My first introduction to the marvels of a solar eclipse was when I was a kid, in 1950, with the release of a remake of the movie version of “King Solomon’s Mines,” about the search for an explorer who was lost in darkest Africa while seeking the fabled gold (in the book, diamond) mines of King Solomon. The story was based on a novel by H. Rider Haggard and had previously been depicted in a 1937 film staring Cedrick Harwicke and Paul Robeson. In the 1950 full color version, our hero, Stewart Granger, has been persuaded by Deboarah Kerr, to risk his life in search of her not particularly well-liked husband. Granger and Kerr fall in love, fight wild animals and cannibals, and restore a king to his throne. In the process, Granger, who has been captured by angry tribesmen, and is well informed about matters astronomical, claims to have been sent from the stars and predicts an eclipse soon to occur if they don’t release him. As all hell is about to break loose, the eclipse occurs, and everything ends well for the hero. (In the novel it is a lunar eclipse, but I have a clear memory of a technicolored solar eclipse.)
The Chinese were able to predict solar eclipses as early as 2500 BC. Two Chinese astronomers were executed for failing to predict a solar eclipse, thereby endangering the health and success of the Emperor. (Indeed, solar eclipses can apparently be dangerous to kings, as one occurred immediately prior to the death of King Henry I.) The Babylonians were able to predict eclipses by the 14th century BC. Perhaps this helped Babylon to carry on until its passing as world power about 70 years after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the Babylonian abduction of the Jewish leaders in the year 587.
On the other hand, a solar eclipse may be a message of calm. Not only did it calm Hollywood’s African natives, but Herodotus reports that in the year 585 BDC, armies of the Lydians and the Medes, then at war with one another, were so frightened by the midday darkening of the sun that they immediately made peace.
A little more than 1,000 years later, in the year 632, a solar eclipse marked the death of the Prophet Mohammed’s son Ibrahim. You can draw your own conclusions about the significance of that event. I note only that if Ibrahim has not died, the Sunnis and the Shiites would have nothing to quarrel about, and the Iranians and the Saudis would be friends.
On average it takes 375 years for a total solar eclipse to happen again at the same location. There will not be another one to touch the territory of the United States until April 2024. So let’s make the most of the one we have next week and see if anything unusual happens at the White House.
Yours From The Field,