Tuesday, October 11, 2005


The months of the calendar are very much a part of our lives and whatever we do in them add up to our net worth and existence .But this is old hat; what is interesting is the story behind their nomenclature.

The months are derived from the Roman calendar of antiquity and the words are Latin. Originally the year had only ten months starting from March and ending with December. It was only to be expected that the early Romans should honour the God of War at the very beginning of the year. But more of it later.

It was the genius of Numa Pompilius, who was entrusted with the charge of Rome after the founder Romulus passed away, that added two more months to the calendar. Numa was not a Roman in the truer sense of the term; he was a Sabine. But he was the most cultivated of the people in Rome, indeed a savant if not a sage .He added the first two months, January and February.

January is derived from the Roman God Janus. Janus had two faces, each facing the other, signifying strife and bellicosity. The temple of Janus in Rome had massive iron doors which were always open except when absolute peace reigned, which happened only twice in Roman history; once in Numa’s time and once again during the golden period of Augustus Caesar. Incidentally January is juxtaposed between two years, the old and the new and hence may be visualized having ‘two faces’ looking forward and backward.

February, the second month of the year, is derived from ‘februa’ meaning purification. On the Ides of February i.e. the 15th, the festival of Lupercalia was held. It was a fertility festival consecrated to the preservation of domestic animals from wolves (lupus means wolf) .Lupercal is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar .It is worth remembering that the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she wolf during their childhood. In this festival a young boy used to run around clad in a short garment, striking the onlookers with a branch of a tree as a mark of purification.

March comes next. As mentioned earlier it is named after the Roman god of war, Mars, corresponding to the Greek Aries. Originally it was the first month of the year in the ten-month calendar, later becoming the third after the introduction of January and February. Julius Caesar was poniarded on the Ides of March.

The fourth month is April. There are two concepts as to its derivation. Some claim it honours Venus, Aphrodite in Greek, which appears farfetched as the first two letters are A&P and not A&PH[Φ]. However others believe it is derived from “apert’ or to open (aperture) as in this month the buds open and flowers bloom. Spring exerts herself in right earnest.

May is the next month and is an abbreviation for Maia, the mother of Mercury, Hermes to the Greeks. It is rather strange that Maia should merit a full month as she is not a member of the Olympian twelve. Her son Mercury is however a proper Olympian and is the patron God of thieves, traders, doctors, musicians and many more. His wand, the Caduceus, is the modern emblem of doctors all over. Incidentally the term Hermaphrodite [we all know what it means] is the illegitimate son of Hermes and Aphrodite. The pre-Hellenic function of Hermes was that of chief psychopomp, carrying the soul of the dead to Hades.
His mother Maia then was a substitute for the mother Goddess whose cult was suppressed by patriarchal Hellenes. Naming the month after Maia was a sort of atonement for this injustice

June is named after Juno, Hera to the Greeks. She was the matriarch of the Olympians, being the consort of Jupiter. As Jupiter has a planet to his name, and the largest one at that, it is only proper that his wife should have a month to herself.

That July is named after Julius Caesar is very wall known and he had himself named it so; a matter deemed offensive to his assassins. After the conquest of Egypt, Julius had lengthy discourses with the Egyptian astronomers and he made a sincere attempt at the calendar’s correction. Previously it was called Quintilis, the fifth month. That Julius would choose the fifth month to lend his name to was natural; he claimed Venus as his ancestress. The number five in Latin is V, the first letter of Venus. Furthermore to the ancient mystagogues V represented an isosceles triangle with the base up and apex down, resembling the female reproductive area [Does anyone remember the ubiquitous red triangle of the seventies?] hence symbolizing birth=regeneration=life itself. The reverse triangle with the base down and apex up signified a pyramid =delta=death.

Augustus Caesar named the sixth month Sextilis after him .This happened to be the most inauspicious month to the Romans .The rape of the Sabine women had taken place in this month and this outrage was one of the curses of the Roman republic and the empire. Augustus took upon himself to wipe away the stain of this month. Rome was founded by the two brothers Romulus and Remus with all the riffraff of the country, fugitives, runaway slaves, thieves and the like. But they needed women to breed who were difficult to find. Romulus hit upon a plan: to abduct the Sabine women from a religious gathering. It was executed with precision and Rome had the required women for raising families.

Nothing much need be said about the remaining four months of the year as their names indicate their chronology: - September, October, November& December signifying the seventh eighth ninth and tenth months respectively. However as Lupercalia is spoken of earlier, so a brief mention may be made of the chief Roman festival, the Saturnalia. It was held in December during the winter solstice and the whole of Rome were literally ablaze with fun and gaiety. The Festival lasted four days initially when the later of the Caesars of the Julian house put in a fifth honouring the youth of Rome and called it Juvenalia.

On Emperor Constantine embracing Christianity every attempt was made to suppress the polytheistic religion of Rome which was called Paganism; and what better way to bring it about than celebrating the birthday of Jesus Christ during the Saturnalia? The Bible nowhere mentions the birthday of Jesus; the Church of Rome persisted and ultimately Paganism withered away.

Calendar is derived from the Latin word Kalend meaning the first day of the month. The word month itself means moon, moon= mon=month; the lunar
cycle takes a month.

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