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Citations:

Text #8657

Aristotle. Meteorologica
[Aristot. 1.6.1--1.6.28. Translated by E. W. Webster. Oxford, Clarendon Press. 1931]

HTML URL: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/meteoro...

The great comet which appeared at the time of the earthquake in Achaea and the tidal wave rose due west; and many have been known to appear in the south.[…] For instance the great comet we mentioned before appeared to the west in winter in frosty weather when the sky was clear, in the archonship of Asteius. On the first day it set before the sun and was then not seen. On the next day it was seen, being ever so little behind the sun and immediately setting. But its light extended over a third part of the sky like a leap, so that people called it a “path”. This comet receded as far as Orion’s belt and there dissolved. Democritus however, insists upon the truth of his view and affirms that certain stars have been seen when comets dissolve. But on his theory this ought not to occur occasionally but always.

Text #9116

Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History. Vol. 7
[Diod. 15. Translated by C. H. Oldfather. Harvard University Press. 1935. (12 Vols.) pp. 89--91]

When Aleisthenes was archon at Athens, the Romans elected eight military tribunes with consular power, Lucius and Publius Valerius, Gaius Terentius, Lucius Menenius, Gaius Sulpicius, Titus Papirius, and Lucius Aemilius, and the Eleians celebrated the hundred second Olympiad in which Damon of Thurii won the stadium race. During their term of office, after the Lacedaemonians had held the supremacy in Greece for almost five hundred years, a divine portent foretold the loss of their empire; for there was seen in the heavens during the course of many nights a great blazing torch which was named from its shape a “flaming beam,” and a little later, to the surprise of all, the Spartans were defeated in a great battle and irretrievably lost their supremacy.Some of the students of nature ascribed the origin of the torch to natural causes, voicing the opinion that such apparitions occur of necessity at appointed times, and that in these matters the Chaldeans in Babylon and the other astrologers succeed in making accurate prophecies. These men, they say, are not surprised when such a phenomenon occurs, but rather if it does not, since each particular constellation has its own peculiar cycle and they complete these cycles through age-long movements in appointed courses. At any rate this torch had such brilliancy, they report, and it slight such strength that it case shadows on the earth similar to those cast by the moon.

Text #8664

Seneca. Natural Questions. Series: The Complete Works of Lucius Annaeus Seneca
[Sen. 7.16.2--7.16.3. Translated by Harry M. Hine. The University of Chicago Press. 2010 p. 125]

Ephorus is not someone of the most scrupulous reliability: he is often deceived, more often he deceives, as in the case of this comet, which was watched by the eyes of all humankind, because it brought about the occurrence of a major event, drowning Helice and Bura at its appearance. He says it separated into two stars; but apart from him no one has reported this. Who could have observed that moment at which the comet broke up and was reduced to two pieces? How come, if there is somebody who has seen a comet being split in two, that nobody has seen one forming from two stars? Why did he not add what stars it divided into, since it must have been some of the five stars?

Text #9114

Yeomans. Comets
[p. 363]

373-372 BC, Winter, Greece. A comet was seen in the west at the time of the great earthquake and tsunami at Achaea, Greece. From the Greek descriptions of the comet’s motion, Pingré infers that its perihelion was located in Virgo or Libra and that its perihelion distance was quite small. Pingré considers this comet to be the one the Greek Ephorus reported to have split into two pieces. The accounts given by Aristotle and Seneca suggest the comet was seen in the winter of 373-372, while the account of Diodorus Siculus, second half of the first century BC, suggests the comet was seen in the following year. Barrett (5), P259.

Text #79

Kronk. Cometography: A Catalog of Comets. Series: Cometography. Vol. 1
[p. 4]

It has frequently been conjectured that this comet might have been a member of the sungrazing family of comets. The account is unusual in that it is a surprisingly complete description of the comet’s motion and size.

The oldest existing account of this comet comes from Greece, from where the philosopher Aristotle (-329) said the “great comet, which appeared about the time of the earthquake in Achaea and the tidal wave, rose in the west.” He wrote, “the great comet which we mentioned before appeared during the winter in clear frosty weather in the west, in the archonship of Asteius: on the first night it was not visible as it set before the sun did, but it was visible on the second, being the least distance behind the sun that would allow it to be seen, and setting immediately. Its light stretched across a third of the sky in a great band, as it were, and so was also called a path. It rose as high as Orion’s belt, and there dispersed.”

Another Greek account comes from the historian Diodorus Siculus, who wrote sometime during the 1st century BC. He noted that during the 102nd Olympiad “when Alcisthenes was archon of Athens…there was seen in the heavens during the course of many nights a great blazing torch which was named from its shape a flaming beam.” Diodorus continued, “Some of the students of nature ascribed the origin of the torch to natural causes, voicing the opinion that such apparitions occur of necessity at appointed times, and that in these matters the Chaldeans in Babylon and the other astrologers succeed in making accurate prophecies.” Finally, Diodorus added these details concerning the comet’s appearance. “At any rate this torch had such brilliancy, they report, and its light such strength that it cast shadows on the earth similar to those cast by the moon.” This record was dated -371/-370, but since Diodorus Siculus was not a contemporary with the event, it is probably safe to assume it is identical to Aristotle’s comet. The first year of the 102nd Olympiad was in -371.

Finally, there is a further ancient text reporting this comet. It was written by the Roman historian Lucius Annaeus Seneca around 63, but, although it was written over 400 years after the comet’s appearance, it quotes sources that are no longer in existence. Seneca wrote, “Callisthenes reports that a similar likeness of an extended fire appeared just before the sea covered Buris and Helice. Aristotle says that this was not a Beam but a comet. Moreover, he says that because of its excessive brightness the fire did not appear scattered but as time went on and it blazed less it recovered the usual appearance of a comet. In that fire there were many worthy things which should be noted, but nothing more so than the fact that when it flashed in the sky the sea immediately covered Buris and Helice.” Seneca added, “For Beams have an even flame, not interrupted at any point or dull but collected in the end parts like the fire Callisthenes reported was in the one which I just mentioned.”

Seneca also discussed an observation made by Ephorus. He wrote, “It is not great effort to destroy the authority of Ephorus: he is an historian. He is often deceived; he often tries to deceive. For example, the comet which was observed carefully by the eyes of all mankind because it dragged with it an event of great importance, since at its rising it sunk Helice and Buris, he says split up into two planets, a fact which no one except him reports.” Despite Seneca’s slandering of Ephorus, later historians frequently used Ephorus’ works and Polybius considered him “the most learned of ancient historical writers.”

A rough orbital calculation was obtained by A.G. Pingré (1783). He gave the year as -371 and said the comet probably passed perihelion during the winter.

Sources: Barrett (5), p. 259

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