, ἀξιώσειε δύνασθαι, ἀγνοεῖ ἄγνοιαν ἁρμόζουσαν μανίῃ μᾶλλον ἢ ἀμαθίῃ. ὧν γὰρ ἔστιν ἡμῖν τοῖσί τε τῶν φυσίων τοῖσι τε τῶν τεχνέων ὀργάνοις ἐπικρατεῖν, τούτων ἔστιν ἡμῖν δημιουργοῖς εἶναι, ἄλλων δὲ οὐκ ἔστιν.

This has no relation to the last statement but I needed to share it to remember it. Also, anything like this sticks with me because (1) I grind my teeth and (2) my spouse is a dentist.

Hippocrates, Prognostica 3

“To grind the teeth during a fever—if it is not a lifelong habit—is sign of insanity and mortal danger. And if this is done while delirious, it is especially deadly.”

ὀδόντας δὲ πρίειν ἐν πυρετῷ, ὁκόσοισι μὴ σύνηθές ἐστιν ἀπὸ παίδων, μανικὸν καὶ θανατῶδες·6 ἢν δὲ καὶ παραφρονέων τοῦτο ποιῇ, ὀλέθριον κάρτα ἤδη γίνεται.

Everything Comes from the Brain

The modern debate about “mind” verses “brain” has its origins in antiquity and notions of the “soul” and the “body”. Hippocrates presents one of the earliest arguments that everything is physical and biological.

Hippocrates of Cos, On the Sacred Disease 14

 “People should know that our pleasures, happiness, laughter, and jokes from nowhere else [but the brain] and that our griefs, pains, sorrows, depressions and mourning come from the same place. And through it we think especially, and ponder, and see and hear and come to perceive both shameful things and noble things and wicked things and good things as well as sweet and bitter, at times judging them so by custom, at others by understanding what is advantageous based on distinguishing what is pleasurable and not in the right time and [that] these things are not the same to us.

By this very organ we become both sane and delirious and fears and horrors attend us sometimes at night and sometimes at day. This brings us bouts of sleeplessness and makes us mistake-prone at terrible times,  bringing thoughts we cannot follow, and deeds which are unknown, unaccustomed or untried.

Yes, we suffer all these things from or brain when it is not health but is hotter than natural, too cold or too wet or too dry or suffers any other kind of thing contrary to its custom. We go insane because of its moistness. For whenever it is wetter than natural, it is forced to move. And when it moves, neither sight can be still nor hearing. Instead, we hear and see different things at different times and the tongue talks about the kinds of things it sees and hears each time. But a person can think as long as the brain remains still.”

 Εἰδέναι δὲ χρὴ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ὅτι ἐξ οὐδενὸς ἡμῖν αἱ ἡδοναὶ γίνονται καὶ αἱ εὐφροσύναι καὶ γέλωτες καὶ παιδιαὶ ἢ ἐντεῦθεν καὶ λῦπαι καὶ ἀνίαι καὶ δυσφροσύναι καὶ κλαυθμοί. Καὶ τούτῳ φρονεῦμεν μάλιστα καὶ νοεῦμεν καὶ βλέπομεν καὶ ἀκούομεν καὶ γινώσκομεν τά τε αἰσχρὰ καὶ τὰ καλὰ καὶ τὰ κακὰ καὶ ἀγαθὰ καὶ ἡδέα καὶ ἀηδέα, τὰ μὲν νόμῳ διακρίνοντες, τὰ δὲ τῷ ξυμφέροντι αἰσθανόμενοι, τῷ δὲ καὶ τὰς ἡδονὰς καὶ τὰς ἀηδίας τοῖσι καιροῖσι διαγινώσκοντες, καὶ οὐ ταὐτὰ ἀρέσκει ἡμῖν. Τῷ δὲ αὐτῷ τούτῳ καὶ μαινόμεθα καὶ παραφρονέομεν, καὶ δείματα καὶ φόβοι παρίστανται ἡμῖν τὰ μὲν νύκτωρ, τὰ δὲ μεθ’ ἡμέρην, καὶ ἐνύπνια καὶ πλάνοι ἄκαιροι, καὶ φροντίδες οὐχ ἱκνεύμεναι, καὶ ἀγνωσίη τῶν καθεστεώτων καὶ ἀηθίη καὶ ἀπειρίη. Καὶ ταῦτα πάσχομεν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἐγκεφάλου πάντα, ὅταν οὗτος μὴ ὑγιαίνῃ, ἀλλ’ ἢ θερμότερος τῆς φύσιος γένηται ἢ ψυχρότερος ἢ ὑγρότερος ἢ ξηρότερος, ἤ τι ἄλλο πεπόνθῃ πάθος παρὰ τὴν φύσιν ὃ μὴ ἐώθει. Καὶ μαινόμεθα μὲν ὑπὸ ὑγρότητος· ὅταν γὰρ ὑγρότερος τῆς φύσιος ᾖ, ἀνάγκη κινεῖσθαι, κινευμένου δὲ μήτε τὴν ὄψιν ἀτρεμίζειν μήτε τὴν ἀκοήν, ἀλλ᾿ ἄλλοτε ἄλλα ὁρᾶν καὶ ἀκούειν, τήν τε γλῶσσαν τοιαῦτα διαλέγεσθαι οἷα ἂν βλέπῃ τε καὶ ἀκούῃ ἑκάστοτε· ὅσον δ᾿ ἂν ἀτρεμήσῃ ὁ ἐγκέφαλος χρόνον, τοσοῦτον καὶ φρονεῖ ὁ ἄνθρωπος.

