May 282014


On this date in 585 BCE there was a total solar eclipse. According to NASA, the eclipse peaked over the Atlantic Ocean at 37.9°N 46.2°W and the umbral path reached south-western Anatolia in the evening hours. This eclipse is significant for two reasons. First, the eclipse was accurately predicted by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Thales of Miletus. This report, which comes from The Histories of Herodotus is disputed because it is not clear how Thales could have done so, although he was an excellent mathematician. If it is true this is the earliest case in history of an eclipse being predicted. Second, according to Herodotus, the appearance of the eclipse was interpreted as an omen, and interrupted a battle between the Medes and the Lydians. The fighting immediately stopped, and they agreed to a truce. Because astronomers can calculate the dates of historical eclipses, the date of the battle is known with precision – a rarity in the ancient world.

Historical eclipses are a very valuable resource for historians, in that they allow a few historical events to be dated precisely, from which other dates and ancient calendars may be deduced. A solar eclipse of June 15, 763 BCE mentioned in an Assyrian text is important for the chronology of the Ancient Mideast, for example.

The method of using eclipses to date historical events does have problems, however. An eclipse recorded by Herodotus before Xerxes departed for his expedition against Greece – traditionally dated to 480 BCE – was matched by John Russell Hind to an annular eclipse of the Sun at Sardis on February 17, 478 BC. However, there was also a partial eclipse that was visible from Persia on October 2, 480 BCE. So, which eclipse was it?


Chinese records of eclipses begin at around 720 BCE. The 4th century BCE astronomer Shi Shen described the prediction of eclipses by using the relative positions of the Moon and Sun. In the Western hemisphere, there are few reliable records of eclipses before 800 CE, until the advent of Arab and monastic observations in the early medieval period. The first recorded observation of the sun’s corona (visible during a total eclipse) was made in Constantinople in 968 CE.

Thales of Miletus is also known for another prediction associated with the sun and weather. One story recounts that he bought all the olive presses in Miletus after predicting the weather and a good harvest for a particular year. In another version of the same story, Aristotle explains that Thales reserved presses ahead of time at a discount only to rent them out at a high price when demand peaked, following his predictions of a particularly good harvest. This first version of the story would constitute the first creation and use of futures, whereas the second version would be the first creation and use of options.

So, it should be olive oil today. I use olive oil in a myriad ways. I always use it as the oil of choice when sautéing at the start of a soup or stew, like most Argentinos it is the only dressing I use for a salad, and nothing is better to start a meal than a little dish of olive oil for dipping crusty bread. For a recipe of the day I suggest pasta with olive oil and garlic. It’s such a simple and quick dish. It can be on the table in 20 minutes or less. The dish pictured below took less time than it took me to write out the recipe.


I won’t bother with exact quantities. You should be able to figure it out. Get your pasta cooking in salted boiling water. Then add a generous quantity of olive oil to a wide deep skillet. Add a good quantity of minced garlic (about two cloves per person), and heat the oil gently over slow heat. On no account let the garlic change color. All you are trying to do is flavor the oil and slightly cook the garlic so that it is not quite as sharp as the raw deal. Heat the oil during the cooking of the pasta, then drain the pasta and dump it wholesale into the oil and garlic. Swirl around so that the pasta is evenly coated and serve immediately with some crusty bread (to mop up the remaining oil on your plate), and a green salad drizzled with olive oil.