Heavenly Signs That Altered World History; BOOK REVIEWS

By Williamson, Richard | Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), August 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Heavenly Signs That Altered World History; BOOK REVIEWS


Williamson, Richard, Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)


CHRISTOPHER Columbus was responsible for the eclipse story that puts all the others in the shade.

The year was 1503 and the great navigator found himself stranded in Jamaica with his ships badly in need of repair.

The locals soon became cheesed off with their unwanted guests and refused to give them food and water.

Knowing an eclipse was due Columbus warned them that his God was angry and would send a sign to show his displeasure.

Once the eclipse began the native chiefs were on their knees begging forgiveness.

It was a story to be much used by adventure writers in years to come, including Mark Twain in A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur.

Nobody is likely to be fooled by that kind of tale on August 11 when a total solar eclipse dashes across Cornwall. But we are bound to be pretty amazed, just the same.

Apart from a brief eclipse that touched the tip of Shetland in 1954 there hasn't been a total solar eclipse in Britain since 1927 and that lasted only 25 seconds. The last one before that passed just south of Birmingham in 1724.

So it's fair to say that most of us have never seen anything like it before and we won't get the chance to see another until September 23, 2090.

But you can see why an eclipse must once have spread awe and fear throughout the land. The lunar variety turns the moon blood red and the solar version plunges day into night.

In Eclipse (Headline pounds 12.99) Duncan Steel argues that it is "the celestial phenomenon which has changed the course of history".

As he points out, it's no accident that the greatest racehorse of all time, from which all of today's thoroughbreds are descended, was called Eclipse back in the 18th century.

History tells us that there were eclipses when the Romans defeated the Greeks in 168BC, seen as a good omen by one side and, naturally, bad by the other.

The bible is full of them, including one when Joshua reckoned that the sun stopped in its tracks and then went backwards, though astronomers reckon he must have been mistaken.

Another allegedly coincided with an earthquake that destroyed Solomon's temple and sent a tidal wave through Galilee. …

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