Other namesAganice of Thessaly
Era2nd or 1st century BC
Known forGreek astronomer, thaumaturge

Aglaonice or Aganice of Thessaly (Ancient Greek: Ἀγλαονίκη, Aglaoníkē, compound of αγλαὸς (aglaòs) "luminous" and νίκη (nikē) "victory") was a Greek astronomer and thaumaturge of the 2nd or 1st century BC.[1] She is mentioned in the writings of Plutarch[2] and in the scholia to Apollonius of Rhodes[3] as a female astronomer and as the daughter of Hegetor (or Hegemon) of Thessaly. She was regarded as a sorceress for her (self-proclaimed) ability to 'make the moon disappear from the sky' (καθαιρεῖν τὴν σελήνην : kathaireĩn tìn selénen) which has been taken – first by Plutarch and subsequently by modern astronomers – to mean that she could predict the time and general area where a lunar eclipse would occur.[4][5]

Many lunar eclipses result, not in the apparent disappearance of the moon - as referenced in accounts of Aglaonice's 'drawing down the moon' – but in a change in the colour of the moon (as viewed from Earth) to various tawny or coppery shades.
On a scale expressed as an L number between 0 and 4, the Danjon scale is used to measure relative brightness of a lunar eclipse. Image left L2 while image right L4. (An 'absent moon' of the type predicted by Aglaonice would have an L number of 0)

Plutarch wrote that she was "thoroughly acquainted with the periods of the full moon when it is subject to eclipse, and, knowing beforehand the time when the moon was due to be overtaken by the earth's shadow, imposed upon the women, and made them all believe that she was drawing down the moon."[6] Peter Bicknell notes that in most lunar eclipses the moon does not disappear completely, but simply takes on a reddish hue. The ancient sources which discuss Aglaonice do not describe such a change of colour and there is no suggestion that she failed to convince observers that she was able to draw down the moon. Bicknell speculates that in the first and second centuries BC there was a period in which the moon appeared significantly less bright during the lunar eclipse due to variations in solar activity, and this might explain this apparent inconsistency.[1]

Cultural influence

One of the craters on Venus is named after Aglaonice.[7] She is a character in the Jean Cocteau film Orpheus, where she is a friend of Eurydice and leader of the League of Women.[citation needed] Aglaonice is a featured figure on Judy Chicago's installation piece The Dinner Party, being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b Peter Bicknell: "The witch Aglaonice and dark lunar eclipses in the second and first centuries BC." In: Journal of the British Astronomical Association, Bd. 93, Nr. 4, pp. 160–163, Bibcode:1983JBAA...93..160B
  2. ^ "Plutarch, De defectu oraculorum, section 13".
  3. ^ Scholion to Argonautica 4.59
  4. ^ Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey (1986). Women in Science. The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-15031-X.
  5. ^ Schmitz, Leonhard (1867), "Aganice", in Smith, William (ed.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. 1, Boston, p. 59, archived from the original on 2010-06-16, retrieved 2007-12-28((citation)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ Plutarch, Conjugalia Praecepta
  7. ^ Howard, Sethanne (2008). Hidden Giants (2nd ed.). p. 31. ISBN 9781435716520.
  8. ^ "Aglaonice". Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Aglaonice. Brooklyn Museum. 2007. Retrieved 17 December 2011.