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The eclipses announce extraordinary events (I)

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Man has taken thousands of years, from his appearing on earth, watching the sky, sometimes impressed by the thousands of bright spots, around 1,500 naked eye, moving or standing still, and other times frightened by the influence which the sky can have on their lives.

The sky itself is a god and those bright points are also divine beings. So any signal that comes from heaven must  be observed, analyzed, countered if its effect is threatening.

Concerning the stars, one of the aspects that most interested the ancients  was the present position of the stars; some of them, the planets move, but others apparently remain fixed and anchored in heaven. Just the word "planet" πλανήτης, planetes in Greek, means "wanderer, moving"

From the position and appearance (ortho) and disappearance  (set) of the stars in the sky depend  two fundamental issues: one the determination of the calendar, the ability to organize and understand the cycles of nature; the other one  is related to the belief in the influence the stars have on the lives of men, especially the position of the stars at the time of birth. This question is studying since years  the "astrology" and irrational it may seem us, it has not yet ceased to have a large presence in contemporary life.

Well, to determine the position of the stars and their appearances and  cycles patient observations were made during thousands of years. The first were the Mesopotamians and Egyptians; from  them learned Greek, who incorporated this knowledge into their mythology and their fledgling science and developed it greatly.

One sign that most impressed the ancients, and that continues  fascinating us today, are the  eclipses, in our position especially they of the sun, but also of the moon.

The word eclipse comes from the Greek ἔκλειψις, ékleipsis, which means "disappearance, missing".
Strabo (ca. 63 BC-AD 19-24) in his Geography, 1, 1, 12 defines eclipses as συγκρίσεις ἡλίου καὶ σελήνης (syncríseis Heliou kay Selenes), ie as combinations, compositions or alignment of the sun and moon [to the earth]. This precise definition remains valid today.

According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy in astronomy eclipse it is "temporary total or partial hiding of a star by the interposition of another celestial body."

Eclipses can be solar eclipse or lunar eclipse. They are especially striking and dramatic the solar eclipses, which can be partial, total or annular according the  part of sun which is obscured by the interposition of the moon.

Solar eclipses, especially total eclipses, may cause fear and anxiety for people, even today where the scientific explanation, long ago established, is known worldwide. In this type, night falls in the middle of the day and some stars can see and though they did not last long, they alter the behavior of animals and impress people greatly.

It can not, therefore, surprise us the interest that eclipses arose in the ancient.

The Babylonians were remarkable observers of the sky and Egyptians and Greeks learned from then. And Babylonians were those who realized that the planets periodically returned to the same one position and established the so called "Saros cycle", which naturally inherited the Greeks. This cycle is a period of 18 years, 10 or 11 days and 1/3 day (ie, 6585.32 days), time between two solar or lunar eclipses  with similar conditions, when the Moon and Earth they are again in the same approximate position in their orbits: at the same stage, on the same node and at the same distance.

The name "Saros" (Greek σάρος), which first was used in 1691 by Edmond Halley taking from  encyclopedia or from  Byzantine lexicon of eleventh century "Suda", which says:

[The saros is] a measure and a number among Chaldeans. For 120 saros-cycles make 2222 years according to the Chaldeans' reckoning, if indeed the saros makes 222 lunar months, which are 18 years and 6 months.

The Greeks in turn seems that they took  the word "saros" from the Babylonian "Saru", which meant the number 3,600.

Ptolemy and Pliny refer to this cycle, but they do not call it that. Pliny (23-79 AD) devotes the whole chapter 10 of Book II to the analysis of the recurrence of eclipses, solar and lunar, taking it from Hipparchus:

Pliny, Naturalis Historia, II, 10 (56-57)

It is ascertained that the eclipses complete their whole revolution in the space of 223 months, that the eclipse of the sun takes place only at the conclusion or the commencement of a lunation, which is termed conjunction, while an eclipse of the moon takes place only when she is at the full, and is always a little farther advanced than the preceding eclipse. Now there are eclipses of both these stars in every year, which take place below the earth, at stated days and hours; and when they are above it they are not always visible, sometimes on account of the clouds, but more frequently, from the globe of the earth being opposed to the vault of the heavens. It was discovered two hundred years ago, by the sagacity of Hipparchus, that the moon is sometimes eclipsed after an interval of five months, and the sun after an interval of seven; also, that he becomes invisible, while above the horizon, twice in every thirty days, but that this is seen in different places at different times. But the most wonderful circumstance is, that while it is admitted that the moon is darkened by the shadow of the earth, this occurs at one time on its western, and at another time on its eastern side. And farther, that although, after the rising of the sun, that darkening shadow ought to be below the earth, yet it has once happened, that the moon has been eclipsed in the west, while both the luminaries have been above the horizon. And as to their both being invisible in the space of fifteen days, this very thing happened while the Vespasians were emperors, the father being consul for the third time, and the son for the second. (The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.)

defectus ccxxiii mensibus redire in suos orbes certum est, solis defectus non nisi novissima primave fieri luna, quod vocant coitum, lunae autem non nisi plena, semperque citra quam proxime fuerint; omnibus autem annis fieri utriusque sideris defectus statis diebus horisque sub terra nec tamen, cum superne fiant, ubique cerni, aliquando propter nubila, saepius globo terrae obstante convexitatibus mundi.
intra ducentos annos hipparchi sagacitate compertum est et lunae defectum aliquando quinto mense a priore fieri, solis vero septimo, eundem bis in xxx diebus super terras occultari, sed ab aliis hoc cerni, quaeque sunt in hoc miraculo maxime mira, cum conveniat umbra terrae lunam hebetari, nunc ab occasus parte hoc ei accidere, nunc ab exortus, quanam ratione, cum solis exortu umbra illa hebetatrix sub terra esse debeat, semel iam acciderit ut in occasu luna deficeret utroque super terram conspicuo sidere. nam ut xv diebus utrumque sidus quaereretur, et nostro aevo accidit imperatoribus vespasianis patre iii. filio consulibus.

