So I was loitering in Book
Again the other day, interfering with both the hordes of customers
taking advantage of our 50% Off Sale as well as with my mother
and her over-worked co-workers as they attempted to help said
customers take advantage of said sale. I was, among other things,
desperately searching for a topic for the new folklore column,
which was due, extremely due, inordinately and very nearly PAST
Diana at some point happened
to make a comment about how much she enjoyed said columns, especially
the ones that dealt with the origins of things.
You therefore have Diana to
thank for the followingafter all, what is more suitable
for a May / June column than the origin of the names May and
Truth be told, this was intended
to be a June-specific piece, but, as I soon learned, the two
months are inextricably intertwined. And there are two possible
origins for each name. From the best information currently available
to us, we suspect that both theories are in part true to some
extent, and that a sort of double meaning may actually have been
intended, as Origin One pays homage to political movers and shakers
of the day (always a useful thing when one is a Roman Emperor
trying to keep himself from ending up like Julius Caesar), whereas
Origin Two pays homage to the gods, which is always endearing
to the common folk.
Now, the months of September
through December were merely number derived from the start, back
when March was the first month of the yearhence September
means "the seventh month", October the eighth, etc.
Originally July and August
followed this pattern, as Quintilis (5th month) and Sextilis
(6th). However, after the death of the quickly lamented Julius
Caesar and subsequent triumphs of his chosen successor Augustus,
the two months were changed in honor of the two: July (for Julius)
and August (for Augustus).
Now, the Emperors typically
had absolute power, but Rome did have a legislature, and, as
there was already an unfortunate precedent of unpopular Emperors
finding themselves surprised at coming to rather unexpected and
sudden ends, this legislature had a certain amount of, shall
we say, pull...
The two bodies were Maioribus,
which meant the house of older men (the Major house), or "Maiores",
and the Junioribus, which meant the house of young men (the Junior
house), or "Juniores"much like the original conception
of the House of Lords vs Commons, or indeed our own Senate and
House of Representatives. In a time when months were being renamed
after recent emperors, it is a small step to imagine the inherent
logic in naming two after the respective houses of Roman Law:
so May for the "Maiores" and June for the "Juniores".
The other theory holds that
May was named for Maia, the Roman goddess of Spring, which would
be a very natural choice. It is then a very small step indeed
to see the logic in deciding that it would only be right and
prudent to name the next month after the Number One Roman goddess
(who might otherwise feel slighted). Her name was Juno.
Now, Juno was known to the
Vikings as Freya, from which we get "Freya's Day",
or Friday. She was married to Odin, known to the Germans as "Woden",
from which we get "Woden's Day", or Wednesday.
And fellow scholars and/or
comic book aficionados will recall that Odin and Freya had a
son: Thor, from which we get "Thor's Day" or Thursday.
This column is already longer
than it ought to be, but I must leave you with the following
bit of June wisdom, from an ancient English rhyme:
"Who comes with
Summer to this earth,
And owes to June her hour of birth
With ring of agate on her hand
Can health, wealth and long life command"
Happy Birthday, Mom and Mike!