The Natural History: CHAP. 9. (12.)—AN ACCOUNT OF THE OBSERVATIONS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE ON THE HEAVENS BY DIFFERENT INDIVIDUALS. The first among the Romans, who explained to the people at large the cause of the two kinds of eclipses, was Sulpicius Gallus, who was consul along with Marcellus; and when he was only a military tribune he relieved the army from great anxiety the day before king Perseus was conquered by Paulus1; for he was brought by the general into a public assembly, in order to predict the eclipse, of which he afterwards gave an account in a separate treatise. Among the Greeks, Thales the Milesian first investigated the subject, in the fourth year of the forty-eighth olympiad, predicting the eclipse of the sun which took place in the reign of Alyattes, in the 170th year of the City2. After them Hipparchus calculated the course of both these stars for the term of 600 years3, including the months, days, and hours, the situation of the different places and the aspects adapted to each of them; all this has been confirmed by experience, and could only be acquired by partaking, as it were, in the councils of nature. These were indeed great men, superior to ordinary mortals, who having discovered the laws of these divine bodies, relieved the miserable mind of man from the fear which he had of eclipses, as foretelling some dreadful events or the destruction of the stars. This alarm is freely acknowledged in the sublime strains of Stesichorus and Pindar, as being produced by an eclipse of the sun4. And with respect to the eclipse of the moon, mortals impute it to witchcraft, and therefore endeavour to aid her by producing discordant sounds. In consequence of this kind of terror it was that Nicias, the general of the Athenians, being ignorant of the cause, was afraid to lead out the fleet, and brought great distress on his troops5. Hail to your genius, ye interpreters of heaven! ye who comprehend the nature of things, and who have discovered a mode of reasoning by which ye have conquered both gods and men6! For who is there, in observing these things and seeing the labours7 which the stars are compelled to undergo (since we have chosen to apply this term to them), that would not cheerfully submit to his fate, as one born to die? I shall now, in a brief and summary manner, touch on those points in which we are agreed, giving the reasons where it is necessary to do so; for this is not a work of profound argument, nor is it less wonderful to be able to suggest a probable cause for everything, than to give a complete account of a few of them only.
1 This eclipse is calculated to have occurred on the 28th of June, 168 B.C.; Brewster's Encyc. "Chronology," p. 415, 424. We have an account of this transaction in Livy, xliv. 37, and in Plutarch, Life of Paulus Æmilius, Langhorne's trans. ii. 279; he however does not mention the name of Gallus. See also Val. Maximus, viii. 11. 1, and Quintilian, i. 10. Val. Maximus does not say that Gallus predicted the eclipse, but explained the cause of it when it had occurred; and the same statement is made by Cicero, De Repub. i. 15. For an account of Sulpicius, see Hardouin's Index auctorum, Lemaire, i. 214.
2 An account of this event is given by Herodotus, Clio, § 74. There has been the same kind of discussion among the commentators, respecting the dates in the text, as was noticed above, note 4, p. 29: see the remarks of Brotier and of Marcus in Lemaire and Ajasson, in loco. Astronomers have calculated that the eclipse took place May 28th, 585 B.C.; Brewster, ut supra, pp. 414,419.
3 Hipparchus is generally regarded as the first astronomer who prosecuted the science in a regular and systematic manner. See Whewell, C. 3. p. 169 et seq., 177–179. He is supposed to have made his observations between the years 160 and 125 B.C. He made a catalogue of the fixed stars, which is preserved in Ptolemy's Magn. Const. The only work of his now extant is his commentary on Aratus; it is contained in Petau's Uranologie. We find, among the ancients, many traces of their acquaintance with the period of 600 years, or what is termed the great year, when the solar and lunar phenomena recur precisely at the same points. Cassini, Mem. Acad., and Bailly, Hist. Anc. Astron., have shown that there is an actual foundation for this opinion. See the remarks of Marcus in Ajasson, ii. 302, 303.
4 Seneca, the tragedian, refers to this superstitious opinion in some beautiful verses, which are given to the chorus at the termination of the fourth act of the Thyestes.
5 We have an account of this event in Thucydides, Smith's trans. ii. 244, and in Plutarch, Langhorne's trans. iii. 406. It is calculated to have happened Aug. 27th, 413 B.C.; Brewster, ut supra, p. 415, 421.
6 The elegant lines of Ovid, in his Fasti, i. 297 et seq., express the same sentiment: "Felices animos, quibus hoc cognoscere primis," &c.
7 I have already remarked upon the use of this term as applied to the eclipses of the moon in note4, p. 31.
Pliny (HN, XXXVI.XVII.82) and Plutarch (Conv. sept. sap. 147)