Numa Creates the Calendar

July 21, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Last week we introduced a couple of less than mainstream calendars . This week, we want to move back into a look at the contemporary calendar, as based upon the Roman calendar. Julius Caesar, of course, attended to the discrepancies in the calendar. Astronomers of each age are challenged to find clever fixes for slight discrepancies, which, over a period of one thousand years, begins to add up. Caesar understood that growing seasons were being negatively affected by these seemingly minor errors and he corrected some of them. But his calendar was not the first Roman calendar. Other Roman emperors tampered with their own versions of a calendar, and often for less respectable reasons than Caesar. Some emperors wanted to place their names into the calendar as a sort of legacy. Others decided to celebrate festivals whenever they wanted, thus changing the custom and the calendar simultaneously.

Numa Pompilius (8th-7th century B.C.) was one of the first Roman emperors to set a fixed calendar. The following text comes entirely from Plutarch's chapter on Numa in his Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. It describes how the calendar came about from Plutarch's point of view. This discussion continues to develop our understanding of the cultural understanding of time, but also of the contemporary cultures who base their calendar on similar features. As societies fanned out, and the Roman civilization fell, threads of their society transferred to many other places. The transformation was not uniform, however, and so this investigation into time is meant simply to know more about the origin of our modern day customs.

“He attempted, also, the formation of a calendar, not with absolute exactness, yet not without some scientific knowledge. During the reign of Romulus, they had let their months run on without any certain or equal term; some of them contained twenty days, others thirty-five, others more; they had no sort of knowledge of the inequality in the motions of the sun and moon; they only kept to the one rule that the whole course of the year contained three hundred and sixty days. Numa, calculating the difference between the lunar and the solar year at eleven days, for that the moon completed her anniversary course in three hundred and fifty-four days, and the sun in three hundred and sixty-five, to remedy this incongruity doubled the eleven days, and every other year added an intercalary month, to follow February, consisting of twenty-two days, and called by the Romans the month Mercedinus. This amendment, ,however, itself, in course of time, came to need other amendments.

“He also altered the order of the months for March, which was reckoned the first, he put into the third place; and January, which was the eleventh, he made the first; and February, which was the twelfth and last, the second. Many will have it, that it was Numa, also, who added the two months of January and February; for in the beginning they had a year of ten months; as there are barbarians who count only three; the Arcadians, in Greece, had but four; the Acarnanians, six. The Egyptian year at first, they say, was of one month; afterwards, of four; and so, though they live in the newest of all countries, they have the credit of being a more ancient nation than any, and reckon in their genealogies, a prodigious number of years, counting months, that is, as years.

“That the Romans, at first, comprehended the whole year within ten, and not twelve months, plainly appears by the name of the last, December, meaning the tenth month; and that March was the first is likewise evident, for the fifth month after it was called Quintilis, and the sixth Sextilis, and so the rest; whereas, if January and February, in this account, preceded March, Quintilis would have been fifth in name and seventh in reckoning. It was also natural that March, dedicated to Mars, should be Romulus's first, and April, named from Venus, or Aphrodite, his second month; in it they sacrifice to Venus, and the women bathe on the calends, or first day of it, with myrtle garlands on their heads. But others, because of its being p and not ph, will not allow of the derivation of this word from Aphrodite, but say it is called April from aperio, Latin for to open, because that this month is high spring, and opens and discloses the buds and flowers. The next is called May, from Maia, the mother of Mercury, to whom it is sacred; then June follows, so called from Juno; some, however, derive them from the two ages, old and young, majores, being the name for older, and juniores for younger men. To the other months they gave denominations according to their order; so the fifth was called Quintilis, Sextilis the sixth, and the rest, September, October, November and December.

“Afterwards Quintilis received the name of Julius, from Caesar, who defeated Pompey; as also Sextilis that of Augustus, from the second Caesar, who had that title. Domitian, also, in imitation, gave the two other following months his own names, of Germanicus and Domitianus; but, on being slain, they recovered their ancient denominations of September and October. The two last are the only ones that have kept their names throughout without any alteration.

“Of the months which were added or transposed in their order by Numa, February comes from februa; and is as much a Purification month; in it they make offerings to the dead, and celebrate the Lupercalia, which, in most points, resembles a purification. January was so called from Janus, and precedence given to it by Numa before March, which was dedicated to the god Mars; because, as I conceive, he wished to take every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are to be preferred before those of war.”

