Text #3673Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation .
BC 648 Apr 6 ? (total, 1.07: Paros or Thasos?)
Archilochus, one of the earliest Greek poets after Homer and Hesiod, makes a clear reference to a very large solar eclipse in one of his poems:
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 (apokruphas phaos heliou lampon, 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. 1
A more accurate rendering of the phrase apokruphas phaos heliou lam- pontos, here translated as ‘hiding the bright sunlight’, would be ‘hiding the light of the gleaming Sun’ - much as in the quotation cited by Fotheringham. Combining this expression with the description of the loss of daylight ‘night out of noonday’ strongly suggests that the eclipse was either total or fell only slightly short of this phase. Evidently the phenomenon left a singularly profound impression on its beholders, as illustrated by Archilochus’ subsequent use of hyperbole. Fotheringham regarded the date BC 648 as the only possible one and he assumed that the eclipse was witnessed at either Paros or Thasos - islands respectively in the extreme south and north of the Aegean - where Archilochus is known to have spent most of his life. However, both the date and place of observation require further consideration.
Although the dates of both the birth and death of Archilochus are unknown, two of his poems provide useful chronological information (see Rankin, H. D., 1977. Archilochus of Paros. Noyes, Park Ridge (New Jersey)., chap. II). In one of these, Archilochus mentions King Gyges of Lydia (c. 687-652 BC) and in the second he alludes to the destruction of the city of Magnesia by Treres (c. 655-650 BC). That Archilochus was a contemporary of King Gyges (as asserted by Herodotus, I, 12) is clear from the context of his poem which begins:
“I have no interest in the property of golden Gyges. Envy has never taken hold of me…”
It is known that Archilochus was born on Paros. He later moved to Thasos where he served as a soldier (possibly a mercenary). After occasional travels elsewhere in the region (including Sparta) he eventually returned to Paros, where he was later killed helping to defend the island against invasion. Archilochus often mentions Paros or Thasos by name in his poetry. […]
Newton (Newton, R. R., 1970. Ancient Astronomical Observations and the Accelerations of the Earth and Moon. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. p. 92) regarded the solar phenomenon to which Archilochus refers as merely a literary eclipse’. However, that the poet himself saw the eclipse is suggested by the following remarks of Barron and Easterling (The Cambridge History of Classical Literature. (Volume 1, Greek Literature), 1985, p. 117-119):
“(Archilochus) is the first Greek writer to take his material from what he claims to be his own experience and emotions, rather than from the stock of traditions… It would be absurd to claim that a poet composing songs for performance in a small community in which everyone knew everyone else would not exploit the audience of that society and its relationships.”
Based on the above considerations, I shall assume that the eclipse was either total or nearly so at either Paros or Thasos. Reference to the global eclipse maps of von Oppolzer (1887) indicates that between 700 and 610 BC only the following solar obscurations could have been total in this region: BC 691 Jul 28, 657 Apr 15, 648 Apr 6, 646 Sep 8 and 637 Aug 29. Several annular eclipses would also have beeen visible in the Aegean during this same period (in 689, 662, 661, 651, 650, 641, 635 and 633 BC) but in each case the magnitude within the central zone was between about 0.93 and 0.96. None of these events could have caused the impressive loss of daylight described so vividly by Archilochus.
[…] it would appear that 648 BC, the date favoured by Fotheringham, is the better choice for the eclipse of Archilochus - whether the place of observation was Paros or Thasos (or elsewhere in the region).
Archilochus, fragment 122; trans. Barron and Easterling. The Cambridge History of Classical Literature. (Volume 1, Greek Literature), 1985, p127 ↩