Ptolemy tells us something similar in his Almagest, IV, 2 in its Latin version:

De periodicis lunae temporibus
The ancient considered that this period was approximately 6585 days and third day, ie 8 hours, because at that time they saw that they ran approximately 223 months (lunar), or 239 revolutions of the anomaly, however 242 around the same latitude, but 241 revolutions in length and 10.40 degrees plus on 18 revolutions at this time

Prisci ergo admodum tempus hoc esse putabant directum 6585 dies et tertiam unius diei partem utpote horas 8 in tanto enim tempore 223 menses proxime colligi videbant: Revolutiones aut inaequalitatis quidem 239. Latitudinis autem 242, longitudinis vero revolutiones 241 et ad haec gradus 10.40 quoque in 18 revoutionibus in praedicto tempore.

In the Greco-Roman world the astronomy (currently defined as "The science which is the study of that which is related to the stars, and especially to the laws of their movements") and astrology (currently defined as "Study of the position and movement of the stars through whose interpretation and observation it is to know and predict the fate of men and predict terrestrial events. ") are confused, they are the same science. So the myths and beliefs that come from the mists of time are mixed with that reason and science find out. Gradually the astronomy  was expressed in mathematical and geometric language without thereby the “astrology” disappear.

I will summarize this long process, in regard to eclipses, on a few  ancient texts, from  hundreds of interesting,  that have been remained.

Homer in his Odyssey, XX, 350 et seq.  refers to an eclipse, which he presents  as a premonition of the terrible end of the suitors of Penelope at the hands of Odysseus in his palace in Ithaca:

Then the godlike Theoclymenus spake among them:
'Ah, wretched men, what woe is this ye suffer?
Shrouded in night are your heads and your faces and your knees,
and kindled is the voice of wailing, and all cheeks are wet with tears,
and the walls and the fair main-beams of the roof are sprinkled with blood.
And the porch is full, and full is the court,
of ghosts that hasten hellwards beneath the gloom,
and the sun has perished out of heaven,
and an evil mist has overspread the world.'

(The Odyssey of Homer, done into English prose by S.H.Butcher, M.A. and A.Lang.Ma. Project Gutenberg)

Archilochus reminded us that eclipses are the work of the gods. Greek poet Archilochus  lived in the seventh century BC and he  refers to an eclipse, probably that of the year 648, as a work of Zeus. He says in the fragment 122 (West):

Zeus and the  Eclipse (fragment 122 West)

Nothing is unexpected, nothing can be declared impossible
or wonderful, since Zeus, father of the Olympians,
made night at midday keeping back to the light
even sun was shining; and fear fell upon men.
From this time men can believe all things, they can wait all things.
None of you may  be surprised in the future, even when you
beasts change places with dolphins and go to pasture
in the deep, when the resonant waves of the sea become
dearer than the land, and the dolphins love the wooded hills.

Men do not know what causes eclipses, which as disturbance of the natural order of heaven  produce enormous fear. Sometimes they believe they are caused by the own magic action of men.

Some authors, like Democritus of Abdera (450a.C. - ca. 370 BC) think the sun or the moon become invisible when they descend from their orbits. The responsible for this descent are witches or wizards, according to popular belief.

Plato reflects this belief that he puts on the mouth of Socrates in Gorgias, 513a:

see if this is to your advantage and mine, so that we may not suffer, my distinguished friend, the fate that they say befalls the creatures who would draw down the moon—the hags of Thessaly; that our choice of this power in the city may not cost us all that we hold most dear. (Translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967.)

According to popular belief they turn blind, suffered burns and were left with broken legs for the effort.

Aristophanes uses the belief on The Clouds, v. 750 ff .:

Strepsiades. I have got a device for cheating them of the

Socrates. Exhibit it.

Strep. Now tell me this, pray; if I were to purchase a
      Thessalian witch, and draw down the moon by night,  and
      then shut it up, as if it were a mirror, in a round
      crest-case, and then carefully keep it—

Soc. What good, pray, would this do you?

Strep. What? If the moon were to rise no longer
     anywhere, I should not pay the interest.

Soc. Why so, pray?