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Rare Calendars

July 14, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Merriam-Webster defines calendar as “a system for fixing the beginning, length, and divisions of the civil year and arranging days and longer divisions of time (such as weeks and months) in a definite order”. The reasons for developing such a system are easy to identify. It makes nearly all business navigable. Practicality aside, however, the idea of a calendar actually stemmed from those who noticed nature's rhythms. Early peoples noticed and came to expect that the sun would rise and set. Though time appears fixed as we move between scheduled appointments, it is easy to note that time moves slowly when we are in pain, and quickly when we are having fun. In nearly every possible scenario, humans note the passage of time.

“Kalend”, the Greek word for “I shout” predates the Roman “calends”, but both play a part in our understanding of time. The Greeks used to notify the public that taxes were due by shouting (thus the term kalend). Their taxes created an arbitrary, but fixed, timetable. Later, Romans used the word “calends” to describe the first day of a Roman month. These usages may have given us language for the development of the calendar itself, but they lack an understanding of celestial events. Most early calendars heavily relied upon nature as their guide. The Egyptians, for example, paid close attention to the cycles of floods. These periods paved the way to a successful civilization by allowing them to raise crops. In turn, the development of an accurate calendar was vital to the success of their crops. Though their calendar dates back 5,000 years, the ancient Egyptian astronomers created an extremely accurate calendar. Celestially-based calendars lack flexibility, however. And since early priests did not allow for change, after time, their calendar became disjointed from its intended purpose. Calendars, then, are a mix of celestial events, civic duties and cultural norms. The two calendars that follow may not be common knowledge, but they represent thought-projects regarding the human conception of time.

The French Revolutionary Calendar (or Republican Calendar) was established after France ended its brutal war in 1793. The new calendar sought to reject any ties to the previous monarchy or the Catholic Church. In other words, they completely abolished the Gregorian calendar. They removed religious holidays and completely changed the way that time was accounted for. This calendar was divided into 36 weeks, and each week included 10 days. They listed days numerically: Primidi, Duodi, Tridi, Quartidi, etc. The months focused on nature and natural events rather than gods or deities. The calendar year began on September 22, which was the date that the republic was established. The only holidays they celebrated came at the end of each calendar year during Sans Culottides. In these ceremonies, they honored Virtue, Genius, Labor, Opinion and Reward. This calendar did not last, however. Perhaps people did not appreciate the fact that the work week was extended from six days to nine. Whatever the reason, Napoleon abandoned this calendar on January 1, 1806 and returned to the Gregorian calendar. For more information, visit Calendars Through the Ages.

While the French Revolutionary Calendar arose as a response to war and devastation, the World Calendar came about mostly due to globalization. Its goal is to remove the complexity of change, thus fostering a more streamlined global world. They propose a simplified calendar of 364 days. The year is divided into four quarters which contain 3 months. Those three months all contain 91 days. They propose one calendar in which every date is fixed. For example, Christmas would always fall on a Monday. (One benefit of this calendar, is that you would only have to purchase one hard copy.) In order to compensate for the inadequacies, they propose World Day, a worldwide celebration the day after December 30. They also include a Leap Year Day once every four years. According to their website, the calendar would bring peace and stability to the ever-globalizing world. The World Calendar could even be memorized. As a result, supporters claim that it would enable smoother business transactions between highly diverse cultures. The major deficit of this calendar is its inability to account for religious holidays, cultural differences and minorities. It appears to be a very business-like solution to what is often a very culturally-laden term. In structuring the holidays, they may offend many religions or cultures who rely on lunar calendars and established holy rules. Flaws included, however, the theoretical process is interesting. For more, visit the website for the World Calendar.

Time is a social construct. We use it to convey information in our sentences (past, present and future, for example) and to make plans with colleagues, family and friends. Watches and clocks, systematic constructs, enable us to more accurately function. And yet, time has as much to do with pace or tempo as it does with logic and accuracy. For example, try to gain a concrete understanding of the passage of time from someone's oral history. It is nearly impossible. In memory, time functions fluidly, not logically or chronologically. A chain of events string together in the memory, but they may not be a factual representation of the events, just one person's view of them. Also, the important points seem to take longer, whereas the unimportant stuff is swept aside. Again, importance differs from person to person. Starting conversations and creating dialogue with the purpose of understanding someone's personal view of time is endlessly interesting...especially outside of your own country.

