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  • Athens (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #579885)
    Pleiades_icon Athenae theatre, plaza, cemetery, stoa, settlement, temple Geocontext: Athina/Athens
    Description: A major Greek city-state and the principal city of Attika.


Text #3679

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Vol. 1
[Thuc. 2.28. Translated by Charles Forster Smith. Clarendon Press. 1900. (4 Vols.) p. 309]

During the same summer, at the beginning of the lunar month (apparently the only time when such an event is possible), and in the afternoon, there was an eclipse of the sun, which took the form of a crescent, and then became full again ; during the eclipse a few stars were visible.

Text #8610

Cicero. The Political Works. Vol. 1
[Cic. Rep. 1.16. Translated by Francis Barham. Edmund Spettigue. 1841. (2 Vols.) pp. 160--161]



Tubero: — Did he1 succeed in conveying his philosophic doctrine to the rude soldiery? Did he venture to say as much to men so uninstructed, and so fierce?

Scipio: —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. They relate in a similar way, that in the great war, in which the Athenians and Lacedæmonians contended with such violent resentment, the famous Pericles, the first man of his country, in credit, eloquence, and political genius, observing the Athenians overwhelmed with an excessive alarm, during an eclipse of the sun, which cast a universal shadow, told them what he had learned in the school of Anaxagoras, that these phenomena necessarily happened at precise and regular periods when the body of the moon was interposed between the sun and the earth, and that if they happened not before every new moon, it was because they could only happen when the new moons fell at certain specific periods. Having evinced this truth by his reasonings, he freed the people from their alarms. At that period, indeed, the doctrine was new and unfamiliar, respecting the eclipse of the sun by the interposition of the moon. They say that Thales of Miletus, was the first to discover it.

  1. Gaius Sulpicius Gallus, a general, statesman and a famous astronomer. He is quoted as an authority in astronomy by Pliny the Elder. [nE]

Text #8646

Quintilian. Institutio Oratoria . Vol. 1
[Quint. Inst1. 1.10.46--1.10.47. Translated by H. E. Butler. Harvard University Press. 1920. (4 Vols.) pp. 181--183]

But geometry soars still higher to the consideration of the system of the universe: for by its calculations it demonstrates the fixed and ordained courses of the stars, and thereby we acquire the knowledge that all things are ruled by order and destiny, a consideration which may at times be of value to an orator. When Pericles dispelled the panic caused at Athens by the eclipse of the sun by explaining the causes of the phenomenon. […]

Text #8609

Plutarch. Lives. Series: Plutarch's Parallel Lives. Vol. 3
[Plut. Per. 35.1--35.2. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Harvard University Press. 1916. (11 Vols.) pp. 101--103]


Desiring to heal these evils, and at the same time to inflict some annoyance upon the enemy, he manned a hundred and fifty ships of war, and, after embarking many brave hoplites and horsemen, was on the point of putting out to sea, affording great hope to the citizens, and no less fear to the enemy in consequence of so great a force. But when the ships were already manned, and Pericles had gone aboard his own trireme, it chanced that the sun was eclipsed and darkness came on, and all were thoroughly frightened, looking upon it as a great portent.

Accordingly, seeing that his steersman was timorous and utterly perplexed, held up his cloak before the man’s eyes, and, thus covering them, asked him if he thought it anything dreadful, or portentous of anything dreadful. “No,” said the steersman. “How then,” said Pericles, “is yonder event different from this, except that it is something rather larger than my cloak which has caused the obscurity?” At any rate, this tale is told in the schools of philosophy.

Text #3680

Stephenson. Historical Eclipses and Earth's Rotation
[pp. 346--348]

This account is the earliest in European history to mention the visibility of stars during an eclipse. This was the largest eclipse visible in Greece for several years around this time. It seems quite likely that Thucydides saw the eclipse of 431 BC himself at Athens. He seems to have had a special interest in such phenomena, remarking (1, 23) that solar eclipses were unusually numerous during the Peloponnesian War.

Among the records of other civilisations, only a single Chinese observation, dating from 444 BC, makes an earlier allusion to stars seen under these circumstances. This same eclipse is probably alluded to by both Cicero and Plutarch1 in a story concerning Pericles, a pupil of Anaxagoras. It is related that a solar eclipse occurred during the Peloponnesian War, bringing on darkness and creating fear. However, using his cloak, Pericles demonstrated the cause of the eclipse, thus dispelling the alarm. The details of the tale as given by Cicero and Plutarch differ considerably, but both writers lived fully 500 years after the event. According to Plutarch the story was told in the schools of philosophy.

  1. See also Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings: One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome, trans. Henry J. Walker, 2004, 8, 11.ext.1.

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