Strep. Because the money is lent out by the month.
                  (Translated by William James Hickie)

Pliny also tells us how men believed that eclipses were the result of witchcraft and how they produced them enormous fear, that they tried to ward producing great noise. He says in a text on that he values the great work of the men who liberated the men from fear to these phenomena. He says it in Naturalis Historia, II, 12 (54):

These were indeed great men, superior to ordinary mortals, who having discovered the laws of these divine bodies, relieved the miserable mind of man from the fear which he had of eclipses, as foretelling some dreadful events or the destruction of the stars. This alarm is freely acknowledged in the sublime strains of Stesichorus and Pindar, as being produced by an eclipse of the sun. And with respect to the eclipse of the moon, mortals impute it to witchcraft, and therefore endeavour to aid her by producing discordant sounds. In consequence of this kind of terror it was that Nicias, the general of the Athenians, being ignorant of the cause, was afraid to lead out the fleet, and brought great distress on his troops. (The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.)

viri ingentes supraque mortalia, tantorum numinum lege deprehensa et misera hominum mente iam soluta, in defectibus scelera aut mortem aliquam siderum pavente - quo in metu fuisse stesichori et pindari vatum sublimia ora palam est deliquio solis - aut in luna veneficia arguente mortalitate et ob id crepitu dissono auxiliante - quo pavore ignarus causae nicias atheniensium imperator veritus classem portu educere opes eorum adflixit

Livy also, commenting on the site by the Romans in the city of Capua, occupied by the Carthaginians, and describing the noise and clamor of the battle in that also is  involved Anibal, says in (Ab Urbe Condita libri), 26, 5 9,:

The battle commenced not only with the usual clamour and tumult, but in addition to the din of men, horses, and arms, a multitude of Campanians, unable to bear arms, being distributed along the walls, raised such a shout together with the clangour of brazen vessels, similar to that which is usually made in the dead of night when the moon is eclipsed, that it diverted the attention even of the combatants. (Translated by D. Spillan and Cyrus Edmonds)

proelium non solito modo clamore ac tumultu est coeptum, sed ad alium virorum, equorum armorumque sonum disposita in muris Campanorum inbellis multitudo tantum cum aeris crepitu, qualis in defectu lunae silenti nocte cieri solet, edidit clamorem, ut averteret etiam pugnantium animos.

Boethius (480-ca.526), still reminds us of the established practice of beating  bronze objects to ward off the evil spell of the solar eclipse, in his Consolation of Philosophy, Book IV, M (etro) 5, 7, -12

palleant plenae cornua lunae
infecta metis noctis opacae,
quaeque fulgenti texerat ore,
10 confusa Phoebe detegat astra:
commouet gentes publicus error
lassantque crebris pulsibus aera.

When the full-orbèd moon grows pale
In the mid course of night,
And suddenly the stars shine forth
That languished in her light,
Th' astonied nations stand at gaze,
And beat the air in wild amaze.

(Translated by H.R. James, M.A., CH. )

The texts that reflect these fears are numerous. Thucydides (460-396) provides an interesting text commenting on the magnitude of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides puts in relation the disasters of war with the misfortunes of all kinds that occurred then.

History of the Peloponnesian War, I, 23:

The Median war, the greatest achievement of past times, yet found a speedy decision in two actions by sea and two by land. The Peloponnesian war was prolonged to an immense length, and long as it was it was short without parallel for the misfortunes that it brought upon Hellas. [2] Never had so many cities been taken and laid desolate, here by the barbarians, here by the parties contending (the old inhabitants being sometimes removed to make room for others); never was there so much banishing and blood-shedding, now on the field of battle, now in the strife of action. [3] Old stories of occurrences handed down by tradition, but scantily confirmed by experience, suddenly ceased to be incredible; there were earthquakes of unparalleled extent and violence; eclipses of the sun occurred with a frequency unrecorded in previous history; there were great droughts in sundry places and consequent famines, and that most calamitous and awfully fatal visitation, the plague. All this came upon them with the late war,… (London, J. M. Dent;)

Note: Thucydides in his History mentions two solar eclipses, in II, 28 and IV, 52.1; he also refers to one lunar eclipse in VII, 50.4:

All was at last ready, and they were on the point of sailing away, when an eclipse of the moon, which was then at the full, took place. Most of the Athenians, deeply impressed by this occurrence, now urged the generals to wait; and Nicias, who was somewhat over-addicted to divination and practices of that kind, refused from that moment even to take the question of departure into consideration, until they had waited the thrice nine days prescribed by the soothsayers. (Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton. 1910.)

Pindar also uses the same idea and belief that eclipses carry great misfortunes in his Pean 9 (52K Fragment Maehler, A1 Rutherford):

Beam of the sun ! O thou that seest afar, what
wilt thou be devising } O mother of mine eyes ! O
star supreme, reft from us in the daytime. Why
hast thou perplexed the power of man and the way
of wisdom, by rushing forth on a darksome track }
Art thou bringing on us some new and strange
disaster? Yet, by Zeus, I implore thee, thou swift
driver divine of steeds ! do thou, O queen I change
this worldwide portent into some painless blessing
for Thebes . . .

[Is it because, in thine anger at the presumptuous
sons of mortals, thou art unAvilling utterly to blot
out the pure light of life ?] ^

But art thou bringing a sign of some war, or wasting
of produce, or an unspeakably violent snow-storm, or
fatal faction, or again, some overflowing of the sea
on the plain, or frost to bind the earth, or heat of
the south-wind streaming with raging rain ? Or wilt
thou, by deluging the land, cause the race of men to
begin anew ? I in no wise lament whate'er I shall
suffer with all the rest.

(English translation by  Sir John Sandys, Lttt.D., F.B.A. The Loeb Classical Library)

Some commentators appreciate precedent of this paean in Egyptian poems to the sun.

Seneca, in a long and rhetorical choir singing in his tragedy "Thyestes" poetizes on the status of cosmic disorder and panic generated by eclipses:

At the crime of Atreus who killed the children of Thyestes and had offered as food in a terrible feast, the sun goes back. The choir, stunned, fears that the whole structure of the world comes down and then all returns to the old chaos.

