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Eclipse Quotations - Part I

Compiled by David Le Conte

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This collection of quotations concentrates on solar eclipses, but a few referring to lunar eclipses are included. Some are from literary sources, while others are predictions and records. I have avoided scientific reports, preferring to include descriptive accounts. The quotations are in chronological order. Dates are generally in the Julian Calendar until 1582, and in the Gregorian Calendar thereafter. Some links are provided to maps of historic eclipses by Fred Espenak, Goddard Space Flight Center.

The compiler is grateful to those organisations which have given permission to use copyright material for this web page. The compiler grants general permission to use the page for educational purposes, subject to appropriate credit being given. However, users should note that reproduction of some material may require specific copyright clearance.

Additional quotations and comments on this page are welcome, and should be sent to: David Le Conte.

Last updated 6 December 1998, when there were almost 200 quotations. Further quotations, which have been referenced but not quoted, will be added if and when copyright clearance is received.

Because of the volume of material, "Eclipses Quotations" is organized into four web pages:

Eclipse Quotations - Part I

Eclipse Quotations - Part II

Eclipse Quotations - Part III

Eclipse Quotations - Part IV

"Here lie the bodies of Ho and Hi,
Whose fate, though sad, is risible;
Being slain because they could not spy
Th' eclipse which was invisible."

Author unknown
Said to refer to the Chinese eclipse of 2136 BC or 2159 BC.

"On day kuei-yu (the 10th day of a 60-day cycle), it was inquired (by divination): 'The Sun was eclipsed in the evening; is it good?' On day kuei-yu it was inquired: 'The Sun was eclipsed in the evening; is it bad?'"

From: the An-yang oracle bones of the Shang dynasty, China (c. 1550-1050 BC).
Quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98.

"On the day of the new moon, in the month of Hiyar, the Sun was put to shame, and went down in the daytime, with Mars in attendance."

One of the earliest written records of an eclipse of the Sun, on 3 May 1375 BC, found in the city of Ugarit in Mesopotamia.
(Reprinted, from Chasing the Shadow, copyright 1994 by Joel K Harris and Richard L Talcott, by permission of Kalmbach Publishing Co. Also appears in Total Eclipses of the Sun by Zirker. In Guide to the Sun, Phillips says that this might refer to the eclipse of 1223 BC.)

". . . and the Sun has perished
out of heaven,
and an evil mist hovers over all."

Said to refer to a total solar eclipse of 16 April 1178 BC.
From: Homer (Greek), The Odyssey (8th century BC).

"Insurrection in the city of Ashur. In the month Sivan, the Sun was eclipsed."

Refers to the solar eclipse of 15 June 763 BC.
From: The Assyrian Chronicles.
Quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98, and in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 125.
Click here for Fred Espenak's map of this eclipse.

"On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight."

Said to refer to the solar eclipse of 15 June 763 BC.
From: Amos, Chapter 8, verse 9 (Old Testament)
Quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98.
Click here for Fred Espenak's map of this eclipse.

"The Sun was eclipsed, a thing of very evil omen. Then the Moon became small, and now the Sun became small. . . . For the Moon to be eclipsed is but an ordinary matter. Now that the Sun has been eclipsed - how bad it is!"

Refers to successive eclipses (one lunar, one solar) in the 8th century BC. The solar eclipse is said to have occurred on the day hsin-mao, which was the first day of the 10th lunar month. This may have been in 735 BC.
From: the Shih-ching ("Book of Odes") (China, 8th century BC).
Quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98, and in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 222.

"Duke Huan, 3rd year, 7th month, day jen-ch'en, the first day (of the month). The Sun was eclipsed and it was total."

Refers to a total solar eclipse of 17 July 709 BC.
From: Ch'un-ch'iu, book I (Chinese). Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 226.
Stephenson says: "This is the earliest direct allusion to a complete obscuration of the Sun in any civilisation. The recorded date, when reduced to the Julian calendar, agrees exactly with that of a computed solar eclipse." Reference to the same eclipse appears in the Han-shu ('History of the Former Han Dynasty') (Chinese, 1st century AD): ". . . the eclipse threaded centrally through the Sun; above and below it was yellow."

