The fascinating Latin roots of the solar eclipse

Did you know umbra is the Latin word for shadow? In today’s solar eclipse, the moon, earth and sun will align so that the moon will cast its shadow on the earth. The umbra is the darkest part of the shadow while the penumbra is a partial shadow. If you are lucky enough to see the total solar eclipse, you will actually see the umbra.

One of the most famous Latin sayings with the word umbra is “In umbra igitur pugnibimus” which means “Then we will fight in the shade.” This saying refers to perhaps one of the greatest last stands of all times. It took place in 480 B.C. The Persian army was attempting to invade Greece by the narrow passage way of Thermopylae and clearly had the upper hand.

The Spartan King, Leonidas, was vainly attempting to hold them back with a pathetically outnumbered band of soldiers.  According to Herodotus, the Greek historian, a Spartan soldier was mocked with the words Persian arrows would block out the sun.  Bravely, Leonidas rebuked, “So much the better, we will fight in the shade.” This statement loosely translated, “Then we will fight in the shade,” is a summary of Spartan courage. The next time you hear the word umbra, think of the English derivative umbrella to help you remember its definition which means shadow.

Enjoy this once in a lifetime experience. Here is to your inner nerd!

English derivatives of umbra: sombre, umbrage, umbrella