In his account of the Medeo-Lydian War Herodotus mentions a battle that took place at night (Herod. I.74.1) as well as the "Battle of the Eclipse". Commentators who maintain that the night battle should in fact be understood as another reference to the "battle of the eclipse" (e.g. Cobbe 1967, 32n.18; Worthen 1997) may be correct. It is wrong, however, to argue, on the one hand, that the eclipse itself had little or no impact and, on the other, that the eclipse not only ended the battle but gave rise to a tradition that the battle took place at night. The furthest that it seems possible to take the evidence is to suggest that Herodotus had several conflicting or confused sources that he attempted, incorrectly, to weave into a single coherent account. Were that to in fact be the case, it might be argued that there was indeed a war in progress between the Medes and the Lydians during the eclipse that took place in May, 585, because there would be evidence for at least two different traditions of the same event, one of which Herodotus himself misunderstood. Conflation of two separate passages in The Histories, those relating to the night battle and the battle that was brought to an end by an eclipse, into a single event may not, however, be methodologically sound. Scholars who  suggest that Herodotus himself combined different events, such as battles and eclipses, into a single story, only compound the problems by then suggesting further conflation of events in the narrative.

A further curiosity is the point at which Herodotus chooses to refer to the prediction of Thales in his narrative. The very mention of Thales seems to be an aside, for there is no suggestion that the eclipse itself played any role in the battle or its outcome, but rather that the two sides, the Medes and the Lydians, took it as an omen. Note the way in which Herodotus handles it: "the year in which it did in fact take place", a fairly vague time frame. Why was it included at all? Possible motives come to mind: an attempt to fix the chronology, since the reader would have known which eclipse Thales had predicted; the inclusion of Thales to give added credibility or to explain the day turning into night as a solar eclipse; to enhance the reputation of Thales; to demonstrate to the reader that Herodotus himself did not believe that eclipses were divine portents; or simply for dramatic effect. None of these motives needs to have been mutually exclusive. Herodotus surely considered the eclipse and its prediction to be of relevance and importance.

If Thales had not in fact made the prediction (as some would argue), was the story already current in Herodotus' day or did he make it up? And if the story was current, did Herodotus believe it or did he knowingly write a fabrication into his "history"? Those who take the line that Herodotus knowingly included falsehoods, could well take leave to doubt the rest of the passage.

To recap so far: an eclipse took place, visible from Central Anatolia in the late afternoon of May 28, 585 BC which Herodotus, rightly or wrongly, associated with an eclipse predicted to the Ionians by Thales for that same year.

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