Eclipses of the past were calamitous, not celebratory

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The August 21 solar eclipse is already an American phenomenon, but what if you witnessed an eclipse in centuries past? 

You might hear the sound of cameras clicking during the Great American Eclipse, but there was a time when you may have heard screams and doors being locked.  Without science to provide a comfortable safety net for eclipse viewing, there was no telling what would happen. 

In his book "American Eclipse", journalist David Baron reports there was a Roman emperor who saw an eclipse in 840 AD, and was so distressed he stopped eating and starved to death. Without him, his people eventually plunged into a civil war. 

The ancient Greeks believed eclipses occurred when the gods were angry with humans, and the Babylonians believed it signified the death of a ruler. The Norse believed a hungry wolf was feasting on the sun, while in Vietnam it was a giant toad. According to LiveScience.com, Western Siberia's Tatars thought a vampire tried to swallow the sun and failed after burning his tongue.

We’ll be making sure our eyes are protected with solar eclipse glasses, but previous cultures were occupied with interrupting the eclipse and preventing calamity. 

Many cultures believed some sort of demon or animal was trying to steal the sun. The typical response was to bang pots, play loud drums, or yell at the eclipse. Some were even more assertive, however. According to Newsweek, Mesoamerican cultures used human sacrifice to ward off the evil, and the Chinese fired arrows to scare it off. 

Although banging pots and pans to ward off space dragons sounds fun, we know enough about eclipses to where we can relax and enjoy it. But perhaps take a moment to forget what you know about science, and use your imagination. You may find yourself traveling through time. 

What will you see?

 

Watch the video to see what an eclipse might have looked like hundreds of years ago. 

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