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Text #8550

Aristotle. Meteorologica
[Bk. 1 ]

For instance when the stone at Aegospotami fell out of the air-it had been carried up by a wind and fell down in the daytime-then too a comet happened to have appeared in the west.

Text #9086

Pliny. Natural History. Vol. 1
[Plin. Nat. 2.59. Translated by John Bostock and H. T. Riley. George Bell and Sons. 1900. (6 Vols.)]


The Greeks tell the story that Anaxagoras of Clazomenae in the 2nd year of the 78th Olympiad was enabled by his knowledge of astronomical literature to prophecy that in a certain number of days a rock would fall from the sun; and that this occurred in the daytime in the Goat’s River district of Thrace (the stone is still shown - it is of the size of a wagon-load and brown in colour), a comet also blazing in the nights at the time. If anyone believes in the fact of this prophecy, that involves his allowing that the divining powers of Anaxagoras covered a greater marvel, and that our understanding of the physical universe is annihilated and everything thrown into confusion if it is believed either that the sun is itself a stone or ever had a stone inside it. But it will not be doubted that stones do Frequently fall.

Text #9087

Plutarch. Lives. Vol. 4
[Plut. Lys. 12. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. William Heinemann; G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1951. (11 Vols.) pp. 261--265]


1 There were some who declared that the Dioscuri appeared as twin stars on either side of Lysander’s ship just as he was sailing out of the harbour against the enemy, and shone out over the rudder-sweeps. And some say also that the falling of the stone was a portent of this disaster; for according to the common belief, a stone of vast size had fallen from heaven at Aegospotami, and it is shown to this day by the dwellers in the Chersonese, who hold it in reverence. 2 Anaxagoras is said to have predicted that if the heavenly bodies should be loosened by some slip or shake, one of them might be torn away, and might plunge and fall down to earth; and he said that none of the stars was in its original position; for being of stone, and heavy, their shining light is caused by friction with the revolving aether, and they are forced along in fixed orbits by the whirling impulse which gave them their circular motion, and this was what prevented them from falling to our earth in the first place, when cold and heavy bodies were separated from universal matter.

3 But there is a more plausible opinion than this, and its advocates hold that shooting stars are not a flow or emanation of aetherial fire, which the lower air quenches at the very moment of its kindling, nor are they an ignition and blazing up of a quantity of lower air which has made its escape into the upper regions; but they are plunging and falling heavenly bodies, carried out of their course by some relaxation in the tension of their circular most, and falling, not upon the inhabited region of the earth, but for the most part outside of it and into the great sea; and this is the reason why they are not noticed.

4 But Daïmachus, in his treatise “On Religion,” supports the view of Anaxagoras. He says that before the stone fell, seventy-five days continually, there was seen in the heavens a fiery body of vast size, as if it had been a flaming cloud, not resting in one place, but moving along with intricate and irregular motions, so that fiery fragments, broken from it by its plunging and erratic course, were carried in all directions and flashed fire, just as shooting stars do. 5 But when it had fallen in that part of the earth, and the inhabitants, after recovering from their fear and amazement, were assembled about it, no action of fire was seen, nor even so much as a trace thereof, but a stone lying there, of large size, it is true, but one which bore almost no proportion at all to the fiery mass seen in the heavens. Well, then, that Daïmachus must needs have indulgent readers, is clear; but if his story is true, he refutes utterly those who affirm that a rock, which winds and tempests had torn from some mountain top, was caught up and borne along like a spinning top, and that at the point where the whirling impetus given to it first relaxed and ceased, there it plunged and fell. Unless, indeed, what was seen in the heavens for many days was really fire, the quenching and extinction of which produced a change in the air resulting in unusually violent winds and agitations, and these brought about the plunge of the stone. However, the minute discussion of this subject belongs to another kind of writing.

Text #9085

Yeomans. Comets

467 BC, China, Greece. A broom star comet was seen. This event is often but incorrectly attributed to comet Halley. This is the comet that Pliny noted appearing prior to the falling of the meteorite at Aegospotami, Greece. Ho (13), Barrett (2), P255.

Text #74

Kronk. Cometography: A Catalog of Comets. Series: Cometography. Vol. 1
[p. 3]

This comet marks the first time the Chinese and Europeans reported a comet within the same year. Unfortunately, since each culture gave only the year, it can only be conjectured that the objects were one and the same.

The oldest reports of this event come from Greece. The philosopher Anaxagoras, who could have been a contemporary of the event, wrote during the 5th century BC. He said that a body of extraordinary grandeur was observed for 75 days prior to the fall of the great meteorite of -466. The philosopher Aristotle wrote Meteorologica around -329, and noted, “when the stone fell from the sky at Aegospotami…a comet happened to appear at the same time in the west.”

The only ancient Chinese text to report a comet in -466 is the Shih chi (-90). The account describes the object as a “broom star”, but gives no additional details.

The Romans also wrote of this comet, but not until about 500 years later. The accounts were obviously taken from the earlier Greek texts. The philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote Quaestiones Naturales around 63 and the scholar Pliny the Elder wrote Natural History around 77. Both writers said the comet was seen by Anaxagoras, with Seneca stating the comet was “a large and unusual light of the size of a great Beam [that] shone for many days.”

This comet is especially interesting in that it appeared at about the time expected for 1P/Halley. P.H. Cowell and A.C.D. Crommelin (1908) were the first to suggest that this may have been a previous apparition of 1P/Halley, but they concluded “the identity cannot become more than a vague conjecture.” Other astronomers making the same suggestion included Wen Shion Tsu (1934), Yu-Che Chang (1979). Chang suggested the account was improperly dated and should have been -465.

As 1P/Halley approached and passed perihelion during 1986, several astronomers computed its orbit back to and even through the 5th century BC apparition. D.K. Yeomans and T. Kiang (1981) determined the perihelion date as -465 July 18.24, J.L. Brady (1982) determined it as -467 July 16.55, Werner Landgraf (1986) computed it as -465 July 17.90, and G. Sitarski (1988) computed it as -466 December 2.01. As can be seen, the data regarding this comet as identical to 1P/Halley are not conclusive.

Sources: Ho (13), Barrett (2), p. 255; Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, [Shiji: liu guo nian biao] ch. 15

Text #75

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

NB: Regarded as Comet Halley, return - 32; using Kronk’s date.

Text #9283

"Aegospotami", in Wikipedia.

Aegospotami or Aegospotamos (i.e. Goat Streams) is the ancient Greek name for a small river issuing into the Hellespont (Modern Turkish Çanakkale Boğazı), northeast of Sestos.

At its mouth was the scene of the decisive battle in 405 BC by which Lysander destroyed the Athenian fleet, ending the Peloponnesian War. The ancient Greek township of that name, whose existence is attested by coins of the 5th and 4th centuries, and the river itself were located in ancient Thrace in the Chersonese.

According to ancient sources including Pliny the Elder and Aristotle, in 467 BC a large meteorite landed near Aegospotami. He described it as brown in colour and the size of a wagon load; it was a local landmark for more than 500 years. A comet, tentatively identified as Halley’s Comet, was reported at the time the meteorite landed. This is possibly the first European record of Halley’s comet.

Aegospotami is located on the Dardanelles, northeast of the modern Turkish town of Sütlüce, Gelibolu.

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