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ON THE ENGLISH NOMENCLATURE OF THE

DAYS OF THE WEEK,

BY WILLIAM BELL, PHIL. DR., HON. SECRETARY,

READ MARCH 20TH, 1856.

(Reprinted from Part II. of the Transactions of the Chronological Institute.)

“ These as they change, Almighty Father, these,
Are but the varied God.”—THOMPSON'S HYMN.

One of the most curious investigations connected with our Saxon forefathers, their religious belief and its relative position to our subsequent Christianity, arises from considering the names which we attribute to the seven days of the week, in connexion with those given them by the later Romans, and especially by those nations in which the Roman language took the strongest hold.

For the Romans themselves the great difficulty is, to fix when the introduction of weeks, or a computation by seven days, was first brought into the Roman calendar. It is usual to say that, after the express commands of Jehovah and the example of creation, this division became a sacred ordinance to the Jews, and was from them copied by the Romans, about the time of Augustus.

But, if we trust the learned Frenchman, Bailly (Hist. de l'astronomie ancienne), the seven days were used in their computations of time, by the Chinese, the Hindoos, and the Egyptians; and though to each of them was given the name of one of the seven known planets, yet this was not done in any order, regulated by distance or size—by brilliancy or motion—but perfectly arbitrarily; and, what is most singular, the same irregular sequence of deities is found in all the other nations we have enumerated. In the order they standLuna, Mars, Mercurius, Jovis, Venus, Saturnius, Sol-it is in vain to search for any reason for this sequence

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of the attributes, or in any supposed rank or power in these presiding deities over each particular day. If, therefore, the present essay and our indigenous denominations, which we we shall find are all purgan xon—the only nation, I believe,

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which preserves them in their full integrity—should clear up the difficulty, it will prove the continuity of our Saxon mythology and language, and our own tenacity of purpose in having held close to an original series and nomenclature, which our forefathers had embraced for reasons all their own, and transmitted with their colonies to our island. 1

The seven planets themselves have no corresponding rank or sequence in the mythology of Rome. We have Jupiter and Saturn, Venus, Mercury, and Mars, from their Olympus ; but why have these respectively a preference over Juno, Neptune, Minerva, Pluto, Apollo, Diana, &c. ?

The sun and moon visible in the heavens were never looked upon by the Romans as actual deities; they had passed that early phase of Sabaism. It was by their effects and action merely that this people acknowledged their power and personified their benefits. They knew them for gods, as Phoebus or Apollo only, or as Diana or Cynthia. Their direct retention in the seven gods, as Sol and Luna is alone sufficient proof that this Hebdomadas is not of Roman origin.

i On the antiquity of the system of seven days prior to the time of Moses, the following extract from Parkhurst's Lexicon, Edit. 1811, p. 715, note, will be relevant:

“We find, from time immemorial,” says the learned President Goguet, “the use of this period among all nations, without any variation of form. The Israelites, Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, Arabians, and, in a word, all the nations of the East, have in all ages made use of a week consisting of seven days. (See Scaliger de Emen. Tem. — Selden de Jure. nat. et Gent, Lib. III. p. 17. Memoires de l'Academie des Inscrip. Tom. IV. p. 65. We find the same custom amongst the ancient Romans, Gauls, Britons, Germans, the nations of the North and of America. (See Le Spectat. de la Nature, Tom. VIII., p. 53.) Many vain conjectures have been formed concerning the reasons and motives which determined all mankind to agree to this primitive division of their time. Nothing but tradition concerning the space of time employed in the creation of the world could give rise to this universal immemorial practice.” (Origin of Laws, &c., Vol. I., Book ii., cap. 2, art. ii., p. 230 ; Edit. Edinb.) “ The months of the ancient Scandinavians were divided into weeks of seven days, which we have any knowledge of from the extremity of Asia to that of Europe.” (Mallet North. Ant. Vol. II., p. 337.)

In Cary's Palæologia Chronologiea, Lond. fol. 1677, p. 7, note, we have“ Ex Georgii Syncelli Chronologia MS. in Regis Galliarum Bibliotheca legitur quod priusquam ratio computandi per menses et annos inventa fuisset ab astrologiis, veteres illos patres (scil ante diluvium) spatia distinxisse tantum κατ' επτωμαδας. Ex. C Salamasii indicatione citat A Rivetus. in dissertatione de Sabbato. So Selden hath it, Lib. de Jur. nat. et Gent. secundum Hebr. iii. cap. 17.”

In the Philological Museum, published at Cambridge, the first essay of vol I. is a very long and very learned paper on the "week days,” by J. C. Hare), in which, however, (so large is the theme) only one portion of his subject is discussed, viz., the question, “ How came the Romans to arrange those names, which we immediately perceive to be those of what the ancients held to be the seven planets, in the particular order adapted ?” leaving the other, and to us the most important portion,—" and by what analogy were our ancestors guided in the substitution of their national gods for the Roman?”—to some other opportunity, which, if published, I have not been able to find.

It is to this latter query that I shall principally call the attention of the Society, and I flatter myself that I shall prove to them that it contains a false assuinption-viz., that our ancestors copied their reckoning by weeks, and the names of the days, from the Romans; whereas the direct contrary was the fact: the Romans copied them from those IndoGermanic nations of which our Saxon forefathers were an extensive tribe.

