Some ancient civilizations thought giant animals were to blame for the sudden darkness. Vikings believed two wolves from Norse mythology had chased the sun and moon, which caused them to disappear when they caught them. The Mayans believed a giant snake was to blame, while the Incans believed a jaguar swallowed the moon during a lunar eclipse.
Eclipses have played a part in starting and ending war when they made unexpected appearances. The solar eclipse of 1133 happened on the same day that King Henry I of England died, which caused mass hysteria and brought on civil war. Warring armies in Turkey took it as a sign they that their gods wanted them to get along as they stood in awe of the 585 BC eclipse, bringing fifteen years of fighting to an end.
Ancient Babylonians believed eclipses were bad omens for their rulers, despite the fact that they had the knowledge to predict them with mathematic calculations. They used peasants as stand-ins for their royalty during eclipses, so their king and queen would be spared from any dark happenings. The stand-ins were the ones to meet a bad end, however, since they were killed after the danger was over in the off chance they had soaked up any bad effects when the moon and sun lined up.
When Chinese astronomers decided to get drunk and failed to predict an eclipse as a result, they were sentenced to death. If that wasn't bad enough, a poem immortalized the event so we still know about it four thousand years later, poking fun at the astronomers who were hung as punishment.
An eclipse in 647 BC thoroughly shook up the Greek poet Archilochus, making him wonder what other bizarre things the gods had in store for mankind. "After this, men can believe anything, expect anything," Archilochus said. "Don't any of you be surprised in future if land beasts change places with dolphins and go to live in their salty pastures, and get to like the sounding waves of the sea more than the land, while the dolphins prefer the mountains."
Even in today's age of enlightenment, people are known to react with emotion that can range anywhere between awe and wonder to shock and horror. Only time will tell how the solar eclipse on August 21st will be received.