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Text #871

Seneca. Natural Questions
[Sen. 1.1.2. Translated by John Clarke]


On Fires

Better examine the cause of the phenomenon itself than form surmises as to why Aristotle has applied the name She-Goat to a ball of fire. This was the shape of the one as big as the moon that appeared when Paulus was engaged in the war against Perseus. In our own days we have more than once seen a huge ball-shaped flame which broke up in the very middle of its course. We saw a similar portent about the time of the death of the late Emperor Augustus. We again saw one when Sejanus was executed. A warning of the same kind preceded the death of Germanicus.

Text #872

Obsequens. "A Book of Prodigies After the 505th year of Rome"


Q. Aelio Paeto M. Iunio coss. AUC 587/167 BC

At Rome several sacred and secular places were struck from the sky. At Anagnia it rained earth. At Lanuvium a blazing torch was seen in the sky. At Calatia in public land for three days and two nights blood flowed. The King of Illyricum, Gentius, and Perses of Macedonia were defeated.”

Text #1631

Pliny. Natural History. Series: Natural History. Vol. 1
[Plin. Nat. 2.9. Translated by H. Rackham. Harvard University Press. 1938. (10 Vols.) p. 203]

The first person indeed of Roman nationality who published an explanation of both kinds of eclipse was Sulpicius Gallus - the colleague in the consulship of Marcus Marcellus, but at the time military tribune - who delivered the army from fear when on the day before the defeat of King Perseus by Paulus he was brought before an assembly by the commander-in-chief to foretell an eclipse; and later also by writing a treatise.

Text #9277

Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

I have included the text from Pliny about the eclipse of the moon and Sulpicius Gallus’ alleged role in calming the army before the battle. This eclipse never happened as reported here and there is a thorough discussion of the literary course of the tale in Lewis Wolpert’s Science and Mathematics in Ancient Greek Culture (2002, Oxford). It seems to me that the report of the fireball “as big as the moon” may have been the origin of the idea that there was a lunar eclipse on the night before the Battle of Pydna. Certainly, a big, bright, fireball would also agitate soldiers.

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