On the Sacred Disease, 9

“For these reasons I think that the brain has the most power in the human being. For when it happens to be healthy, it is our interpreter of all the things that happen from the air. And air furnishes intelligence. The eyes, and ears, and tongue and hands and feet do the kinds of things the brain decides. Indeed, the portion of intelligence distributed throughout the body comes from the air. The brain is the emissary to understanding. For whenever a person draws breath inside it rushes first to the brain and then it spreads through the rest of the body once it leaves its distilled form in the brain, that very thing which is thought and has judgment. If it were to enter the body first and the rain later, it would leave understanding in the flesh and the arteries and then go hot and impure into the brain, all mixed up with the bile from flesh and blood, with the result that it would uncertain.”

Κατὰ ταῦτα νομίζω τὸν ἐγκέφαλον δυναμιν ἔχειν πλείστην ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ· οὗτος γὰρ ἡμῖν ἐστι τῶν ἀπὸ τοῦ ἠέρος γινομένων ἑρμηνεύς, ἢν ὑγιαίνων τυγχάνῃ· τὴν δὲ φρόνησιν ὁ ἀὴρ παρέχεται. οἱ δὲ ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ τὰ ὦτα καὶ ἡ γλῶσσα καὶ αἱ χεῖρες καὶ οἱ πόδες οἷα ἂν ὁ ἐγκέφαλος γινώσκῃ, τοιαῦτα πρήσσουσι·† γίνεται γὰρ ἐν ἅπαντι τῷ σώματι τῆς φρονήσιος, ὡςἂν μετέχῃ τοῦ ἠέρος.† ἐς δὲ τὴν σύνεσιν ὁ ἐγκέφαλός ἐστιν ὁ διαγγέλλων· ὅταν γὰρ σπάσῃ τὸ πνεῦμα ὥνθρωπος ἐς ἑωυτόν, ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον πρῶτον ἀφικνεῖται, καὶ οὕτως ἐς τὸ λοιπὸν σῶμα σκίδναται ὁ ἀήρ, καταλελοιπὼς ἐν τῷ ἐγκεφάλῳ ἑωυτοῦ τὴν ἀκμὴν καὶ ὅ τι ἂν ᾖ φρόνιμόν τε καὶ γνώμην ἔχον· εἰ γὰρ ἐς τὸ σῶμα πρῶτον ἀφικνεῖτο καὶ ὕστερον ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον, ἐν τῇσι σαρξὶ καὶ ἐν τῇσι φλεψὶ καταλελοιπὼς τὴν διάγνωσιν ἐς τὸν ἐγκέφαλον ἂν ἴοιθερμὸς ἐὼν καὶ οὐκ ἀκραιφνής, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπιμεμιγμένος τῇ ἰκμάδι τῇ ἀπό τε τῶν σαρκῶν καὶ τοῦ αἵματος, ὥστε μηκέτι εἶναι ἀκριβής.

Image result for ancient greek medicine hippocrates of cos

Edmund Wilson. “On Free Will and How the Brain is Like a Colony of Ants.” Harper’s September 2014, 49-52.

