Happy Birthday Julius Caesar

Caesar

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC, making him 2118 today.  We know this because of the calendar he gave us.

A populist politician in the mould of the brothers Gracchus and his own Great Uncle Gaius Marius.  Caesar wanted to move power from the Senatorial class and absentee landlords and spread the wealth to the working classes of Rome, the Plebs and the Legionnaires.

In the process he set in motion the events that led to the collapse of the Republic and the creation of an Empire.  Caesar has given a lasting lesson to the democracies and republics of the world.  Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

Cassius speaks to Brutus

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
“Brutus” and “Caesar”—what should be in that “Caesar”?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
“Brutus” will start a spirit as soon as “Caesar.”
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When could they say, till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walks encompassed but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed, and room enough
When there is in it but only one man.
O, you and I have heard our fathers say
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.

Solstice Vs Shortest Day

Druids

Today, Dec 21st, is the shortest day of the year.  Many believe this makes it the Winter Solstice, but the one is not always the other.

The Solstice is when the Sun rises in its lowest position in the year.  This does not always fall on the Shortest Day.  In 2015 the Solstice occurs at dawn on the 22nd.  That is the morning you want to be in Newgrange or Stonehenge or one of the other great megalithic clocks.

It is funny to read about the 50 people who were disappointed at Newgrange when the clouds obscured the sunrise.  They won the annual lottery to attend the event on the 21st.  Did they realise they were there on the wrong day?

 

A Leaf From The Tree of Songs; by Adam Christianson

When harpers once in wooden hall
A shining chord would strike
Their songs like arrows pierced the soul
Of great and low alike

Aglow by hearth and candleflame
From burning branch ot ember
The mist of all their music sang
As if to ask in wonder

Is there a moment quite as keen
Or memory as bright
As light and fire and music sweet
To warm the winter’s night?

Calendar Wars II

Happy new year!

As most of the people of the world mark 9/11 with commemorations of the attacks on the world trade centre and the Pentagon there are different celebrations under way in the Coptic Christian world.

Egypt and Ethiopia have a unique calendar system which is a hangover from ancient Egyptian religions.  While most of Western Europe found that a four season calendar made sense of the agricultural year a different dynamic held sway along the Nile.

Calendars prosper by their usefulness.  The three season ancient Egyptian calendar was very useful to the farmers of the Nile valley.  The key driver of the agricultural season from Ethiopia to Alexandria was the highland rains which caused the Nile inundation.

The Julian calendar was introduced as the Roman standard by Emperor Augustus in 25 BC.  A modified version of the Julian Calendar was introduced in Egypt.  The first day of the New Year in the Ancient Egyptian calendar, the Feast of the Two Rivers, lands in our calendar on the 11th of September.

In 284 AD Diocletian became Emperor of Rome.   He immediately launched the most savage pogrom against Christians in History.  He tried very hard to wipe out the Christian religion.  His pogrom was especially harsh in Alexandria and the Egyptian World.  The Coptic Christian calendar takes 284 AD as its Year 1, Year of the Martyrs.  The Ethiopian church has followed the Coptic lead and also celebrates today as New Year.

Calendar Wars

islamic-calender

One of the greatest gifts to the world from organised religions is the Calendar.  Today we don’t think so much of the calendar as a religious instrument, but that is where it originated.

At some level religions are based on augury and prophesy.  Augury is the reading of signs.  Prophesy is the foretelling of events in the future.  If a religion could correctly interpret signs, and use these to foretell events, it was able to give an advantage to its followers.

In the early days of religion the priests struggled a lot with the concepts of augury in particular.  Were two eagles flying from the west a good or a bad thing?  Was it good at sunset and bad at sunrise?  The struggle to get a handle on Augury was complicated by the natural inclination of the human brain to impose patterns on random occurrences.

As a result you get silly reactions to natural disasters, such as the sacrifice of a virgin to appease the deity who is causing the earthquakes.

