People in ancient times wouldn’t have stared at the sun during an eclipse because there would be nothing to see. They would have only looked up for totality when the eclipse became visible. Without solar eclipse glasses the partially eclipsed sun looks completely round and fully as bright as a normal sun. The ambient light reduces in the surrounding sky but the sun itself remains bright and doesn’t look like anything is amiss. Leading up to the eclipse the sky took on the same sort of cloudy glow you get before a thunderstorm or a wind storm; it was the only real indication anything different was happening. In short, you cannot see the partial eclipse at all through the naked eye. The implication of this is that in ancient times people wouldn’t have seen the eclipse unless they were directly underneath its shadow. For those few minutes of totality it probably would have seemed like the world was ending. One minute the light is all stormy looking but the sun looks normal, the next the sun has completely disappeared and the world plunged into darkness being replaced by a pure white ring of glowing fibers. I knew it was coming because I had the exact timing, I had eclipse glasses to see the shadow transit, I had all the benefits and luxuries of modern science and it still knocked me to my knees when the sun disappeared. I felt the awe, I felt the terror, I was unprepared for the experience despite knowing what I was going to see.
Knowing exactly what I was going to see did not prepare me to see it. There has never been a picture that I’ve seen of the corona that captured what it looked like in that moment. It was crisp, sharp, every strand visible. Pictures are a blury, glowing mess in comparison.
It was dark, but twilight dark and not pitch dark. There is a giant glowing white corona in the sky that is brighter than a full moon. It is dark enough to confuse animals but plenty light enough to see. I saw a bat, it was dark enough for the bat to come out but it was light enough to see the bat. Stars come out, but it’s the bright ones; you won’t be looking at the stars though anyway because you’ll be busy looking at the eclipse.
A partial eclipse is a cool bit of science when viewed with the glasses, totality is a full on religious experience straight out of ancient times.