"[In Iy]yar (month II) . . . the night of the 14th day, is the [da]y of the watch (to be held), and there will be no eclipse. I guarantee it seven times, an eclipse will not take place. I am writing a definitive word to the king."

Tab-silli-Marduk (Babylonian astrologer), nephew of Bel-nasir. Period 709 to 649 BC.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 124.

"The eclipse of the Moon which took place in Marchesvan (month VIII) began [in the east]. That is bad for Subartu. What [is wrong]? After it, Jupiter ent[ered] the Moon three times. What is being done to (make) its evil pass? . . ."

Refers to a lunar eclipse of 675 BC.
Bel-suma-iskun (Babylonian scribe).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 125.

"If the Sun at its rising is like a crescent and wears a crown like the Moon: the king wll capture his enemy's land; evil will leave the land, and (the land) will experience good . . . "

Refers to a solar eclipse of 27 May 669 BC.
Rasil the older, Babylonian scribe to the king.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 125.

"On the 28th day, at 2-1/2 double hou[rs of the day . . .] in the west [. . .] it also cover[ed] 2 fingers towards [. . .] it made [an eclipse], the east wind [. . .] the north wind ble[w. This is its interpretation] . . . "

Refers to a solar eclipse of 15 April 657 BC.
Akkullanu (Assyrian scribe).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 125.

"Zeus, the father of the
Olympic Gods, turned
mid-day into night, hiding the light
of the dazzling Sun;
and sore fear came upon men."

Archilochus (c680-c640 BC), Greek poet
Refers to the total solar eclipse of 6 April 648 BC.
Click here for Fred Espenak's map of this eclipse.

"Nothing can be surprising any more or impossible or miraculous, now that Zeus, father of the Olympians has made night out of noonday, hiding the bright sunlight, and . . . fear has come upon mankind. After this, men can believe anything, expect anything. Don't any of you be surprised in future if land beasts change places with dolphins and go to live in their salty pastures, and get to like the sounding waves of the sea more than the land, while the dolphins prefer the mountains."

May refer to a total solar eclipse of 6 April 648 BC.
Archilochus, Greek poet (c680-640 BC)
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 338. Partly quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98.
Click here for Fred Espenak's map of this eclipse.

"Nothing there is beyond hope, nothing that can be sworn impossible, nothing wonderful, since Zeus, father of the Olympians, made night from mid-day, hiding the light of the shining Sun, and sore fear came upon men."

Archilochus (Greek poet, c680-640 BC)

"Duke Hsuan, 8th year, 7th month, day chia-tzu. The Sun was eclipsed and it was total."

Refers to a total solar eclipse of 20 September 601 BC.
From: Ch'un-ch'iu, book VII (Chinese).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 226.

"His defeat is like an eclipse of the Sun or Moon; does it harm the brightness (of these bodies)?"

Extract from a speech made in 597 BC, in support of a general who had recently suffered defeat, and was in danger of execution. He was reinstated!
From: Tso-chuan (Chinese, about 300 BC).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 223.

"When, in the sixth year they encountered one another, it so fell out that, after they had joined battle, the day suddenly turned into night. Now that this transformation of day (into night) would occur was foretold to the Ionians by Thales of Miletus, who fixed as the limit of time this very year in which the change actually took place."

Herodotus (c485-c420 BC) History I, 74.
Refers to the solar eclipse of 28 May 585 BC, when the Lydians and the Medes were fighting a war.
Click here for Fred Espenak's map of this eclipse.

"The original discovery (of the cause of eclipses) was made in Greece by Thales of Miletus, who in the fourth year of the 48th Olympiad (585/4 BC) foretold the eclipse of the Sun that occurred in the reign of Alyattes, in the 170th year after the foundation of Rome (584/3 BC)"

Probably refers to the total solar eclipse of 28 May 585 BC.
From: Pliny, Naturalis Historia, II, 53.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 342.
Click here for Fred Espenak's map of this eclipse.

". . . there was war between the Lydians and the Medes five years. . . . They were still warring with equal success, when it chanced, at an encounter which happened in the sixth year, that during the battle the day turned to night. Thales of Miletus had foretold this loss of daylight to the Ionians, fixing it within the year in which the change did indeed happen. So when the Lydians and Medes saw the day turned to night, they ceased from fighting, and both were the more zealous to make peace."