As time went by some religions began to use writing systems to document their augury.  They tracked the movements of planets and stars.  They observed the patterns in the weather.  They tracked the movements of animals.  They recorded the health of the liver of sacrificed goats.

Over long periods of time certain clear and strong auguries began to emerge.  Religions came to understand the timing of seasons.  This allowed them to plant crops at the right time.    They measured tidal flows and ocean currents.  They documented the solar and lunar years and the longer periods of time measured by the alignments of stars and planets and the precession of the universe.

Weather forecasting auguries also became better.   They came to understand the patterns of regular seasonal rains and floods, such as the Indian Monsoons and the Egyptian Nile inundation.  These events have a significant influence on agriculture and hunting.  The Egyptians developed a tool, the Nileometer, to assess the annual flood.  The data from the measurements was used to calculate harvest yields and associated taxes.  They also developed sophisticated mathematical systems to underpin their calculations, such as quadratic equations.  One theory is that the command of mathematics then enabled the Egyptians to develop their monumental architecture.

Earlier calendars broke the solar year down by lunar cycles.  A lunar cycle is 28 days.  Divided in 4 it gives us the seven day week.  But the lunar and solar years do not align perfectly.  This became a major challenge for religions.  Seasons kept shifting out of alignment as time went by.

The Jewish religious calendar is a good example of this system.  It evolved from an earlier Babylonian model and was improved upon over time.

The poster boy of the calendar world is Julius Caesar.  As Pontifex Maximus (High priest) of Rome he was head of the College of Pontiffs and had authority over the other three religious Colleges; the Augurs, the Quindecimviri (who carried out rites) and the Epulones (who organised feasts and festivals).

During the Civil War the religious observances in Rome were allowed to slip.  The annual calculation of the “intercalends” was not carried out.  This was an additional month inserted periodically to bring the Lunar cycle into alignment with the Solar year.

Better calendars were already in use in Persia (Zoroastrian) and Egypt, and it is likely that Caesar experienced the Egyptian calendar personally and was able to assess it.  He introduced his new calendar in the year 46BC and had to make the year 446 days long to align correctly.

The Julian calendar was 365.25 days long, and lost only 3 days every 400 years.  This was a vast improvement over all existing calendars of the day.  It quickly became the established calendar of the Roman Empire and persists in use today in Ethiopia and amongst the Berber of North Africa.

With such an accurate calendar available one would have to question why, on this day in the year 622 CE the Muslims accepted a calendar of 354 days per year.  When Allah was talking to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) could he not have suggested that Islam adopt the more accurate model that was available at the time?

Ultimately it fell to Pope Gregory in 1582 to make a minor adjustment to the Julian calendar.  The primary motivation was to align the date of Easter correctly to Catholic dogma.  In the process the year was corrected to 365.2425 days.  Instead of losing 1 day in 128 years (Julian) the Gregorian calendar loses only 1 day in 3,226 years.

In order to remember how many days are in each month children are taught a poem or rhyme as a mnemonic device.  This is the one I learned.  Is yours any different?

The Calendar Poem

Thirty days has September,

April, June and November,

all the rest have thirty one,

except February alone,

which has four and twenty four

and each leap year gives it one day more.

At world’s end!

So, the Mayan Calendar has counted down to the end of the world, and time is no more.  I sit today outside of that time, beyond the life envisaged by the Mayan civilization.  And what thoughts occur, now I have outlived their ken?

Prospero:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

Yes, before us others have seen that life is but an illusion.  Indeed our very presence in this universe is signified neatly by Beckett in his play “A Breath”, as filmed by Damien Hirst below using hospital waste, look out for the swastika, symbol of both life and death;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1ZON66BbB0

Life is short, the revels soon are ended.  So what are you going to do with the rest of yours?  What difference do you plan to make?  Figure it out, and get busy tryin’ or get busy dyin’.

 

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.