The choir at the end of his Thyestes, v. 789-884:


Whither, O father of the lands and skies, before
whose rising thick night with all her glories flees,
whither dost turn thy course and why dost blot out
the day in mid-Olympus? Why, O Phoebus, dost
snatch away thy face ? Not yet does Vesper,
twilight's messenger, summon the fires of night ; not
yet does thy wheel, turning its western goal, bid free
thy steeds from their completed task; not yet as day
fades into night has the third trump sounded; the
ploughman with oxen yet unwearied stands amazed at
his supper-hour's quick coming. What has driven
thee from thy heavenly course? What cause from
their fixed track has turned aside thy horses? Is
the prison-house of Dis thrown wide and are the
conquered Giants again essaying war? Doth sorewounded
Tityos renew in his weary breast his ancient
wrath ? Has Typhoeus thrown off the mountainous
mass and set his body free? Is a highway being built
by the Phlegraean foe, and does Thessalian Pelion
press on Thracian Ossa?

Heaven's accustomed alternations are no more;
no setting, no rising shall there be again. The dewy
mother of the early dawn, wont to hand o'er to the
god his morning reins, looks in amaze upon the
disordered threshold of her kingdom; she is not
skilled to bathe his weary chariot, nor to plunge his
steeds, reeking with sweat, beneath the sea. Startled
himself at such unwonted welcoming, the sinking
sun beholds Aurora, and bids the shadows arise,
though night is not yet ready. No stars come out;
the heavens gleam not with any fires : no moon
dispels the darkness' heavy pall.

But whatever this may be, would that night
were here ! Trembling, trembling are our hearts,
sore smit with fear, lest all things fall shattered in
fatal ruin and once more gods and men be o'erwhelmed
by formless chaos; lest the lands, the encircling sea,
and the stars that wander in the spangled sky, nature
blot out once more. No more by the rising of his
quenchless torch shall the leader of the stars, guiding
the procession of the years, mark off the summer and
the winter times; no more shall Luna, reflecting
Phoebus' rays, dispel night's terrors, and outstrip
her brother's reins, as in scantier space she speeds
on her circling path. Into one abyss shall fall the
heaped-up throng of gods. The Zodiac, which,
making passage through the sacred stars, crosses the
zones obliquely, guide and sign-bearer for the slowmoving
years, falling itself, shall see the fallen
constellations ; the Ram, who, ere kindly spring has
come, gives back the sails to the warm West- wind,
headlong shall plunge into the waves o'er which he
had borne the trembling Helle ; the Bull, who
before him on bright horns bears the Hyades, shall
drag the Twins down with him and the Crab's widecurving claws;
Alcides’Lion, with burning heat inflamed, once more
shall fall down from the sky ; the Virgin shall fall to the earth
she once abandoned, and the Scales of justice with their weights
shall fall and with them shall drag the fierce Scorpion down;
old Chiron,who sets the feathered shafts upon
Haemonian chord, shall lose his shafts from the
snapped bowstring; the frigid Goat^ who brings
back sluggish winter, shall fall and break thy urn,
whoe'er thou art ; with thee shall fall the Fish, last
of the stars of heaven, and the Wain, which was
ne'er bathed by the sea, shall be plunged beneath
the all-engulfing waves ; the slippery Serpent which,
gliding like a river, separates the Bears, shall fall,
and icy Cynosura, the Lesser Bear, together with the
Dragon vast, congealed with cold; and that slow-
moving driver of his wain, Arctophylax,no longer
fixed in place, shall fall.
Have we of all mankind been deemed deserving that heaven,
its poles  uptorn, should overwhelm us? In our time has the last day come?
Alas for us, by bitter fate begotten, to misery
doomed, whether we have lost the sun or banished
it! Away with lamentations, begone, O fear!
Greedy indeed for life is he who would not die
when the world is perishing in his company.

(Translated by Frank Justus Miller, Ph.D.LL.D., The Loeb Classical Library)

