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And the Sun abandoned the Earth...

The eclipse. This paradoxical day reversal night and. This gesture of threat of the essential elements which, just like an earthquake, would refuse to the men the confidence in absolute stability of the World.

Let us revisit one moment the History to appreciate the idea that the human vision of the eclipse was, and lives even today, the reflection of the cosmic vision of the Man.

The Chaldea covers average and low Mesopotamia and extends over the countries of Sumer and Akkad. Since the first empire, the contemporary of great pyramids (-2700, -2600) until Vth century BC, the Chaldean astrologers-astronomers listed eclipses on the basis of the lunar calendar.

But if the lunar eclipses were predicted well, the indistinctness of the announcements of the sun eclipses stressed the tragic character. Such darkens Babylon in -1062 " where the day was transformed into night and when there was a fire in the middle of the sky ", in this first historic transcription evoking the sun crown.

Under Pharaonic Egypt, the secular observation of the lunar cycles allowed the discovery of the cycles of eclipses such the big cycle of 18 years of "Saros". But this valid support for the eclipses of the Moon is hardly applicable to the eclipses of Sun the interval of which can be determined but which do not occur in the same place.

In the Pharaonic universe, the celestial body was destroyed by the snake Apopi. Thanks to spectacular ritual and especially public incantations, the astrologer managed to free the celestial body from the monster which swallow the Sun by restoring the order of the World which was perturbed for a while.

We find in China, the Empire of the Middle of Earth, this myth of a swallowing dragoon which come from the oceans encircling the Earth. In the day of the eclipse, drums and gongs resounded with power to make flee the malefic dragoon.

Ho and Hi was condemned to death for not having known how to predict the total eclipse. It was in 2155 BC in the time of the realm Houa. The efforts to predict these events considered fatal thus go back up to the Chinese historic sources.

The Chinese astronomy in particular search for predictions was a royal monopoly, forbidden the people. Seven centuries before we find in Babylon mention of an eclipse, the divinatory bone Chang states eclipses of the Moon and the Sun. These eclipses are recorded in a systematic way from the secondth century BC but the big autodafé of -213 when all the books of the Confucian tradition were destroyed does not allow to go back up with certainty beyond.

In China, no method of prediction will show itself precise for lack of the geometry invented by the Greeks. Nevertheless, and from the first century AD, the use of the armillar sphere, strong of the circles of red road, the equator, and especially the yellow road, the ecliptic representing the plan of the running of the Earth around the Sun, allowed to reduce this indistinctness.

The Hindus, to save the Sun, already dived up to the neck into the water crowned in an act of worship and religious community with the essential elements.

The Incas fought too to intimidate the monster gobbling up the star of day and the life but in their cases it was about sacrificial ceremonies.

Of the knowledge of eclipses to Maya, and after the irreparable destructions ordered by the Spanish priests, we know only seven pages of the big "Dresden" Codex  which covers a big cycle of 33 years. This cycle allowed to coordinate the movements of celestial bodies with ritual periods. From the middle of the eigthth century and can be the same front, the duration of Saros was known to them and thus the synchronization of the eclipses of the Moon and Sun with the ascending knot, moment the crossing of their respective trajectories with the ecliptic. Glyphes describes even the sun crown.

For the Aztecs, the walking of the Sun and the blood poured for him are inseparable. From his birth, the gods sacrificed themselves because the sun required their blood to move. The blood of the men will immortalize the running of a Sun being reborn in the morning of its night-death, just like the sun of Egypt. His disappearance during eclipses was the reminder in the human sacrifices so that the Sun continues to light the world instead of destroying it.

The eclipse of the moon was more surprising still because the Aztecs saw in the cycles of growth and diminution of the Moon the symbol of feminine revival and fertility (and of the revival of the man after the drunkenness). But the dark marks on its surface was the reflection of a rabbit (and not of a man on the moon be a prelude to the Harlequin of the European Middle-age). If a pregnant woman went out during an eclipse, at the moment when the moon would die, and when it did not concern a blade of obsidian her, the child was a bearer of a beak-de-lièvre...