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After the Adirondacks

“But to what purpose/ Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves/ I do not know.” - T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”


October 7, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's blog post.

Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend Philosophy Camp in the Adirondacks of New York. St. John's College in Santa Fe and SUNY-ESF campuses combined forces to offer this fantastic experience. I will continue to dwell on some of the points discussed during this exceptional conference, but in the meantime, here are a few reflections based upon the time among vibrant trees and colorful conversation.

I wanted to attend this conference with the idea of listening first and speaking second. I am not sure if I achieved my goal because, of course, I did participate. But in separating from our daily lives and heading into the forest, I think we each desired a moment of peace and perhaps even a moment of clarity. I am curious about the ways in which so many of us are able to disconnect and also reconnect (or even connect at all). One of the questions that the group struggled with was a way to understand, visualize and discuss time. It is something so inherent in our being, yet we rarely take note of the language we use regarding time or how it structures our internal lives. Is there a way to comprehend the metaphor of time in some sort of container? Is there a way to capture the connections we forge through dialogue? Is there a way to enter each other's past in a way that enriches our future?

In the Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot greatly abstracts time to explain how past moments filter into present times and even overwhelm the present scenery. So, in looking at a garden, he layers past memories over the roses. The roses themselves, then, transform, becoming both childhood and flower. Sound and emotions filter into the scene, which literally carries past and future into the present. He calls this the “still point of the turning world”. It is almost as if the emotionally heavy moments weigh more than others, even than the present. These become our focal points through which we see dimensions of other times. Therefore, we communicate through universals, ideas which exist both inside and outside of time. In other words, universal and timelessness must participate in some communicable chronology. Perhaps they offer a language of sorts, or more likely, they offer perspective of a thing that perpetually changes perspective. A thing such as time.

If time perpetually changes, and our understanding of time perpetually changes, then so does our experience. This is of vital importance because humans resort to metaphor in order to articulate our own specific perspective. Just as Eliot intentionally reshapes the past throughout these four poems, the reader finds common points of access and is then able to interpret some of his memories through the reader's own. However, gaining these access points still does not allow the reader to experience time in the way that Eliot writes it. In fact, an infinite amount of access points would not enable the reader to experience life as Eliot has. In other words, the points of access are functional, but not direct. Therefore, ten readers of Eliot's poems come away with ten different perceptions of time. These poems focus on language's inability for clarity. However, they also focus on the miracle that language allows intersections at all. There is a beauty in the idea that we must all participate in metaphor to create connections. In pictorial representations of language, images such as rose bowls and gardens carry more weight than a point to point transfer would. Language is not exact. It is representational. What then, enables language to transfer from one point to another?

These points would interact on a variety of grids, but no common ground. The grids themselves act as fields or frames that offer points of intersection – mutually experienced realities. Euclid says that a point is that which has no part. After reading Chomei's Hojoki, the Bhagavad-Gita and Eliot's Four Quartets, I think that we are all points on a field. The individual self equals one point. The field is our current circumstance. Our circumstance affects and influences all action. Our actions create a narrative by allowing us to move through, past, around, next to, adjacent, inside and outside of the space also inhabited by others. The points where we intersect make all the difference. They distill time in a way that is unique to both the present and memory. From these still points, we construct our world.

T. S. Eliot says that these points allow for a dance and he emphasizes that “there is only the dance”. There is only the dance – the face to face rhythm of beauty and grace, the face to face approach of two unlike points, the face to face twirl that allows an intimacy, a connection. There is only the dance – the fact that we can connect and communicate with grace and emotion, with passion and eloquence, with hesitation and honesty, with experience (our own) and experience (all). There is only the dance and when we complete this dance, we have reached an end. For me, dance is the container of time. The ebb and flow of rhythm, time kept as a movement, is the metaphor: it is the movement in which we all participate. Hopefully the completion of every path (even incomplete paths) results in an elevated dignity that the world can at least see, if not fully access. Presence almost becomes clarified through absence – through the interaction on the field and layers of memory, emotion and present circumstance.

And so there we were, all of us among the mountains, lakes and trees of the Adirondacks. All of us on one field. All of us dancing.

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