© Written by Sergio Caggia with Paul Gwynne for Nerone the Insider's Guide to Rome
THE CALENDAR: Its origins and history as a word: the meeting between science and religion, one helping the other...
Dominica proxima sequente lunam decimaquartam
post Venum aequinoctium illuscentem,
ab omnibus ecclesiis Pascha celebratur.
All Churches will celebrate Easter on the Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox.
(Concilio di Nicea - 325 a.D.) The rule in Latin above may sound like a simple concept but it is ambitious in at least two respects - the Equinox and the full moon.
The irregularity of the movements of the sun and moon resulted in the non-scientific definition of the equinox and full moon, fixing the first as the 21st of March and considering the 14-day-old moon as full.
For centuries, the choice of which day to celebrate Easter was a cause of great concern to the Church because of the lack of knowledge necessary to produce an accurate calendar.
This problem is explored "Clock-work Rome", January 1995. Let's investigate the roots of the word calendar. Natural phenomena, such as the seasons, the phases of the moon, the alternation of day and night, gave rhythm to the eternal passage of time. The moon proved particularly useful because its phases provided a longer division of time than a day and a shorter division than a season. It is interesting to see how in some languages, a single term stands for both moon and month. In fact, the original meaning of the word moon (luna), is "period of time" (hence "honeymnon" should be a sweet period of time), whilst the word month (mese, in Latin "metiri") means "to measure". Therefore, the relationship between moon as an instrument for measuring time and month as a measurement becomes clear.
But why calendar? Because a calendae was the first day of every month and was a very important day, at least for the Romans. On this day, Romans worked out their accounts and wrote them down in a special book: the book of calendae, or calendar. The Greeks didn't have calendae day, and so a commonly heard expression in modern Italian is to postpone something to a Greek calendae, that is, a day that doesn't exist! Moreover, on the first day of every month, Roman citizens were assembled and told which days of the ensuing month would be feast days, game days, and even lucky days or unlucky days! ...Perhaps someone started to note down this other information in his accounts book making it similar to the calendar as we know it today.
Originally the Roman calendar was, however, made up of ten months simply called the first, the second, etc... Tradition has it that the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilio, reformed it by dividing the year into twelve months and bringing the beginning of the year back from Spring to Winter. The names of the first eight months of the year were inspired by divinities, natural events and human activities.
The last four months of the year kept their original names creating a great deal of confusion, I imagine! The seventh month, September (deriving from the number seven, sette in Italian) now became the ninth month; October (the Italian for eight is otto) became the tenth etc... Just to conclude, let's see why January is so-called...It derives from Janus, the Italic divinity protecting the entrance to houses, and hence January as the principal entrance to the year. In ancient Rome, the statues of Janus had two faces (Giano bifronte) so they could watch over the house and the street at the same time. In the 18th century, January (Gennaio) seems to have been called Gennaro for a while as shown by several date-bearing stones placed in the walls of historic buildings which request the Roman population to keep the streets clean at the risk of a fine, as ordered by the President of the Streets!
An example can be found at Via dei Chiavari (the key-makers), next to the shop at no. 27, near the corner of Via dei Giubbonari (the jacket-makers) - in the area of Campo de' Fiori - and another just in front of the house where the poet Pietro Meatastasio was born in 1698, on Via dei Cappellari (the hats-makers), where there is a commemorative stone in his honor.