Probably refers to the total solar eclipse of 28 May 585 BC in Asia Minor.
Herodotus, (c485-c420 BC) History I, 74.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 242. Also in Greek Astronomy by Heath, and in Total Eclipses of the Sun, by Zirker, and referred to in The Fontana History of Astronomy and Cosmology by North. The Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98 says that this eclipse must have been predicted by means of the Saros and the eclipse of 18 May 603 BC.
Click here for Fred Espenak's map of this eclipse.

"Duke Hsiang, 24th year, 7th month, day chia-tzu, the first day of the Moon. The Sun was eclipsed and it was total."

Refers to a total solar eclipse of 19 June 549 BC.
From: Ch'un-ch'iu, book IX (Chinese).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 226.

"Beam of the Sun! O thou that seest from afar, what wilt thou be devising? O mother of mine eyes! O star supreme, reft from us in the daytime! Why has thou perplexed the power of man and the way of wisdom by rushing forth on a darksome track? 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 the rest!"

"God can cause unsullied light to spring out of black night. He can also shroud in a dark cloud of gloom the pure light of day"

Both these quotation probably refer to the solar eclipse of 30 April 463 BC, which was nearly total at Thebes.
Pinder (Greek poet) Ninth Paean, addressed to the Thebans.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 344, and, in part, in Encyclopedia Britannica CD 98.

"The moon shuts off the beams of the sun as it passes across it, and darkens so much of the earth as the breadth of the blue-eyed moon amounts to."

Empedocles (Greek, 493-433 BC) Fragment (ca. 450 BC)

"The same summer, at the beginning of the new lunar month (the only time by the way at which it appears possible), the Sun was eclipsed after noon. After it had assumed the form of a crescent, and some of the stars had come out, it returned to its natural shape."

Refers to an annular solar eclipse of 3 August (29 July) 431 BC.
Thucydides (Greek historian, c460-400 BC) History of the Peloponnesian War.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 346, and, in part, in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98.

"Duke Li (of the Chinese dynasty), 34th year. The Sun was eclipsed. It became dark in the daytime and stars were seen."

Refers to an annular solar eclipse of 24 October 444 BC.
From: Shih-chi (Chinese).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 227. Stephenson points out that as only 93 percent of the Sun was obscured, the allusion to darkness must be exaggerated, and that this eclipse is the earliest in any civilisation for which the stars is reliably reported. Venus and Mercury were well placed for visibility.

". . . the sun assumed the shape of a crescent and became full again, and during the eclipse some stars became visible."

Thucydides (Greek, c460-400 BC).
Refers to an annular solar eclipse of 3 August (29 July) 431 BC.

"The moon is eclipsed through the interposition of the earth, and sometimes also of the bodies below the moon. The sun is eclipsed at the new moon, when the moon is interposed. . . . Anaxagoras was the first to set out distinctly the facts about eclipses and illuminations."

Euripedes (Greek) Hippolytus I, 8 (431 BC)

"In addition to this, there is evidence for the truth of what I have stated in the observed facts with regard to total eclipses of the sun; for when the centre of the sun, the centre of the moon, and our eye happen to be in one straight line, what is seen is not always alike; but at one time the cone which comprehends the moon and has its vertex at our eye comprehends the sun itself at the same time, and the sun even remains invisible to us for a certain time, while again at another time this is so far from being the case that a rim of a certain breadth on the outside edge is left visible all round it at the middle of the duration of the eclipse. Hence we must conclude that the apparent difference in the sizes of the two bodies observed under the same atmospheric conditions is due to the inequality of their distances (at different times)."

Aristotle (Greek, 384-322 BC) Metaphysics.

