Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
3. The Eclipse Foretold by Thales 5. Thales in Egypt

From Chapter I., The Milesian School

4. The Eclipse Foretold by Thales
The prediction of the eclipse does not, then, throw any light on the scientific attainments of Thales; but, if we can fix its date, it will give us an indication of the time at which he lived. Astronomers have calculated that there was an eclipse of the sun, probably visible in Asia Minor, on May 28 (O.S.), 585 B.C., while Pliny gives the date of the eclipse foretold by Thales as Ol. XLVIII.4 (585/4 B.C.).14 This does not exactly tally; for May 585 belongs to the year 586/5 B.C. It is near enough, however, to justify us in identifying the eclipse as that of Thales,15 and this is confirmed by Apollodoros, who fixed his floruit in the same year.16 The further statement in Diogenes that, according to Demetrios Phalereus, Thales "received the name of wise" in the archonship of Damasias at Athens, really refers to the Tale of the Seven Wise Men, as is shown by the words which follow, and is doubtless based on the story of the Delphic tripod; for the archonship of Damasias is the era of the restoration of the Pythian Games.17

Burnet's Notes


14. Pliny, N.H. ii. 53. It should be noted that this date is inconsistent with the chronology of Herodotos, but that is vitiated by the assumption that the fall of the Median kingdom synchronised with the accession of Cyrus to the throne of Persia. If we make the necessary correction, Cyaxares was still reigning in 585 B.C.

15. The words of Herodotos (i. 74), οὖρον προθέμενος ἐνιαυτὸν τοῦτον ἐν τῷ δὴ καὶ ἐγένετο, mean at first sight that he only said the eclipse would occur before the end of a certain year, but Diels suggests (Neue Jahrb. xxxiii. p. 2) that ἐνιαυτός has here its original sense of "summer solstice" (cf. Brugmann, Idg. Forsch. xv. p. 87). In that case Thales would have fixed the date within a month. He may have observed the eclipse of May 18, 603 B.C. in Egypt, and predicted another in eighteen years and some days, not later than the solstice.

16. For Apollodoros, see Note on Sources, §21. The dates in our text of Diogenes (i. 37; R. P. 8) cannot be reconciled with one another. That given for the death of Thales is probably right; for it is the year before the fall of Sardeis in 546/5 B.C., which is one of the regular eras of Apollodoros. It no doubt seemed natural to make Thales die the year before the "ruin of Ionia" which he foresaw. Seventy-eight years before this brings us to 624/3 B.C. for the birth of Thales, and this gives us 585/4 B.C. for his fortieth year. That is Pliny's date for the eclipse, and Pliny's dates come from Apollodoros through Nepos.

17. Diog. i. 22 (R. P. 9), especially the words καθ' ὃν καὶ οἱ ἑπτὰ σοφοὶ ἐκλήθησαν. The story of the tripod was told in many versions (cf. Diog. i. 28-33 ; Vors. i. p. 226 sqq.). It clearly belongs to the Delphian Tale of the Seven Wise Men, which is already alluded to by Plato (Prot. 343 a, b). Now Demetrios of Phaleron dated this in the archonship of Damasias at Athens (582/1 B.C.), and the Marmor Parium dates the restoration of the ἀγὼν στεφανίτης at Delphoi in the same year, and also identifies it with that of Damasias (cf. Jacoby, p. 170, n. 12).

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