Quo terrarum superumque parem,
cuius ad ortus noctis opacae
decus omne fugit, quo vertis iter
medioque diem perdis Olympo?
cur, Phoebe, tuos rapis aspectus?
nondum serae nuntius horae
nocturna vocat lumina Vesper;
nondum Hesperiae flexura rotae
iubet emeritos solvere currus;
nondum in noctem vergente die
tertia misit bucina signum:
stupet ad subitae tempora cenae
nondum fessis bubus arator,
quid te aetherio pepulit cursu?
quae causa tuos
limite certo deiecit equos?
numquid aperto carcere Ditis
victi temptant bella Gigantes?
numquid Tityos pectore fesso
renovat veteres saucius iras?
num reiecto
latus explicuit monte Typhoeus?
numquid struitur via Phlegraeos
alta per hostes et Thessalicum
Thressa premitur Pelion Ossa?
solitae mundi periere vices?
nihil occasus, nihil ortus erit?
stupet Eoos
assueta deo tradere frenos
genetrix primae roscida lucis
perversa sui limina regni;
nescit fessos
tinguere currus nec fumantes
sudore iubas mergere ponto.
ipse insueto novus hospitio
Sol Auroram videt occiduus,
tenebrasque iubet surgere nondum
nocte parata: non succedunt
astra nec ullo micat igne polus,
non Luna gravis digerit umbras.
Sed quicquid id est, utinam nox sit!
trepidant, trepidant
pectora magno percussa metu:
ne fatali cuncta ruina
quassata labent iterumque, deos
hominesque premat deforme chaos,
iterum terras et mare cingens
 et vaga picti sidera mundi
natura tegat.
non aeternae facis exortu
dux astrorum saecula ducens
dabit aestatis brumaeque notas,
non Phoebeis obvia flammis
dement nocti Luna timores
vincetque sui fratris habenas,
curro brevius limite currens;
ibit in unum
congesta sinum turba deorum,
hic qui sacris pervius astris
secat obliquo tramite zonas
flectens longos signifer annos,
lapsa videbit sidera labens;
hic qui nondum vere benigno
reddit Zephyro- vela tepenti,
Aries praeceps ibit in undas,
per quas pavidam vexerat Hellen;
hic qui nitido Taurus cornu
praefert Hyadas, secum Geminos
trahet et curvi bracchia Cancri;
Leo flammiferis aestibus ardens
iterum e caelo cadet Herculens,
cadet in terras Virgo relictas
iustaeqne cadent pondera Librae
secumque trahent Scorpion acrem;
et qui nervo tenet Haemonio
pinnata senex spicula Chiron,
rupto perdet spicula nervo;
pigram referens hiemem gelidus
cadet Aegoceros frangetque tuam,
quisquis es, urnam; tecum excedent
ultima caeli sidera Pisces,
Plostraque numquam perfusa mari
merget condens omnia gurges;
et qui medias dividit Vrsas,
fluminis instar lubricus Anguis
magnoque minor iuncta Draconi
frigida duro. Cynosura gelu,
custosque sui tardus plaustri
iam non stabilis ruet Arctophylax.
Nos e tanto visi populo
digni premeret quos everso
cardine mundus?
in nos aetas ultima venit?
o nos dura sorte creatos,
seu perdidimus solem miseri,
sive expulimus!
abeant questus, discedo, timor:
vitae est avidus quisquis non vult
mundo secum pereunte mori.

Virgil (70-19 BC), relates sun signals (Phoebus) to the assassination of Caesar and the wars and misfortunes that will befall on Rome in his Georgics I, vv. 464-468:

He it is who warneth oft
Of hidden broils at hand and treachery,
And secret swelling of the waves of war.
He too it was, when Caesar's light was quenched,
For Rome had pity, when his bright head he veiled
In iron-hued darkness, till a godless age
Trembled for night eternal;

(Translated by J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900.)

… Ille etiam caecos instare tumultus
saepe monet fraudemque et operta tumescere bella;
ille etiam exstincto miseratus Caesare Romam,
cum caput obscura nitidum ferrugine texit
impiaque aeternam timuerunt saecula noctem.

Virgil also, at the end of Book I of the Aeneid, when Aeneas has been
taken away by Dido to the palace, presents the court poet singing  the stars and their movements. He does it in verses 736 ff.

Aeneid, I,736-750

The goblet then she took, with nectar crown'd
(Sprinkling the first libations on the ground,)
And rais'd it to her mouth with sober grace;
Then, sipping, offer'd to the next in place.
'T was Bitias whom she call'd, a thirsty soul;
He took challenge, and embrac'd the bowl,
With pleasure swill'd the gold, nor ceas'd to draw,
Till he the bottom of the brimmer saw.
The goblet goes around: Iopas brought
His golden lyre, and sung what ancient Atlas taught:
The various labors of the wand'ring moon,
And whence proceed th' eclipses of the sun;
th' original of men and beasts; and whence
The rains arise, and fires their warmth dispense,
And fix'd and erring stars dispose their influence;
What shakes the solid earth; what cause delays
The summer nights and shortens winter days.
With peals of shouts the Tyrians praise the song

Those peals are echo'd by the Trojan throng.
th' unhappy queen with talk prolong'd the night,
And drank large draughts of love with vast delight;
Of Priam much enquir'd, of Hector more;

(Translated by John Dryden)

Dixit, et in mensam laticum libavit honorem,
primaque, libato, summo tenus attigit ore,
tum Bitiae dedit increpitans; ille impiger hausit
spumantem pateram, et pleno se proluit auro
post alii proceres. Cithara crinitus Iopas
personat aurata, docuit quem maximus Atlas.
Hic canit errantem lunam solisque labores;
unde hominum genus et pecudes; unde imber et ignes;
Arcturum pluviasque Hyadas geminosque Triones;
quid tantum Oceano properent se tinguere soles
hiberni, vel quae tardis mora noctibus obstet.
Ingeminant plausu Tyrii, Troesque sequuntur.
Nec non et vario noctem sermone trahebat
infelix Dido, longumque bibebat amorem,
multa super Priamo rogitans, super Hectore multa;

Virgil  repeated almost verbatim the same ideas although in another context, now singing the excellence of the old Roman farmer and happy worker of his land; curiously they repeated here two upright lines of the previous text corresponding to the Aeneid, in Georgics, II, v. 475 et seq .:

Me before all things may the Muses sweet,
Whose rites I bear with mighty passion pierced,
Receive, and show the paths and stars of heaven,
The sun's eclipses and the labouring moons,
From whence the earthquake, by what power the seas
Swell from their depths, and, every barrier burst,
Sink back upon themselves, why winter-suns
So haste to dip 'neath ocean, or what check
The lingering night retards. But if to these
High realms of nature the cold curdling blood
About my heart bar access, then be fields
And stream-washed vales my solace, let me love
Rivers and woods, inglorious.

(Translated by J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900.)