On a 'paradoxical' eclipse of the moon

"These facts having been proved with regard to the moon, the argument establishing that the moon suffers eclipse through falling into the earth‘s shadow would seem to be contradicted by the stories told about a class of eclipses seemingly paradoxical. For some say that an eclipse (sometimes) occurs, even when both the luminaries are seen above the horizon. This should make it clear that (in that case) the moon does not suffer eclipse through falling into the earth‘s shadow, but in some other way, since, if an eclipse occurs when both sun and moon appear above the horizon, the moon cannot suffer eclipse through falling into the earth‘s shadow. For the place where the moon is, when both bodies appear above the horizon, is still being lit up by the sun, and the shadow cannot yet be at the place where the moon gives the impression of being eclipsed. Accordingly, if this be the case, we shall be obliged to declare that the cause of the eclipse of the moon is a different one. Such being the story, the more ancient of the mathematicians tried to get rid of the difficulty in this way. They argued that it is not impossible, even when both luminaries are above the horizon, for the moon to fall into the earth‘s shadow and to be exactly opposite to the sun. On the assumption that the shape of the earth is flat and plane, this could not happen; but seeing that the figure formed by it is spherical, it would not be impossible that the two divine bodies should be seen above the horizon, while being exactly opposite to each other. They will not, it is true, be in sight of one another while diametrically opposite to one another, because of the prominences formed by convexities on the earth‘s surface; but persons standing on the earth would not be prevented from seeing them both, provided they stood on the convexities of the earth, which are no obstacle to those standing thereon seeing both bodies above the horizon, through the convexities do intervene between the bodies diametrically opposite to one another. The bodies will not be in view of one another; but we shall not be prevented from seeing them both if we are standing on the convexities of the earth, which intervene between the bodies themselves, being, as they are, in the depresssions about the horizon, while the convexities on which we stand are more lofty.

Such is the solution which the more ancient of the mathematicians give of the difficulty alleged. But we may feel doubt of the soundness of the line taken by them. For, if our eye were situated on a height, the effect might be stated, if, I mean, we were raised far away from the earth into the air, but it could not possibly happen if we stood on the earth. For, though there may be some convexity on which we stand, our sight itself becomes evanescent owing to the size of the earth. Hence we should altogether refuse to admit or believe that the thing is possible, I methat an eclipse of the moon can occur when both bodies are seen above the horizon by us standing on the earth and at a lower level.

First, we must take a fundamental objection, and maintain that this story has been invented by some persons who desired to cause perplexity to the astronomers and philosophers who concern themselves with these things. For, while there have been many eclipses, both total and partial, and all have been recorded, history knows, at all events down to our own day, of no person having noted any eclipse of this sort, no Chaldaean, no Egyptian, no other mathematician or philosopher; nay the story is pure fiction. Secondly, if the moon had suffered eclipse in any other way, and not through falling into the earth‘s shadow, it would also at times have suffered eclipse when it was not full moon, and when it was, more or less, in advance of the sun, and again when, after the full moon, it again approached the sun and waned. But, as it is, although very many eclipses of the moon have occurred (for the eclipse is not even a rare phenomenon), it has never suffered eclipse without being full and without being diametrically opposite to the sun, and it has only been eclipsed when it was possible for it to come into the earth‘s shadow. Moreover, nowadays all lunar eclipses are foretold by authorities on the Canon, because they know that, whenever it occurs, the moon is found to be full and to be, either in whole or in part, directly under the midmost circle of the zodiac, thus making the eclipses partial or total, as the case may be. It is, therefore, impossible for eclipses if the moon to occur when both luminaries are seen above the horizon.

Nevertheless, having regard to the many and infinitely various conditions which naturally arise in the air, it would not be impossible that, when the sun has just set, and is under the horizon, we should receive the impression of its not yet having set, if there were cloud of considerable density at the place of setting and the cloud were illuminated by the sun‘s rays and transmitted to us an image of the sun, or if there were " anthelium." Such images are indeed often seen in the air, especially in the neighbourhood of Pontus. The ray, therefore, proceeding from the eye and meeting the air in a moist and damp condition might be bent, and so might catch the sun although just hidden by the horizon. Even in ordinary life we have observed something similar. For, if a gold ring be thrown into a drinking cup or other vessel, then, when the vessel is empty, the object is not visible at a certain suitable distance, since the visual current goes right on in a straight line as it touches the brim of the vessel. But, when the vessel has been filled with water up to the level of the brim, the ring placed in the vessel is now, at the same distance, visible, since the visual current no longer passes straight on past the brim as before, but, as it touches, at the brim, the water which fills the vessel up to the brim, it is thereby bent, and so, passing to the bottom of the vessel, finds the ring there. Something similar, then, might possibly happen in a moist and thoroughly wet condition of the air, namely that the visual ray should, by being bent, take a direction below the horizon, and there catch the sun just after its setting, and so receive the impression of the sun‘s being above the horizon. Perhaps, also some other cause akin to this might sometimes give us the impression of the two bodies being above the horion, though the sun had already set, But the observed phenomena make it as clear as day that the moon is not eclipsed otherwise than by falling within the earth's shadow. So much for eclipses."

