What ancient civilizations thought of solar eclipses

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Solar Eclipses Were Scarier When We Didn't Know How the Moon Worked

Don't miss the opportunity to watch the upcoming solar eclipse LIVE this Tuesday on AOL.com. The eclipse begins at 6:25p.m. EST, and the total eclipse starts at 7:34 p.m. EST.

Total solar eclipses can inspire a certain amount of awe, but they're nothing to be scared of. Of course, nobody told Earth's ancient civilizations that.

Eclipse is derived from the ancient Greek ekleipsis, meaning "abandonment." And it sure seems appropriate. The sun just turns off. Now what do we do?

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Viking mythology held that solar eclipses were the work of Sköll, a wolf pursuing the sun god Sol. When Sköll swallowed the sun, those on Earth made as much noise as they could to drive it off.

The ancient Chinese used the same tactic to bring back the sun. There, eclipses were also thought to forecast health and prosperity for emperors — but this meant astrologists predicting eclipses were sometimes beheaded when they got dates wrong.

RELATED: Photos from past solar eclipses

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What ancient civilizations thought of solar eclipses
Diamond ring as sun returns during total solar eclipse 1 August 2008 (Photo credit: Getty)
On 22 July 2009 the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century was photographed from the Pacific Ocean for over 6.5 minutes. (Photo credit: Getty)
People watching solar eclipse from atop the canopy crane at the Daintree Rainforest Observatory, Cape Tribulation, Australia
On 22 July 2009 the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century was photographed from the Pacific Ocean, observed for over 6.5 minutes. The image shows diamond ring effect seconds before the totality, with the first rays of the sun appear after totality. (Photo credit: Getty) 
NAIROBI, KENYA NOVEMBER 3:(SOUTH AFRICA OUT) A pupil from Nairobi Consolata primary school, Wangui Mwirigi looks at the total solar eclipse at Sibiloi National Park on November 3, 2 013 in Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo by Joseph Kanyi/Nation Media/Gallo Images/Getty Imagesi)
Total solar eclipse (Photo credit: Getty)
Eclipse (Photo credit: Getty)
Annular solar eclipse, composite image. Solar eclipses occur when the Moon passes across the Sun as seen from Earth. This only occurs at New Moon, and is most commonly a partial eclipse. When the Moon is at a distant point in its orbit, an annular solar eclipse occurs and the corona (revealed in a total eclipse) remains hidden due to the brightness of the solar ring. The arrangement of this digital composite (images from 2005 and 2006) displays the annular eclipse as seen on 20 May 2012 from the south-western USA. (Photo credit: Getty)
Nov. 14, 2012 - Palm Cove, Queensland, Australia - Viewing the Total Solar Eclipse on the beach at Palm Cove in far north Queensland, Australia on the morning of 14 November 2012 (Credit Image: © Andrew Gyopar/ZUMAPRESS.com)
This photo provided by Tourism Queensland shows a total solar eclipse observed on Green Island, Queensland state, Australia, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Starting just after dawn, the eclipse cast its 150-kilometer (95-mile) shadow in Australia's Northern Territory, crossed the northeast tip of the country and was swooping east across the South Pacific, where no islands are in its direct path. (AP Photo/Tourism Queensland)
The sun is blocked by the moon during the total solar eclipse near Mussina in Limpopo province, South Africa, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2002. Thousands of spectators in Australia and Africa erupted into cheers Wednesday as the moon fully obscured the late afternoon sun in a dazzling solar eclipse.(AP Photo/Gavin Stapleton )
In this photo provided by Tourism Queensland, the moment of a total solar eclipse is observed at Cape Tribulation in Queensland state, Australia, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Starting just after dawn, the eclipse cast its 150-kilometer (95-mile) shadow in Australia's Northern Territory, crossed the northeast tip of the country and was swooping east across the South Pacific, where no islands are in its direct path. (AP Photo/Tourism Queensland) EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Partial phase of total eclipse of the sun on 13 November 2012 from Palm Cove, Cairns, North Queensland, Australia, Pacific
Diamond ring effect during total eclipse of the sun on 13 November 2012 from Palm Cove, Cairns, North Queensland, Australia
Taken during the total solar eclipse in Cairns, Australia in 2012. Black clouds lit up by strange colours caused by the eclipse
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Australasia (Photo credit: Getty)
Nov. 14, 2012 - Palm Cove, Queensland, Australia - Total Solar Eclipse observed from Palm Cove in far north Queensland, Australia on the morning of 14 November 2012 (Credit Image: © Andrew Gyopar/ZUMAPRESS.com)
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Greek historian Herodotus describes an eclipse during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians in Anatolia, in 585 B.C. According to his account, the two groups called a truce when the daytime sky suddenly darkened.

Ancient Egyptian's reactions to eclipses are less-recorded. One theory holds that the events were so unsettling or so tied to evil that little was ever written down.

More likely, say historians, the records were lost to the fires at Alexandria that are thought to have destroyed much of the region's written knowledge in 48 B.C.

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The early civilizations of the Americas suffered similar intellectual damage at the hands of missionaries in the 1400 and 1600s. Little is known of what the Maya or Aztecs thought of the sun's disappearance.

These days, we understand more about how eclipses work. We know it's just the shadow of the moon tracking across Earth's surface, not a cosmic wolf devouring the nearest star.

And you need not make noise or behead nearby astrologists to restore sunlight. That happens on its own as the moon continues its orbit back out of alignment. From here on Earth, the longest total eclipses last is only about seven minutes. No need to panic.

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