Time – A Human Obsession.
Time – the non-spatial continuum – continues to hold the fascination of humankind. Last night the population of entire planet celebrated Time. It is the biggest event of the year – bigger than the Super Bowl, bigger than the World Cup, the Olympics – bigger than any any election. The celebration of Time is completely non-compulsory. Yet, of seven billion people, the overwhelming majority of us opt to link in one way or another. Why? Because we can’t control it? Perhaps.
Maybe we can’t control it but by God – literally, by God, or by the gods depending on where and when (ha, ha, see what I did there?) you were born… As I was saying, by God, we have always been determined to get a handle on this.
So here’s a quick summery of humans measuring Time. By God. Or by the gods.
Seconds, Minutes, & Hours.
Scientific American has a really interesting article which can be found here. In summery, the Sumerians/Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks collaborated on dividing the day into 24 segments, the hours into 60 segments, and the minute into 60 seconds.
I’m sure the first astronomers attempted a digital system, but it didn’t fit. A true case of “outside the box thinking” by the ancients.
Seven Days In A Week.
I’m going with the Jewish Calendar here, and invite anyone to convince me otherwise. The Human body runs on 6-day on, 1-day off bio-rhythm. We have a seven-day week because that’s the way God wants it.
The days of the week were originally just numbered, but we got creative and decided to name them.
Sunday – Yes, named after that big yellow ball in the sky. Or Sol Invictus, the Roman sun god.
Monday – after the moon. Monandaeg (old English, a derivative of Mani, the Norse god of the moon).
Tuesday – Twi’s Day. Twi was the Norse god of victory.
Wednesday – derived from Woden’s Day (old Saxon). Woden/Oden was the chief of the gods in the Norse pantheon.
Thursday – Thor’s day. God of thunder and war. Norse mythology again.
Friday – Figg’s day or Frieda’s day. Frieda was the goddess of wisdom and wife of Odin.
Saturday – The Roman god Saturn – sometime associated with Cronus, the god of Time.
In fact our New Years’ celebration is a derivative of Saturnalia, where servants and masters were supposed to trade places for one day.
The Months In The Year.
January – named after Janus – the Roman good of beginings and transistions. Originally named for Juno, the goddess and counselor of the Romans.
February – named after Februa – the ancient Roman ritual of purification.
March – Mars, Roman god of War.
April – this one is uncertain, but the word is likely derived from the Latin word aprillus which means “to open,” (think flowers) and therefore associated with the coming of Spring.
May – Maia, the Roman goddess of fertility.
June – Juno, see January.
July – Julius Caesar. Yes, he has a month named after himself.
August – Augustus, Ceasar’s grand-nephew and first Roman Emperor.
September, October, November, December – numerical – originally the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months on the ancient Roman calendar.
Lunar Cycles and Seasons.
There are twelve lunar cycles during the course of the year, but it’s not perfect. One day, Julius Caesar woke up and there was snow on the ground in what was supposed to be the month of June.
Obviously the Calendar was off. Fortunately, his conquest of Egypt provided him with a good solution.
A notable paradox of the Romans was that they were superb engineers without being first-rate mathematicians. Nor were they particularly good at astronomy.
But they were good at absorbing the best of other cultures. And that’s what they did with their measurement of Time.
The Ptolemys, were the ancient Greek dynasty which ruled Egypt. Descended from one of Alexander’s generals they thoroughly adopted and immersed themselves into the culture of the nation they ruled. Their gift to the Romans was the Egyptian Calendar, tweaked and perfected down through the centuries.
This became known as the Julian Calendar and it worked well for many centuries.
Then 1,500 years later, Pope Gregory XIII woke up to snow in July, and determined that the calendar was off again. Duh. Well the renaissance mathematicians and astronomers went to work, ratcheted the Calendar forward a few months, added 10 minutes and change to the length of the year and tweaked the leap-years.
And that’s the short version of how we got the Gregorian Calendar.
Today, the lengths astronomers go to ensuring the precision by which we mark the passage of Time is extraordinary.
If you are reading this on your commute, (and someone else is doing the driving) put some of this into your search engine. It makes for fascinating reading.