Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 4)


One of the most awe-inspiring of celestial events seen by early man must surely have been the occurrence of an eclipse of the sun or moon. With no apparent warning, one or two times a year, a darkness encroaches upon the bright light of the sun or moon: sometimes to completely cover the heavenly body, sometimes to retreat before the light is fully extinguished. To make the event more ominous, the eclipsed moon may become a dim, blood red colour, or, in the rare event of a total solar eclipse, the day may literally turn into night during which stars become visible and the air turns cold. It is therefore not surprising that eclipses were viewed as important astrological events in many early civilizations.1


Solar Eclipse Universal Time Total Solar Eclipse Lunar Eclipse Gregorian Calendar 
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  1. 1.
    For a survey of ethnohistorical data regarding eclipses, see Closs (1989). This survey is confined to the Central American region. To my knowledge no such surveys have been made for other areas.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Thus the Chinese term for an eclipse, shih, literally meaning “eaten.” See Needham (1959: 409).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Utukkū lemnūti, 16. See Kilmer (1978).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Witness the surprising number of eclipses — too many for mere coincidence — said to have been seen during, or on the eve of, major battles in classical antiquity.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Untimed observations and predictions will be mentioned, but not discussed in detail. For a recent discussion of many untimed observations, see Stephenson (1997b).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    There is a considerable improvement in the accuracy of eclipse timings in the latter half of the seventeenth century when telescopes began to be used more widely. See Stephenson & Morrison (1984).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See the collection by Morrison, Lukac, & Stephenson (1981).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    It turns out that the eclipse predictions found in extant records were often not made using contemporary mathematical astronomical methods. See, for example, Section 2.8 below.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    I will discuss this briefly in Chapter 8.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Pingree (1996).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Mahābhāskarīya-Bhāsya v, 77. See, for example, Subbarayappa & Sarma (1985: 13–15).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Stephenson (1997b).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See, for example, Aveni (1980). 14See, for example, the differing interpretations of Lounsbury (1976) and Bricker & Bricker (1983). 15 My use of the word “heritage,” rather than the more common “tradition,” here is deliberate. “Heritage,” it seems to me, better reflects the way in which one culture draws upon material from other cultures, whereas “tradition” seems to imply that material was thrust upon a later culture, this culture having no choice but to accept it.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    In the following discussion, it is simpler to think of a stationary Earth orbited by the sun.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Neglecting penumbral eclipses. In addition, solar eclipses are also possible at one month intervals, but not at the same location. 18Contrary to the statement by Stephenson (1997b: 185). See Section 2.6 below.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    223 synodic months = 6585.322 days, 242 dracontic months = 6585.357 days, 239 anomalistic months = 6585.538 days.Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    As has often been remarked, the name Saros is a modern misnomer. See Neugebauer (1957: 141–143).Google Scholar
  18. 21.
    These relations can also be obtained theoretically from an analysis of eclipse possibilities equally spaced in longitude. See Aaboe (1972).Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    Occasionally minor modifications have been made to these programs by the present author.Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    IAU (1968).Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    This value of the lunar acceleration is very close to that obtained from lunar laser ranging by Dickey et al. (1994).Google Scholar
  22. 25.
    Swerdlow (1979: 529) writes: “Probability and statistics have become increasingly fashionable for dressing up history with an appearance of scientific rigor, perhaps because they can be used to prove, indifferently and in merciless detail, either the obvious or the preposterous, perhaps because numbers seem at once too impressive and too objective to question.”Google Scholar
  23. 26.
    See, for example, their discussion in Bretagnon, Simon, & Laskar (1985).Google Scholar
  24. 28.
    The Gregorian calendar differs from the Julian calendar in that leap years are defined to be years which are divisible by 4, except those that are divisible by 100 unless they are also divisible by 400. In the Julian calendar, every year divisible by 4 is a leap year. Thus, in a 400 year period, there are 3 more leap years in the Julian calendar than in the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar therefore more accurately approximates the solar year.Google Scholar
  25. 29.
    Mathematically, a year -n = n + 1 BC.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DurhamUK

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