Desolation. It is the sense that this moment gave the Greeks to stand out when the Sun abandoned the Earth. The word "Eclipse", which expressed this shape of desolation, reached until us.

Greece is above all the cradle of the rational thought based on the principle of the aestheticism, the thought using in astronomy the geometrical method born in the VIth century BC with the first descriptions by Thales of the relative movement of the Moon and the Sun.

Greece becomes established in Egypt with Alexandre ( -330 ). Of the meeting of mathematical Greek and of the Egyptian purely descriptive astronomy will be born the first geocentric cosmologies with a too short heliocentric variation. If the lunar eclipses were predicted, it was necessary to wait for the secondth century AD, and for the astronomer Ptolemee, author of the Almageste, the monument of precision based on the Platonic geocentric model, to assure the prediction of the sun eclipses.

Al-Batani (become Albetenius in Latin) having lived to Raaq, on the edges of the superior Euphrates, died in 929. He is the author of the monumental Sabatean Tables.

He announces the possibility of annular eclipse of the Sun by the fact there that the respective dimensions of the moon and the sun can vary, what did not foresee Ptolemee.

In certain configurations the Moon, smaller than the Sun, will let appear only a fine ring of the sun surface.

Al-Batani is considered as the big astronomer of the big Moresque time who knew how to raise   the Greek message of the knowledge within dark hours of the low Middle-age.

The Middle-age congealed the thought around a Platonic cosmology which assured the superiority of the Earth as the Bible says that of the Man on quite other creature.

And the even more precise prediction of eclipses required that the keplerian revolution breaks the dogma of the geocentric model and the circular perfection of the sky. But it was necessary to wait for Sir Edmond Halley and his celestial mechanics, so that the forecasts of eclipses are given with a big precision.

In France, the eclipse of 1033 marked the spirits, the Sun became colour sapphire letting appear only a very fine croissant to its summit.

In 1329, stars will be visible in the day of Montpelier under the total eclipse.

In 1406, Paris is plunged at night. In 1706, the terror spreads to the announcement of the eclipse and the confessors who can not any more be enough for the task, a Parisian priest announced to the crowd that the astronomers had delayed the eclipse " in about fifteen days".

That to say about this marquess at feet of the stairs of the look-out post of Cassini and surrounded with these dolls-ladies  very sad to have missed the eclipse of big minute and which announces them that Mr. de Cassini being of his friends: " he will begin again for them ".

The very partial eclipses of the Sun by Venus also allowed by triangulation to measure our distance in the Sun. Le Gentil left for India for the eclipse of 1760 but this one surprised him in the middle of Indian Ocean. He stayed in India up to the following one, in 1769, who it was darkened by the first short-lived cloud after three months of a perfect sky. He got back to France after a terrible storm off the Cap to learn that he had been declared dead and that he was ruined...

The first eclipse of the century was darkened by a bigger wreck still: that of Titanic in April 17th, 1912.

And today, on the eve of this eclipse of August 11th, so exceptional for our latitudes, we are hardly of our new knowledge on this so necessary Moon in the stability of the ground axis, so insuring the stability of its climates and the life. We are very also the knowledge of this other balance, so necessary for the life, between our distance in the Sun, the power and the diameter of the central celestial body.

How then not to imagine that this correspondence so perfect between the diameter of the moon and the sun is not the privilege of the Very life and that the other eyes, very far from here, contemplate quite other eclipse?

The Eclipse, the bearer of the cosmic vision of the Man...


The Universe under the Glance of time: H.Andrillat Masson

Maya: Michael D.Coe Armand Colin

The universe of the Aztecs: Jacques Soustelle Hermann

Ancient China: Edward a hour Schafer Time-Life

Coming of Age in the Milky Way: Timothy Ferris Morrow

Sky and Spaces out in January, 1999