Thursday, September 14, 2006

Theme parties, rhymes and infernal gods...

I'm neither big into theme parties nor Shakespeare, but I've long thought that -- as opposed to the stereotypical toga parties one might think of when considering these two topics in the same sentence -- it would be really kind of fun/quirky/literarily geeky to throw an Ides of March party. Come March 15th, everyone could dress up as a favorite Shakespeare character and go around quoting bits from plays appropriate to their character so that other guests can try and guess who you are. And we could drink wine. And have people feed us grapes. (I'll be the one wandering around in a daze randomly shouting, "Out, out, damn spot!" which I realize is actually a mis-quote of the line, but it's what everyone knows and loves, so we'll go with that.) (Did I mention the wine?)

Anyway, I was looking at Cathy Z.'s blog today and admiring her 12 on the 12th layout. Ever one to try and think up new twists for other people's ideas, I thought to myself, "What about doing an 'Ides of...' layout series? One layout on the 15th of each month!" Sure! Why not? But then I realized that I dind't know if the 15th of every month was really considered the "ides" of that month, or if it was specifically a March kind of thing.

Off I went to visit my best friend, Google, who took me next door to see my other friend, Wikipedia. And lo and behold, Wiki had all kinds of things to say about ides (traditionally the day of the full moon) and nones (traditionally the day of the half moon) and the ancient Roman calendar in general ("ancient" being considered pre-46 that point you enter Julian territory and that is just too modern to even talk about).

Seems that ides fell on the 15th of long months and the 13th of short months. You see, depending on the time period, months started out having either 31 or 30 days, and then later moved to having 31 or 29 days, with February having 28...but that was only after they added January and February to the calendar, thus avoiding that long, uncomfortable and undoubtedly cold period during the winter that had no months at all. And with only 10 months in the year, they had to toss in intercalary months every couple of years (which usually usurped the end of February, but it was all rather arbitrary) to keep up with the actual solar year. It's a wonder the Romans ever knew what the date was, if you ask me.

But I digress. (Can you really digress in a post categorized as "random"?? Hm.)*

I've never, ever been good at remembering which days of the current calendar have 30 or 31 days until a few years back when a friend taught me the little trick of keeping track of it by saying the months while counting your knuckles and the dips between your knucles in order to keep track. I remember my mom trying to teach me the little sing-songy ditty of "Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have thirty-one, ..." but then I totally forget how the whole February part goes and it inevitably loses it lyrical benefit for me. Anyway, Wiki shared with me that even the old Romans had a way of remembering their ides and nones and whatnot.

"In March, July, October, May
The IDES fall on the fifteenth day
The NONES the seventh; all besides
Have two days less for Nones and Ides."

Ok...not sure that the ancient Romans actually said this to remind themselves of how their days were ordered, but it sure has a lot more going for it than that other little ditty, doens't it?

So, September being a short month, we've already missed the ides of it. Bummer. But! To help alleviate your disappointment, allow me to share yet another twinkling tidbit of ancient Roman calendrical trivia for you. Seems the ancient Romans despised whole numbers, superstitiously dreading them, which is why they preferred their months to have uneven numbers of days. The month of February was given over to the infernal gods, though, so it was completely ok for it to have an even number. Besides, at that point, the twelve months added up to 355 days, an uneven number, so it was all good in the end.

Fascinating, no?
No?? Oh, what's that you're saying? You weren't looking for the Geek-of-the-Month party? So sorry. Try the room down the hall...the one where everyone isn't wearing a toga.

*[Edited: my old blog had a category called "random" it is basically the same as "odd bits," from which I imagine it is just as impossible to digress.]

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