Cleomedes De motu circulari.

"On the first Mercury rises.
On the third the Equinox.
Night of the 15th 40 minutes after sunset,
an eclipse of the moon begins.
On the 28th occurs an eclipse of the sun."

Inscriptions on a clay tablet, part of an ancient Chaldean astronomical almanac. The dates quoted are Chaldean. Some sources date these two eclipses to 9 (4) October 425 BC and 23 (18) October 425 BC.

"And the moon in haste eclipsed her,
and the Sun in anger swore
He would curl his wick within him
and give light to you no more."

Said to refer to a lunar eclipse of 425 BC, and an annular solar eclipse of 424 BC.
Aristophanese (Greek, c450-385 BC) Chorus of Clouds (423BC)

"On the nones of June the Sun was covered by the Moon and night."

Refers to eclipse of 21 June 400 BC.
Cicero.
Quoted in Encyclopedia Britannica CD 98.

"Consequently inhabitants of the East do not perceive evening eclipses of the Sun and Moon,nor do those dwelling in the West see morning eclipses, while the latter see eclipses at midday later than we do. The victory of Alexander the Great is said to have caused an eclipse of the Moon at Arbela at 8 p.m. while the same eclipse in Sicily was when the Moon was just rising . . . this was because the curve of the globe discloses and hides different phenomena for different localities."

From: Pliny, Natural History.

"But about the first watch the Moon in eclipse, hid at first the brilliance of her heavenly body, then all her light was sullied and suffused with the hue of blood."

From: Curtius, History of Alexander.
These quotations refer to a lunar eclipse at moonrise in Sicily and at Arbela, of 20/21 September 331 BC.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 372.

"Agathocles, who was already at the point of being overtaken and surrounded, gained unhoped for safety as night closed in. On the next day there occurred such an eclipse of the Sun that utter darkness set in and the stars were seen everywhere; wherefore Agathocles' men, believing that the prodigy portended misfortune for them, fell into even greater anxiety about the future. After they had sailed for six days and the same number of nights, just as day was breaking, the fleet of the Carthaginians was unexpectedly seen far away."

Refers to a solar eclipse of 15 August 310 BC.
From: Diodorus Siculus (Greek historian, 1st century BC), Library of History. Agathocles was a tyrant who had made his escape, with a fleet of sixty ships, from a blockade at Syracuse harbour by the Carthaginians.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 348, and, in part, in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98.

"[D]iary for year 65 (SE), king Antiochus . . . [month V]. The 28th, 74 deg after sunrise, solar eclipse (at) 5 months' distance; when I watched I did not see it."

Refers to a solar eclipse of 7 September 247 BC, predicted to take place in Babylon, but which was actually far north of Babylon.
Babylonian tablet in the British Museum.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 122.

"Year 121 (SE), King An(tiochus), month XII, 29 solar eclipse beginning on the north-west side. In 15 deg day [. . .] over a third of the disk was eclipsed. When it began to become bright, in 15 deg day from north-west to east it became bright. 30 deg total duration. [During this eclipse] east (wind) went. During this eclipse [. . .], Venus, Mercury and Saturn [stood there]. Towards the end of becoming bright, Mars rose (?) The other planets did not stand there. (Began) at 30 deg (= 1) beru after sunrise."

Refers to a partial solar eclipse of 14 March 190 BC. Babylon.
Babylonian tablet in the British Museum.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pages 121 and 135.