“The self does not exist as a paranormal being living on its own within the brain. It is, instead, the central dramatic character of the confabulated scenarios. In these stories, it is always on center stage—if not as participant, then as observer and commentator—because that is where all of the sensory information arrives and is integrated.”

For a good overview of issues of brain, mind and consciousness from multiple disciplinary perspectives, see Dennett, Dale C. 2017. From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. New York.

“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

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

Why Wives Should Learn Geometry and Plato. And, an Eclipse

Plutarch, Advice to Bride and Groom (Moralia138a-146a : Conjugalia Praecepta)

“These kinds of studies, foremost, distract woman from inappropriate matters. For, a wife will be ashamed to dance when she is learning geometry. And she will not receive spells of medicine if she is charmed by Platonic dialogues and the works of Xenophon. And if anyone claims she can pull down the moon, she will laugh at the ignorance and simplicity of the women who believe these things because she herself is not ignorant of astronomy and she has read about Aglaonikê. She was the daughter of Hêgêtor of Thessaly because she knew all about the periods of the moon and eclipses knew before everyone about the time when the moon would be taken by the shadow of the earth. She tricked the other women and persuaded them that she herself was causing the lunar eclipse.”

τὰ δὲ τοιαῦτα μαθήματα πρῶτον ἀφίστησι τῶν ἀτόπων τὰς γυναῖκας· αἰσχυνθήσεται γὰρ ὀρχεῖσθαι γυνὴ γεωμετρεῖν μανθάνουσα, καὶ φαρμάκων ἐπῳδὰς οὐ προσδέξεται τοῖς Πλάτωνος ἐπᾳδομένη λόγοις καὶ τοῖς Ξενοφῶντος. ἂν δέ τις ἐπαγγέλληται καθαιρεῖν τὴν σελήνην, γελάσεται τὴν ἀμαθίαν καὶ τὴν ἀβελτερίαν τῶν ταῦτα πειθομένων γυναικῶν, ἀστρολογίας μὴ ἀνηκόως ἔχουσα καὶ περὶ Ἀγλαονίκης ἀκηκουῖα τῆς Ἡγήτορος τοῦ Θετταλοῦ θυγατρὸς ὅτι τῶν ἐκλειπτικῶν ἔμπειρος οὖσα πανσελήνων καὶ προειδυῖα τὸν χρόνον, ἐν ᾧ συμβαίνει τὴν σελήνην ὑπὸ γῆς σκιᾶς ἁλίσκεσθαι, παρεκρούετο καὶ συνέπειθε τὰς γυναῖκας ὡς αὐτὴ καθαιροῦσα τὴν σελήνην.

 

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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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Some Useful Principles On Science and Fear

Some of Epicurus’ Maxims (taken from Diogenes Laertius‘ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers)

  1. “If fear of the skies or about death had never afflicted us—along with the ignoring of the limits of pain and desires—we never would have needed natural science”

Εἰ μηθὲν ἡμᾶς αἱ τῶν μετεώρων ὑποψίαι ἠνώχλουν καὶ αἱ περὶ θανάτου, μή ποτε πρὸς ἡμᾶς ᾖ τι, ἔτι τε τὸ μὴ κατανοεῖν τοὺς ὅρους τῶν ἀλγηδόνων καὶ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, οὐκ ἂν προσεδεόμεθα φυσιολογίας.

  1. “It is not possible to eliminate fear about the most important things unless one understands the nature of everything—otherwise, we live fearing things we heard from myths. Therefore, it is not possible to enjoy unmixed pleasures without natural science.”

XII. Οὐκ ἦν τὸ φοβούμενον λύειν ὑπὲρ τῶν κυριωτάτων μὴ κατειδότα τίς ἡ τοῦ σύμπαντος φύσις, ἀλλ’ ὑποπτευόμενόν τι τῶν κατὰ τοὺς μύθους· ὥστε οὐκ ἦν ἄνευ φυσιολογίας ἀκεραίους τὰς ἡδονὰς ἀπολαμβάνειν.

  1. “There is no profit in making yourself secure against other people as long as you fear what happens above and below the earth or elsewhere in the endless universe.”

XIII. Οὐθὲν ὄφελος ἦν τὴν κατ’ ἀνθρώπους ἀσφάλειαν κατασκευάζεσθαι τῶν ἄνωθεν ὑπόπτων καθεστώτων καὶ τῶν ὑπὸ γῆς καὶ ἁπλῶς τῶν ἐν τῷ ἀπείρῳ.

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