Me vero primum dulces ante omnia Musae,
quarum sacra fero ingenti percussus amore,
accipiant caelique vias et sidera monstrent,
defectus solis varios lunaeque labores;
unde tremor terris, qua vi maria alta tumescant
480obicibus ruptis rursusque in se ipsa residant,
quid tantum Oceano properent se tinguere soles
hiberni, vel quae tardis mora noctibus obstet.
Sin, has ne possim naturae accedere partis,
frigidus obstiterit circum praecordia sanguis:
485rura mihi et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes,
flumina amem silvasque inglorius.

Plutarch (50-120d.C.) offers an interesting text on the fear instilled in the army by eclipses, lunar in this case. He says it in the biography of the Roman general Paulus Aemilius (229-160 BC) describing an eclipse that took place on June 21, 168 BC immediately before the battle of Pydna when  the Romans consolidated their dominance in Macedonia:

Plutarch, Life of Paulus Aemilius, XVII, 3 ff .: (1821, II, 160)

Now, when night had come, and the soldiers, after supper, were betaking themselves to rest and sleep, on a sudden the moon, which was full and high in the heavens, grew dark, lost its light, took on all sorts of colours in succession, and finally disappeared.
The Romans, according to their custom, tried to call her light back by the clashing of bronze utensils and by holding up many blazing fire-brands and torches towards the heavens; the Macedonians, however, did nothing of this sort, but amazement and terror possessed their camp, and a rumour quietly spread among many of them that the portent signified an eclipse of a king.

Now, Aemilius was not altogether without knowledge and experience of the irregularities of eclipses, which, at fixed periods, carry the moon in her course into the shadow of the earth and conceal her from sight, until she passes beyond the region of shadow and reflects again the light of the sun; however, since he was very devout and given to sacrifices and divination, as soon as he saw the moon beginning to emerge from the shadow, he sacrificed eleven heifers to her.

And as soon as it was day, he sacrificed as many as twenty oxen to Hercules without getting favourable omens; but with the twenty-first victim the propitious signs appeared and indicated victory if they stood on the defensive. Accordingly, having vowed to the god a hecatomb and solemn games, he ordered his officers to put the army in array for battle; but he himself, waiting for the sun to pass to the west and decline, in order that its morning light might not shine in the faces of his men as they fought, passed the time sitting in his tent, which was open towards the plain and the enemy's encampment.

The story also appears with some variation in Livy XLIV, 37, 4 ff.

The king, though he was disposed to have given battle that day, was yet satisfied; since his men knew, that, the delay was owing to the enemy: and he led back his troops to their station. When the camp had been thoroughly fortified, Caius Sulpicius Gallus, a military tribune of the second legion, who had been praetor the year before, with the consul’s permission collected the soldiers in assembly, and gave them notice, lest they should any of them consider the matter as a prodigy, that, “on the following night, the moon would be eclipsed, from the second hour to the fourth.” He mentioned that, “as this happened in the course of nature, at stated times, it could be known, and foretold.

As, therefore, they did not wonder at the regular rising and setting of the sun and moon, or at the moon’s sometimes shining with a full orb, and sometimes in its wane, showing only small horns, so neither ought they to construe as a portent, its being obscured when covered with the shadow of the earth.” When on the night preceding the day before the nones of September, at the hour mentioned, the eclipse took place, the Roman soldiers thought the wisdom of Gallus almost divine; but the Macedonians were shocked, as at a dismal prodigy, foreboding the fall of their kingdom and the ruin of their nation; nor did their soothsayers explain it otherwise. There was shouting and yelling in the camp of the Macedonians, until the moon emerged forth into its full light.

Both armies had been so eager for an engagement, that, next day, both the king and the consul were censured by many of their respective men for having separated without a battle. The king could readily excuse himself, not only as the enemy had led back his troops into camp, openly declining a battle; but, also, as he had posted his men on ground of such a nature, that the phalanx (which even a small inequality of surface renders useless) could not advance on it.

The consul, besides appearing to have neglected an opportunity of fighting, and to have given the enemy room to go off in the night, if he were so inclined, was thought to waste time at the present, under pretence of offering sacrifice, though the signal had been displayed, at the first light, for going out to the field.  At last, about the third hour, the sacrifices being duly performed, he summoned a council, and there, too, he was deemed by several to spin out, in talking and unseasonable consultation, the time that ought to be employed in action; after the conversation, however, the consul addressed to them the following speech. (Translated by William A. McDevitte)

rex quoque, cum sine detractatione paratus pugnare eo die fuisset, contentus eo, quod per hostem moram fuisse scirent, et ipse in castra copias reduxit. castris permunitis C. Sulpicius Gallus, tribunus militum secundae legionis, qui praetor superiore anno fuerat, consulis permissu ad contionem militibus vocatis pronuntiavit, nocte proxima, ne quis id pro portento acciperet, ab hora secunda usque ad quartam horam noctis lunam defecturam esse.  id quia naturali ordine statis temporibus fiat, et sciri ante et praedici posse.
itaque quem ad modum, quia certi solis lunaeque et ortus et occasus sint, nunc pleno orbe, nunc senescentem exiguo cornu fulgere lunam non mirarentur, ita ne obscurari quidem, cum condatur umbra terrae, trahere in prodigium debere.
nocte, quam pridie nonas Septembres insecuta est dies, edita hora luna cum defecisset, Romanis militibus Galli sapientia prope divina videri; Macedonas ut triste prodigium, occasum regni perniciemque gentis portendens, movit nec aliter vates. clamor ululatusque in castris Macedonum fuit, donec luna in suam lucem emersit.
postero die—tantus utrique ardor exercitui ad concurrendum fuerat, ut et regem et consulem suorum quidam, quod sine proelio discessum esset, accusarent— regi prompta defensio erat, non eo solum, quod hostis prior aperte pugnam detractans in castra copias reduxisset, sed etiam quod eo loco signa constituisset, quo phalanx, quam inutilem vel mediocris iniquitas loci efficeret, promoveri non posset.
consul ad id, quod pridie praetermisisse pugnandi occasionem videbatur et locum dedisse hosti, si nocte abire vellet, tunc quoque per speciem immolandi terere videbatur tempus, cum luce prima ad signum propositum pugnae exeundum in aciem fuisset.
tertia demum hora sacrificio rite perpetrato ad consilium vocavit; atque ibi, quod rei gerendae tempus esset, loquendo et intempestive consultando videbatur quibusdam extrahere. adversus eos sermones talem consul orationem habuit.