"Emperor Hui, 7th year, 5th month, day ting-mao, the last day of the month. The Sun was eclipsed; it was almost complete. It was in the beginning of (the lunar lodge) Ch'i-hsing"

Refers to a partial solar eclipse of 17 July 188 BC.
Pan Ku Han-shu (AD 58-AD76).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 234.

"Before the new magistrates departed for their provinces, a three-day period of prayer was proclaimed in the name of the College of Decemvirs at all the street-corner shrines because in the daytime at the third hour darkness had covered everything."

Probably refers to the solar eclipse of 17 July 188 BC.
Livy, Roman.
Quoted in Encyclopedia Britannica CD 98.

"Empress of Kao-tzu, 7th year, first month, day chi-ch'ou, the last day of the month. The Sun was eclipsed; it was total; it was 9 deg in (the lunar lodge) Ying-shih, which represents the interior of the Palace chambers. At that time the (Dowager) Empress of Kao-[tzu] was upset by it and said, 'This is on my account'. The next year it was fulfilled."

Pan Ku Han-shu (AD 58-AD76).

"On the day chi-ch'ou, the Sun was eclipsed, and it became dark in the daytime. The Empress Dowager was upset by it and her heart was ill at ease. Turning to those around her she said, 'This is on my account.'"

Szu-ma Ch'ien Shih-chi

Both of these quotations refer to a total solar eclipse of 4 March 181 BC. The Empress died on 18 August 180 BC.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 234.

"SE 175, month XII. The 29th, solar eclipse. When it began on the south-west side, in 18 deg daytime in the morning it became entirely total. (It began) at 24 deg after sunrise."

Refers to a total solar eclipse of 15 April 136 BC.
Babylonian tablet in the British Museum.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 129.

"The Sun was eclipsed; drums were beaten and oxen were sacrificed at the temple."

Record of several eclipses.
Szu-ma Ch'ien, Shih-chi (Chinese 'Historical Record'), 104 to 87 BC.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 223.

"Hipparchus tries to demonstrate the Moon's distance by guessing at the Sun's. First he supposes that the Sun has the least perceptible parallax, in order to find its distance, and then he uses the solar eclipse which he adduces; at one time he assumed that the Sun has no perceptible parallax, at another that it has a parallax big enough [to be observed]. As a result, the ratio of the Moon's distance came out different for him for each of the hypotheses he put forward; for it is altogether uncertain in the case of the Sun, not only how great its parallax is, but even whether it has any parallax at all."

From: Ptolemy, Almagest, V, 11.

"So Hipparchus, being uncertain concerning the Sun, not only how great a parallax it has but whether it has any parallax at all, assumed in his first book of 'On Sizes and Distances' that the Earth has the ratio of a point and centre to the Sun [i.e. the Sun's sphere]. And at one time using the eclipse he adduced, he assumed that it had the least parallax, and at another time a greater parallax. Hence the ratios of the Moon's distances came out different. For in Book 1 of 'On Sizes and Distances' he takes the following observation: an eclipse of the Sun, which in the Hellespontine region was an exact eclipse of the whole Sun, such that no part of it was visible, but at Alexandria in Egypt approximately four-fifths of the diameter was eclipsed. By means of the above he shows in Book 1 that, in units of which the radius of the Earth is one, the least distance of the Moon is 71, and the greatest 83. Hence the mean is 77. . . Then again he himself in Book 2 of 'On Sizes and Distances' shows from many considerations that, in units of which the radius of the Earth is one, the least distance of the Moon is 62, the mean 67-1/3 and the Sun's distance 490. It is clear that the greatest distance of the Moon will be 72-2/3."

From: Pappus, Commentary on the Almagest

"Moreover, such an observation has been made in the case of an eclipse of the Sun. Once the Sun was wholly eclipsed in the Hellespont, it was observed in Alexandria to be eclipsed except for the firth part of its diameter, which is, according to the sight, except for two digits and a little more. . . Now since it is 5000 stades from Alexandria to Rhodes; besides, proceeding hence to the Hellespont, this will also decrease in proportion, since when the Hellespont is reached, it will entirely vanish."

From: Cleomedes, De Motu Circularis Corporum, II, 3.

