As best as we can determine, the earliest record of a solar eclipse occurred over four millennia ago. In China, it was believed that the gradual blotting out of the sun was caused by a dragon who was attempting to devour the sun, and it was the duty of the court astronomers to shoot arrows, beat drums and raise whatever cacophony they could to frighten the dragon away.
In the ancient Chinese classic Shujing (or Book of Documents) is the account of Hsi and Ho, two court astronomers who were caught completely unaware by a solar eclipse, having gotten drunk just before the event began. In the aftermath, Zhong Kang, the fourth emperor of the Xia dynasty ordered that Hsi and Ho be punished by having their heads chopped off. The eclipse in question was that of Oct. 22 in the year 2134 B.C.
In the Bible, in the book of Amos 8:9, are the words, “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the Earth in the clear day.” Biblical scholars believe this is a reference to a celebrated eclipse observed at Nineveh in ancient Assyria on June 15, 763 B.C. An Assyrian tablet also attests to the event.
A solar eclipse even stopped a war.
According to the historian Herodotus, there was a five-year war that raged between the Lydians and the Medes. As the war was about to move into its sixth year, a Greek sage, Thales of Miletus foretold to the Ionians that the time was soon approaching when day would turn to night. On May 17, 603 B.C. the sun faded away just as Thales had alluded that it would. So believing that it was a sign from above, the combatants called a truce, which was cemented by a double marriage, for, as Herodotus wrote: “Without some strong bond, there is little of security to be found in men’s covenants.”
And giving new meaning to the term, “Scared to death,” is the timid emperor Louis of Bavaria, the son of Charlemagne, who witnessed an unusually long total eclipse of the sun on May 5, A.D. 840, which lasted for over five minutes. But no sooner had the sun begun to emerge back into view, Louis was so overwhelmed by what he had just seen that he died of fright!