Pliny also makes reference to episode in his Natural History II, 9 (12) (53)

The first among the Romans, who explained to the people at large the cause of the two kinds of eclipses, was Sulpicius Gallus, who was consul along with Marcellus; and when he was only a military tribune he relieved the army from great anxiety the day before king Perseus was conquered by Paulus; for he was brought by the general into a public assembly, in order to predict the eclipse, of which he afterwards gave an account in a separate treatise. Among the Greeks, Thales the Milesian first investigated the subject, in the fourth year of the forty-eighth olympiad, predicting the eclipse of the sun which took place in the reign of Alyattes, in the 170th year of the City. After them Hipparchus calculated the course of both these stars for the term of 600 years3, including the months, days, and hours, the situation of the different places and the aspects adapted to each of them; all this has been confirmed by experience, and could only be acquired by partaking, as it were, in the councils of nature. (Translated by John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A)

Et rationem quidem defectus utriusque primus Romani generis in vulgum extulit Sulpicius Gallus, qui consul cum M. Marcello fuit, sed tum tribunus militum, sollicitudine exercitu liberato pridie quam Perses rex superatus a Paulo est in concionem ab imperatore productus ad praedicendam eclipsim, mox et composito volumine. apud Graecos autem investigavit primus omnium Thales Milesius Olympiadis XLVIII anno quarto praedicto solis defectu, qui Alyatte rege factus est urbis conditae anno CLXX. post eos utriusque sideris cursum in sexcentos annos praececinit Hipparchus, menses gentium diesque et horas ac situs locorum et visus populorum complexus, aevo teste haut alio modo quam consiliorum naturae particeps.

Also it appears in Frontinus, Stratagems, I, 12; Zonaras, 9.23., Valerius Maximus, 8, 11.1

Cicero adds some interesting nuances in Republic I, 15, 23:

—I had myself a great affection for this Gallus, and I know he stood very high in the estimation of my father Paulus. I recollect in my early youth, when my father, as consul, commanded in Macedonia, and we were in the camp, our army was seized with a pious terror, because that suddenly, in a clear night, the bright and full moon became eclipsed. Gallus, who was then our lieutenant, the year before that in which he was declared consul, hesitated not, next morning, to state in the camp that it was no prodigy, and that the phenomenon which had then appeared would always appear at certain periods, when the sun was so placed that he could not affect the moon with his light.

—Did he succeed in conveying his philosophic doctrine to the rude soldiery? Did he venture to say as much to men so uninstructed, and so fierce?
—He did,—and with great credit too; for his opinion was no result of insolent ostentation, nor was his declaration unbecoming the dignity of so learned a man,—indeed, he achieved a very noble action in thus freeing his countrymen from the terrors of an idle superstition.

(Translated by Francis Barham)

. ... fuit, quod et ipse hominem diligebam et in primis patri meo Paulo probatum et carum fuisse cognoveram. Memini me admodum adulescentulo, cum pater in Macedonia consul esset et essemus in castris, perturbari exercitum nostrum religione et metu, quod serena nocte subito candens et plena luna defecisset. Tum ille, cum legatus noster esset anno fere ante, quam consul est declaratus, haud dubitavit postridie palam in castris docere nullum esse prodigium, idque et tum factum esse et certis temporibus esse semper futurum, cum sol ita locatus fuisset, ut lunam suo lumine non posset attingere. Ain tandem? inquit Tubero; docere hoc poterat ille homines paene agrestes et apud imperitos audebat haec dicere? S. Ille vero et magna quidem cum ... ...
[24] neque insolens ostentatio neque oratio  abhorrens a persona hominis gravissimi; rem enim magnam adsecutus est, quod hominibus perturbatis inanem religionem timoremque deiecerat.