These three quotations probably refer to a total solar eclipse of 20 November 129 BC.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 351.

"In the same way you must understand that various causes may account for eclipses of the sun and the moon‘s occultations. If the moon can cut off sunlight from the earth, uprearing its obstructive head between the two and planting an unseen sphere in the path of the glowing rays, why should we not picture the same effect as produced by another body that glides round for ever lustreless? Or why should not the sun periodically fail and dim its own fires and afterwards rekindle its light when it has passed through a stretch of atmosphere uncongenial to flame, which causes the quenching and quelling of its fire? And again, if the earth in turn can rob the moon of light by screening off the sun that shines below while the moon in its monthly round glides through the clear-cut cone of shadow, why should not some other body equally well pass under the moon or glide over the solar orb so as to interrupt the radiant stream of light? And, supposing that the moon shines by its own lustre, why should it not grow faint in a determinate quarter of the heavens while it is passing through a region uncongenial to its particular light?

. . . I have shown how both may suffer eclipse through the obscuration of their light and plunge the unexpecting earth in gloom, as though they blinked and then with reopened eye surveyed the world, aglow with limpid radiance."

Lucretius The Nature of the Universe 1st century BC.

"Whenever we want to watch an eclipse of the Sun we set out basins filled with oil or pitch, because the heavy liquid is not easily disturbed and so preserves the images it receives."

From: Seneca (Roman, 1st century AD). Naturales Quaestiones, I, 11.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 54.

"As for the other Matthias who had stirred up the sedition, he (Herod) had him burned alive along with some of his companions. And on that same night there was an eclipse of the Moon. But Herod's illness became more and more severe. . . ."

Refers to a partial CD 98lunar eclipse of 13 March 4 BC, or possibly a total lunar eclipse of 23 March 5 BC.
From: Flavius Josephus (Jewish, 1st century AD.)
Quoted in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98.

"And Phlegon also who compiled the Olympiads writes about the same things in his 13th book in the following words: 'In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (AD 32-33), and eclipse of the Sun took place greater than any previously known, and night came on at the sixth hour of the day, so that stars actually appeared in the sky; and a great earthquake took place in Bithynia and overthrew the greater part of Niceaea."

Possibly refers to a total solar eclipse of 24 November AD 29, the reference to AD32-33 being incorrect.
From: Phlegon, Olympiades, fragment 17.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 359.
Click here for Fred Espenak's map of this eclipse.

"I will show portents in the sky and on earth,
blood and fire and columns of smoke;
the sun shall be turned into darkness
and the moon into blood
before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes."

Joel, Chapter 2, verses 30, 31 (Old Testament).

"And I will show portents in the sky above, and signs on the earth below - blood and fire and drifting smoke. The Sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before that great, resplendent day, the day of the Lord, shall come."

Peter in Acts of the Apostles
This reference to a blood-red Moon, and the following references in the Gospels to a darkening sky, have been interpreted as placing the date of the crucifixion to 24 November AD 29, when there was an eclipse of the Sun, or Friday, 3 April AD 33, when there was a partial eclipse of the Moon over Jerusalem.

Click here for Fred Espenak's larger scale map of the eclipse of AD 29.

"From midday a darkness fell over the whole land, which lasted until three in the afternoon; and about three Jesus cried aloud, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?', which means, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'"

The Gospel According to Matthew (New Testament)

"At midday a darkness fell over the whole land, which lasted till three in the afternoon; and at three Jesus cried aloud, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?', which means, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'"

The Gospel According to Mark (New Testament)

"By now it was about midday and a darkness fell over the whole land, which lasted until three in the afternoon; the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus gave a loud cry and said, 'Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit'; and with these words he died."

The Gospel According to Luke (New Testament)
(The Gospel According to John does not mention the midday darkness.)

"As there was going to be an eclipse on his birthday, through fear of a disturbance, as there had been other prodigies, he put forth a public notice, not only that the obscuration would take place, and about the time and magnitude of it, but also the causes that produce such an event."

Refers to solar eclipse of AD 45, on the birthday of the Roman Emperor, Claudius.
From: Dion Cassius.

