Saturday, July 18, 2015

Minding the Nones of July

We’re frequently reminded that an exercised mind retards the onset of senility. Minds aged eighty or thereabouts and higher tend to notice stories like that; the ballpoint marks the article for closer reading. Keeping the mind sharp is our excuse, hereabouts, for working crossword puzzles, as in “you learn something new every day,” e.g. that OREO is an almost indispensably useful word in crossword puzzles. Well, the other day, we had the following clue: July 7, e.g. Brigitte and I always do puzzles together; and what with our respective backgrounds, we fill in our respective gaps of knowledge and never fail to solve a puzzle. This time, again, we found the answer to that clue—but only by finding the other words that intersected with it. The answer was NONES. But what does that mean?

Nones, of course, vaguely hinted at the ninth canonical hour, but the clue was July 7. So how do we get from 9 to 7. To get an answer to that illustrates what might be called the useful activity of “extended crossword puzzle solving.” One has to research the subject. Well, Brigitte and I are both quite familiar with the Ides of March; assassinations of important people have a way of lingering in racial memory. We also knew that it was the 15th of the month. Oddly enough, as we discovered, counting backward from 15, with 15 being 1, the 9th day turns out to be the 7th. So if you count back from the Ides of July by nine, including that day in your count, the ninth (nonae in Latin) day will be the 7th.  Nones is always the 9th day of the month in the Julian calendar—but it falls on the 7th of the month only in March, May, July, and October—because the Ides falls on the 15th. In all other months, the Ides fall on the 13th and hence Nones is on the 5th of the month!

Having discovered this, we learned that Roman naming of the days was rather awkward. The Romans only had three “named” days, Kalends (the first day of the month), Nones (5th or 7th depending on the month), and Ides (15th or 13th, again depending on the months). All other days were defined with reference to these three. The following table shows the naming conventions, which seem very hard to remember for us, for the month of July:

1st
Kalends (of July)
17th
Day 15 before Kalends
2nd
Day 5 before Nones
18th
Day 14 before Kalends
3rd
Day 4 before Nones
19th
Day 13 before Kalends
4th
Day 3 before Nones
20th
Day 12 before Kalends
5th
Day 2 before Nones
21st
Day 11 before Kalends
6th
Day before Nones
22nd
Day 10 before Kalends
7th
Nones
23rd
Day 9 before Kalends
8th
Day 7 before Ides
24th
Day 8 before Kalends
9th
Day 6 before Ides
25th
Day 7 before Kalends
10th
Day 5 before Ides
26th
Day 6 before Kalends
11th
Day 4 before Ides
27th
Day 5 before Kalends
12th
Day 3 before Ides
28th
Day 4 before Kalends
13th
Day 2 before Ides
29th
Day 3 before Kalends
14th
Day before Ides
30th
Day 2 before Kalends
15th
Ides
31st
Day before Kalends
16th
Day 16 before Kalends
1st
Kalends (of August)

The Romans used a standard annotation to name a day. Lets take the 13th of July here. They would write that as “a.d. II Id. Iul.” Spelled out: “ante diem II, Ides, Iulius.” Ante diem  stands for “day before”; it amuses me, however, that A.D. was used in calendars once—and still is, but with a different meaning. Iulius, is, of course, our July. The phrasing on the day immediately before the named days (e.g. July 14) was “prid. Id. Iul.”; the prid. is pridie and means “the day before.”

Keeping track of the days, particularly in the second half of each month, was rather a chore, it seems, best left to scribes who had desks with appropriate writing instruments on which to record time's passage.

Now, knowing that it takes such exercises to ward off the onrush of senility makes you kind of wonder just how bad senility really might be…

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