Polybius also includes how astronomical knowledge of Galus served the Romans to beat Macedonia Perseus in Pydna; in XXIX, 16 (6)

Battle of Pidna

An eclipse of the moon occurring, the report went abroad, and
was believed by many, that it signified an eclipse of the king. And
this circumstance raised the spirits of the Romans and depressed those
of the Macedonians. So true is the common saying that “war has many a
groundless scare.”..
.( Translation by Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh)

Tacitus (55-120 AD), also has the reaction much later of Roman legionaries before an eclipse. He tells how Drusus  Julius Caesar used the eclipse to quell a rebellion. He narrates it in his Annals, I, 28:

The night that followed seemed big with some fatal disaster, when an unexpected phenomenon put an end to the commotion. In a clear and serene sky the moon was suddenly eclipsed. This appearance, in its natural cause not understood by the soldiers, was deemed a prognostic denouncing the fate of the army. The planet, in its languishing state, represented the condition of the legions: if it recovered its former luster, the efforts of the men would be crowned with success. To assist the moon in her labours, the air resounded with the clangour of brazen instruments with the sound of trumpets, and other warlike music. The crowd, in the mean time, stood at gaze : every gleam of light inspired the men with joy; and the sudden gloom depressed their hearts with grief. The clouds condensed, and the moon was supposed to be lost in utter darkness. A melancholy horror seized the multitude ; and melancholy is sure to engender superstition. A religious panic spread through the army. The appearance in the heavens foretold eternal labour  to the legions ; and all lamented that by their crimes they had called down upon themselves the indignation of the gods. Drusus took advantage of the moment. The opportunity was the effect of chance; but, rightly managed, might conduce to the wisest purpose.

He gave orders that the men who by honest means were most in credit with the malcontents, should go round from tent to tent. Among these was Clemens, the centurion. They visited every part of the camp;
they applied to the guards on duty; they conversed with the patrole, and mixed with the sentinels at the gates. They allured some by promises, and by terror subdued the spirit of others. "How long shall
we besiege the son of the emperor? Where will this confusion end? Must we follow Percennius and Vibulenus? And shall we swear fidelity to those new commanders? Will their funds supply the pay of the legions? Have they lands to assign to the veteran soldier? For them shall the Neros and the Drusi be deposed? Are they to mount the vacant throne, the future sovereigns of Rome? Let us, since we were the last to enter into rebellion, be the first to expiate our guilt by well-timed repentance. Demands in favour of all, proceed but slowly ; to individuals, indulgence is more easily granted ; deserve it separately, and the reward will follow."

This reasoning had its effect: suspicion and mutual distrust began to take place; the new raised soldiers went apart from the veterans ; the legions separated ; a sense of duty revived in the breast of all; the gates were no longer guarded ; and the colours, at first promiscuously crowded together, were restored to their proper station. (Translated by Arthur Murphy, Esq.)

Noctem minacem et in scelus erupturam fors lenivit: nam luna claro repente caelo visa languescere. id miles rationis ignarus omen praesentium accepit, suis laboribus defectionem sideris adsimulans, prospereque cessura qua pergerent si fulgor et claritudo deae redderetur. igitur aeris sono, tubarum cornuumque concentu strepere; prout splendidior obscuriorve laetari aut maerere; et postquam ortae nubes offecere visui creditumque conditam tenebris, ut sunt mobiles ad superstitionem perculsae semel mentes, sibi aeternum laborem portendi, sua facinora aversari deos lamentantur. utendum inclinatione ea Caesar et quae casus obtulerat in sapientiam vertenda ratus circumiri tentoria iubet; accitur centurio Clemens et si alii bonis artibus grati in vulgus. hi vigiliis, stationibus, custodiis portarum se inserunt, spem offerunt, metum intendunt. 'quo usque filium imperatoris obsidebimus? quis certaminum finis? Percennione et Vibuleno sacramentum dicturi sumus? Percennius et Vibulenus stipendia militibus, agros emeritis largientur? denique pro Neronibus et Drusis imperium populi Romani capessent? quin potius, ut novissimi in culpam, ita primi ad paenitentiam sumus? tarda sunt quae in commune expostulantur: privatam gratiam statim mereare, statim recipias.' commotis per haec mentibus et inter se suspectis, tironem a veterano, legionem a legione dissociant. tum redire paulatim amor obsequii: omittunt portas, signa unum in locum principio seditionis congregata suas in sedes referunt.

Again Plutarch narrates  a similar episode now referred to an eclipse that took place many years before in 357 BC, time that also has other wonders, in Life of Dion, 24:

But after the libations and the customary prayers, the moon was eclipsed. Now, to Dion this was nothing astonishing, for he knew that eclipses recurred at regular intervals, and that the shadow projected on the moon was caused by the interposition of the earth between her and the sun. But since the soldiers, who were greatly disturbed, needed some encouragement, Miltas the seer stood up amongst them and bade them be of good cheer, and expect the best results; for the divine powers indicated an eclipse of something that was now resplendent; but nothing was more resplendent than the tyranny of Dionysius, and it was the radiance of this which they would extinguish as soon as they reached Sicily. This interpretation, then, Miltas made public for all to know; but that of the bees, which were seen settling in swarms upon the sterns of Dion's transports, he told privately to him and his friends, expressing a fear that his undertakings would thrive at the outset, but after a short season of flowering would wither away. It is said that Dionysius also had many portentous signs from Heaven. An eagle snatched a lance from one of his body-guards, carried it aloft, and then let it drop into the sea. Furthermore, the water of the sea which washed the base of the acropolis was sweet and potable for a whole day, as all who tasted it could see. Again, pigs were littered for him which were perfect in their other parts, but had no ears. This the seers declared to be a sign of disobedience and rebellion, since, as they said, the citizens would no longer listen to the commands of the tyrant; the sweetness of the sea-water indicated for the Syracusans a change from grievous and oppressive times to comfortable circumstances; an eagle, moreover, was servant of Zeus, and a spear, an emblem of authority and power, wherefore this prodigy showed that the greatest of the gods desired the utter dissolution of the tyranny. Such, at all events, is the account which Theopompus has given. (Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1918. 6.)


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