Eclipses

were considered by the ancient Greeks and Romans as bad omens. Nicías, the Athenian general, was so terrified by an eclipse of the moon, that he durst not defend himself from the Syracusans; in consequence of which his whole army was cut to pieces, and he himself was put to death.

The Romans would never hold a public assembly during an eclipse. Some of their poets feign that an eclipse of the moon is because she is gone on a visit to Endymion.

A very general notion was and still is among barbarians that the sun or moon has been devoured by some monster, and hence the custom of beating drums and brass kettles to scare away the monster.

The Chinese, Laps, Persians, and some others call the evil beast a dragon. The East Indians say it is a black griffin.

The notion of the ancient Mexicans was that eclipses were caused by sun and moon quarrels, in which one of the litigants is beaten black and blue.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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