"(Lucies) smiled thereat and said . . . 'Now grant me that nothing that happens to the Sun is so like its setting as a solar eclipse. You will if you call to mind this conjunction recently which, beginning just after noonday, made many stars shine out from many parts of the sky and tempered the air in the manner of twilight. If you do not recall it, Theon here will cite us Minnermus and Cydias, Archilochus and Stesichorus besides, and Pindar, who during eclipses bewail "the brightest star bereft" and at "midday night falling" and say that the beam of the Sun [is sped] the path of shade."

"Even if the Moon, however, does sometimes cover the Sun entirely, the eclipse does not have the duration or extension; but a kind of light is visible about the rim which keeps the shadow from being profound and absolute."

Both these quotations probably refer to a total solar eclipse of 20 March AD 71.
From: Plutarch, Greek philosopher and biographer, The Face of the Moon.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 360, and, in part, in Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 98.

". . . about this time while he was pursuing his studies in Greece, such an omen was observable in the heavens. A crown resembling Iris surrounded the disc of the Sun and darkened its rays."

Refers to solar eclipse of 3 September AD 118, or possibly AD 96.
From: Philostratus, Greek (died between AD 224 and 229).
Quoted in UK Solar Eclipses from Year 1 by Williams.

"On the day wu-wu, the 1st day of the 12th lunar month, the Sun was eclipsed; it was almost complete. On the Earth it became like evening. It was 11 degrees in the constellation of Hsu-nu [the Maid]. The woman ruler [ie the Empress Dowager] showed aversion to it. Two years and three months later, Teng, the Empress Dowager, died."

Refers to a solar eclipse of 18 January AD 120.
From: the Hou-Han shu ("History of the Later Han Dynasty"). (China).
Quoted in Encyclopedia Britannica CD 98, and in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 237..

"It was almost total and was in Chueh. Whenever an eclipse covers a small portion of the Sun the calamity it brings will be relatively small, but when it covers a large portion of the Sun the consequences will be much more serious. Chueh forms the 'Celestial Entrance', and hence misfortune would fall upon the Head of State - the next year the Emperor died."

Refers to a solar eclipse of 28 August AD 360.
From: Chin-shu ('History of the Chin Dynasty', Chinese).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pages 232 and 241.

"Yuan-chia region period, 6th year, 11th month, day chi-ch'ou, the first day of the month. The sun was eclipsed; it was not complete and like a hook. During the eclipse, stars were seen. At the hour of fu (= 15-17 h), then it disappeared (i.e. ended). In Ho-pei (province) the Earth was in darkness."

Refers to a total solar eclipse of 12 December AD 429.
From: Sung-shu (Chinese).
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 242.

"Even the Sun appeared hideous, so that scarcely a third part of it gave light, I believe on account of such deeds of wickedness and the shedding of innocent blood."

Gregorius Turonensis
Refers to solar eclipse of 24 February AD 453, when Attila the Hun was raiding Italy.

"A year before his death there were various omens. There was an eclipse of the Sun which was so pronounced as to turn day into night and the darkness was deep enough for the stars to become visible; it occurred in the eastern horn of the sign of Capricorn. And the almanacs predicted another eclipse that would occur after the first year. They say that such events that are observed to happen in the heavens are indicative of things that happen on the earth; so that these eclipses clearly foretold us of the privation and departure as it were of the light of philosophy."

Refers to a total solar eclipse in Athens of 14 January AD 484.
From: Marinus, Greek philosopher, Life of Proclus.
Quoted in Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation, by F Richard Stephenson, Cambridge University Press, 1997, page 368.

"The sun darkened on February 16th from dawn until nine in the morning."

Refers to a solar eclipse in AD 538.
From: The Anglo Saxon Chronicles translated and collated by Anne Savage, CLB Publishing Ltd.

"The sun darkened on June 20th, and the stars showed fully nearly half an hour past nine in the morning."

Refers to a solar eclipse in AD 540.
From: The Anglo Saxon Chronicles translated and collated by Anne Savage, CLB Publishing Ltd.

CONTRIBUTORS

David Sang, Association for Science Education
Gareth Coleman, Guernsey
Peter Hingley, Royal Astronomical Society

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Last revised: 2004 Jan 06