This classic custom or imitation may have arisen from some undercurrent of ancient Pelasgic tradition, and of those remote periods when the Autochtyons of Italy, Gaul, and Germany, had not separated into nations; or else--and this more probable--after the conquests of Cæsar had carried the Roman arms to and beyond the Rhine, when they first discovered the deities placed in a consecutive series suitable to the belief and Theogony of the Teutonic races.

It is, however, far from my wish or intention to disparage the author's, Mr. Hare's, great learning and research, which has gained him the praises of the learned Jacob Grimm, in his Deutsche Mythologie (p. 111), and I shall use much of his illustrations, with thanks for their having been pointed out, though from the same data we both arrive at differing results. The remarks, however, of Grimm, in the passage cited, are so curious, that a literal translation must be acceptable.

“ If we admit, as seems almost certain and necessary, that, since the first century and the eight or nine following ones, an uninterrupted (Uebertragung) transfer of Mercury and some similar deities to the indigenous gods of Gaul and Germany, took place and was received by the learned, still we demand -firstly, satisfaction on a yet unsufficiently elucidated and remarkable appearance-viz., the earlier, throughout half Europe, prevalence of the heathen denominations of the week. These names are to be viewed as a favourable specimen of German heathendom that we should not overlook. I fancy this matter as follows. The names of the seven week days (eldopas) came from Egypt, by means of the inhabitants of Alexandria, since they are found at very remote periods in Western Asia, though a satisfactory relation of these names for the week days by the Romans is found much later; for we meet the first mention of the Dies Saturni coupled with the Jewish sabbath in the elegy of Tibullus (Lib. I. 3, v. 18).

“At ego sum causatus, aves aut omina dira,

Saturni aut sacram me tenuisse diem.” (So Ovid, Ars Amandi, I. 415—Remed. Amor, 220). We have, too, lov nuepa in Justin Martyr. Apol I. 67-Dies Solis, Ερμα and Aφροδιτης ημερα in Clemens Alexandrinus Stromata, , vii. 12-Dies Mercurii and Dies Veneris : but Dio Cassius first mentions their regular and complete introduction not much before his own time, and he flourished only circa 229, A.c.” This latter passage bears so fully on the subject, that I cannot but introduce it in a Latin dress, somewhat condensed. Speaking of the Jews, he says (Lib. xxxviii.) :

“ Diversum a reliquis homnibus, obtinent cum aliis in rebus usque vita quotidiana, tum eo presertim quod nullum ex cæteriis diis colunt, unum autem quendam, summo studio I venerantur. Tum quoque temporis nullum Hierosolymis simulachrum extabat nimirium suum illum deum ineffabilem invisiblemque existimantes, religioso ejus cultu cæteros mortales superant. Cui templum summæ molis pulcherrimumque extruxerunt; hoc dempto quod apertum et nullo culmine tectum fuit. Diem quæ Saturni vocatur religioni habent eamque ab omni opere actioneque seria vacantes ducunt. Atque is quidem deus eorum quis sit, unde ita coli cæperit, quantopere ab is timeatur, a nullis dictum est neque ad

presentem narrationem facit. Quod autem dies ad septem sidera, illa quos planetas apellarunt referuntur id ab Ægyptiis haud ita dudum, ut paucis dicam, institutum ad omnes homines dimanavit. Nam priscis Græcis quantum mihi constat, notus is mos non fuit.

Et quandoquidem is nunc et apud omnes homines (ubique) et presertim apud Romanos usitatus est

We

paucis, qua ratione et quo pacto ita institutum sit disseram.”

may at present defer all these reasons, until we come to compare them with other conjectures.

Before this institution of seven days, therefore, the Nundinæ prevailed at Rome, and are well known. They may have been originally the ancient pelasgic seven days to which I have before alluded; but the addition of a feast, or market day, before and after, would bring them to the number of nine, or novem dies, which, contracted into Nundinæ, was the sole division of days at Rome, of which we have certain accounts prior to Dio Cassius, as above noticed.

Another reason may be given for the Nundinæ, if we couple them with the division of the Roman year into ten months before Numa; each month consisting of four Nundinæ or thirty-six days, and consequently the entire year of three hundred and sixty days, which the imperfect astronomy of those times seems to have considered the full complement of the solar year.

Tacitus, it is true (Hist. Lib. v. cap. 4), in the curious and distorted picture he has left us of the Jewish nation, gives a dark allusion to the week, in conjunction with the planets.

“Septimo die otium placuisse ferunt quia is (Moses) finem laborum tulerit; deinde blandiente inertia, septimum quoque annum ignaviæ datum. Alii honorem cum Saturno haberi ; seu principia religionis tradentibus Idæis, quos cum Saturno pulsos et conditores gentis accepimus; seu quod e septem sideribus, queis mortales reguntur altissimo orbe et præcipua potentia stella Saturni feratur ac pleraque cælestium vim suam et cursum septimos per numeros conficiant.”

Still, considerable doubt rests on every Roman relation on the subject, either from the obscurity of the passage as above, or from the direct contradiction of authors. Plutarch tells us the Nundinæ were consecrated to Saturn, whilst Macrobius gives Jupiter as their patron; nor can it be called a felicitous guess by Ideler in the Berlin Transactions, who supposes the attribution to Saturn was from some fancied resemblance between their own Saturnalia and the rest day of the Jewish sabbath, for which it would be difficult to find a conformity.

The Nundinæ differ from dies Saturni in one particular remarkably : they could not fall on the calends or Nones of any month, and any year on which they would have fallen on the kalends, or first day of January, was intercalated by a day to prevent it: otherwise the new year was believed to become

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