A history of solar eclipses and strange reactions to them

Johan Berkowski took this image of a total solar eclipse in 1851.

Johan Berkowski

As one of the last major events of 2020, the sun will go dark. Fortunately, this is expected to be only temporary and attributable to loneliness Total solar eclipse Of the year.

In contrast to the Great Eclipse which was at least partial Visible to many Americans in 2017, The 2020 eclipse of December 14 will only be visible entirely from the southern tip of South America and parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Although it will be possible to watch from anywhere via live broadcast.

although A total solar eclipse Lasting only a few minutes, this rare phenomenon has a long history of eliciting all kinds of strange reactions from creatures that cover it briefly with the darkness of day.

Vikings made loud, intimidating noises Skoll and heartThe wolves of Norse mythology chased the sun and the moon, and sometimes caught them, causing an eclipse. Centuries later, a woman became anxious about the saying associated with a 1748 solar eclipse “She locked herself in a room and severed her arm in a way that led to her bleeding to death,” he said London Evening Post in time.

Some of the strangest responses came in previous centuries when understanding the causes of stellar hijackings was less widespread. But we are enlightened, modern folk are not immune.

In her 1982 article Total eclipseAnnie Dillard remembers hearing cries of horror and / or exhilaration upon seeing the solar eclipse that swept Washington state in 1979.

Steve Ruskin, astronomer historian and author America’s first great eclipse, Find out the commonalities too.

“What I find most surprising, having studied eclipses throughout history, is that regardless of time period or scientific knowledge (or lack thereof), human responses to eclipses are consistent and universal expressions of awe and wonder, and even fear and awe,” Ruskin told me. .

He says that the Norse wolves were not the only creatures, according to ancient myth and legend, which caused the eclipse to happen by devouring the sun. The Maya, who had learned to predict eclipses, sometimes depicted them as a giant snake. The Inca seems to believe that the jaguar swallowed the moon, causing a lunar eclipse.

“A unique and largely unknown reaction to the eclipse is found in an 1886 account of Aboriginal Australians,” says Ruskin. They reportedly believed that the eclipse was caused by another tribe on the moon itself, sick and angry people, who were turning away from the “bad state of mind” of the Aboriginal Australians below.


Illustration of an eclipse from 1613.

M. Blundeuile / U.S. Library of Congress

Royal concerns

The ancient Babylonians had an understanding of mathematics advanced enough to predict an eclipse, but they still saw it as a sinister harbinger of their monarchy. They often place commoners on the throne during an eclipse, so if some actual dark event happens to the king they will fall for the fake king instead. After the eclipse, the royal position for his service was rewarded with murder, just to make sure any bad eclipses died with him.

Court astronomers in ancient China faced a similar fate when they failed to predict an eclipse, claiming they were drunk. The 4,000-year-old tale inspired him later a poem That has been handed down for centuries:

“Here lies the corpses of he and Hay, whose fate is visible despite his grief, is hanged because they were unable to spy on Th’eclipse who was invisible.”

Arguably the most famous solar eclipse is that This coincided with the death of the King of England, Henry I. In 1133. Anarchy and civil war ensued.

that Eclipse in Turkey in 585 BC It had the opposite effect. The warring armies considered it a sign from the gods that perhaps they should try to get along. As the story goes, 15 years of fighting ended abruptly.

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A solar eclipse dazzles millions across the United States, see it all


Brains blown

After the eclipse of 647 BC, the Greek poet Archilochus He found himself thinking about other tricks the deities may hide for humans below:

“Then, men can believe anything, and expect anything. Don’t be surprised in the future if wild beasts change places with dolphins and go to live in their salty pastures, and enjoy the admiration of the sound of the sea waves more than the land while the dolphins prefer the mountains.”

According to Ruskin, the eclipse had even darker effects on indigenous Jamaica when Christopher Columbus, an ultra-marine jerk, used the event to convince locals that it was better to feed his crew or risk angering his god. The arrival of the eclipse helped Columbus subdue the natives.

Perhaps the strangest response in history to a total solar eclipse is the least hysterical. When the sun disappeared shortly after its early morning rise over Europe in 1230, it seemed that the local workers didn’t think much of it. They just got back to bed, According to historian Roger of WendoverJust to be amazed when the sun regains its natural brightness within an hour.

I am still in shock to see the sun get lost

Most of the time, it (the eclipse) was a source of fear and anxiety, ”Ruskin says. “Until the period known as the European Scientific Revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, scientific explanations of the motion of the Earth, the sun, and the moon tended to mitigate such concerns, at least among Europeans.

This scientific enlightenment allowed us to take a deep breath and look around during the eclipse. It turns out the event has a strange effect on animals, too.

“The crow was the only animal near me; it looked very baffled, squawking and flying back and forth near the ground in an uncertain way,” John Cush Adams Books About one eclipse in the nineteenth century.

Scientific curiosity about the eclipse has also prompted some supposedly anxious endeavors, such as Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev used a balloon Watch the 1887 eclipse from more than two miles in the air.

So when we look back now at some of the irrational, irrational, and outright weird reactions to this trick in trigonometry, try not to judge. Until today, the The myth persists that eclipses are dangerous for pregnant women. When the thing that sustains all life suddenly disappears from the sky, who will say that it may not lead to some profound primitive instinct that replaces the rational responses of the conscious mind?

You’ll have a chance to see if you can land somewhere in the college track on December 14th.

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