Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Eye of God returns

By Aussiegirl

I wonder if any of my readers are lucky enough to be in a place where the eclipse will be visible. It must be a awesome sight -- I like my dictionary's current meaning of "awe": "reverent wonder tinged with fear inspired by the sublime".

The Eye of God returns

It has been called the Sun-eating Dragon. The Spirit of the Dead. The Eye of God. A harbinger of great events, good and evil -- terrible famines, bumper harvests, wars, the birth and death of kings.

On Wednesday, tens of millions of people will be treated to this spine-tingling celestial sight: a total eclipse of the Sun.

At 0836 GMT, our moon will be perfectly aligned with our star, and the lunar shadow will alight on the tip of eastern Brazil.

[...] Eclipses are infrequent events, and their rarity is enhanced by the fact that most take place over the ocean, which covers two-thirds of the world's surface, and so they go unwitnessed except by seafarers and remote islanders.

But writings dating back to the dawn of civilisation testify to thrill and dread as the Sun, the bringer of life, was gradually blotted out, the stars appeared in an indigo sky, the terrified birds stopped singing and bats left their roost.

"Nothing can be surprising any more, or impossible or miraculous, now that Zeus, father of the Olympians, has made night out of noonday, hiding the bright sunlight, and ... fear has come upon mankind," wrote the Greek poet Archilochus after an eclipse in 648 BC. "After this, men can believe anything, expect anything.
"Don't any of you be surprised in future if land beasts change places with dolphins and go to live in their salty pastures, and get to like the sounding waves of the sea more than the land, while the dolphins prefer the mountains."

For the ancient Chinese, the eclipse was a Sun-eating dragon, which had to be scared away by the banging of cymbals and pans. For the Vikings, it was caused by two chasing wolves, Skoll and Hati. Hindu mythology blames a demon called Rahu who spitefully takes a bite out of the Sun from time to time.

Even today, in some cultures, eclipses are believed to bring poisonous vapours and so food and water containers are turned upside-down in protection.


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