“One Robin does not a Spring make” –old addage, together with …”and one sparrow does not a Summer make”
Last year about this time I slipped into a pattern of writing on themes related – more or less – to the coronavirus pandemic. You can refresh your memory here, here, here, and here. Usually, it was as a means to address other topics, or a tangential reach from some other theme, as per my customary rambling style.
[Can’t believe it’s been a year since that excrement hit the modern electrical convenience. Like a major flood, we’ll be cleaning up for a long time.]
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes” (attributed to Mark Twain). Well, here we go again. This year I seem to have slipped into a similar pattern of essays related to the months of the year, as seen here and here.
It’s early March. Last weekend the temperatures in my hometown along the Colorado Front Range hit 66 on Saturday and 71 on Sunday. Took advantage with a long bike ride and long walk. That does not mean Spring has sprung? Oh, no, no, no. This is Colorado. One robin and all that. The white stuff will return, with chilly winds soon enough. March and April: I’ve learned to address these as “the big tease.” This weather cycle spins and teases – taunting us – often until Mother’s Day. Sometimes beyond.
March, like January and much of our Western culture, has its etymological roots in pre-Christian pagan culture, notwithstanding March’s enduring connection to St Patrick.
Before getting onto March, and its sibling eponym Tuesday, I’ll back up. What is “pagan” and paganism? Well, it’s not unlike a weed. What is a weed? A simple working definition is: a weed is any plant you don’t want. Similarly, paganism is any religion you don’t understand or practice.
Well, that’s a bit oversimplified, but it works well enough.
Once Christianity became the universal (i.e. catholic) religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE, after the ascendency of Constantine, many rural parts of the empire clung to and languished in polytheistic and ancient religious practices. The word “pagan” has roots in old Latin meaning “rural”. And as Christians became more dominant, they used this word (pagan) as a pejorative to describe those whose religious practice did not “fit in.” In modern jargon, they were effectively calling them “rednecks.” Generally, “pagan” has evolved and is now a word used to describe followers of non-standard (i.e. non-western-style) religions, as well as pre-Judeo-Christian theologies and practices. Often, they are either poly-theistic and/or animalistic practices.
Back to March, ancient “pagans”, and pre-Christian Rome. As mentioned earlier, March was originally considered the first month of the year (we see this obviously in the extant names of September through December). Romans named this month after their god of war: Martius. Why? Well, no one went to wage war in the winter; that would be crazy: the weather was terrible, and all the paths, fields and roads were muddy, or snow covered. March brought spring, followed by summer: the seasons of martial campaigning. Think about that: a whole month given to thinking about, preparing for, planning, and beginning to wage war! How pagan!
March’s weekday “twin” is Tuesday. We can see the similarity in Latin’s descendant languages for this day: Spanish (Martes), Italian (Martedì), French (Mardi), and Romanian (Marţi). Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago many celebrated Mardi Gras? Fat Tuesday? The day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent?
But how did we English speakers get “Tuesday”? Not all English words have a Latin or Greek ancestral root. The very word “English” is named for the Germanic/Teutonic tribe called Angles. The Angles’ regional god of war was named Týr which somehow, over a few centuries after migration, became Tiu.
I have no idea why the English or long-ago Teutons copied the Romance cultures and named “Tiu’s Day” after an ancient pagan god of war. Maybe they coincidentally decided to name the 2nd day of the week just as they did the month such right before the weather gets nice. Although, as a side thought, it gets pleasant much later in those more northern regions than it does in Italy.
Perhaps a renaming is in order. Sunday surely comes directly from the Germanic/Dutch (Sonntag, Zondag); but, do we worship the sun? Or the moon for that matter (Monday)? Sunday has been literally renamed the Lord’s Day in some other western tongues (Spanish: Domingo, Italian: Domenica, Portuguese: Domingo, Romanian: Duminică). I have no idea why the Frenchies call it Dimanche. Anyone? Bueller?
Perhaps in this time of wokeness and canceling, it’s best to just let sleeping dogs lie. If we were to consider re-naming March, Tuesday and Sunday – whatever could we all possibly agree upon? And what would we cancel next?
May the beauty and promise of spring be upon all of you soon. Have a happy and safe St Patrick’s Day and St Joseph’s Day.
Joe Girard © 2021
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 Eponym is sort of the inverse of a namesake. If St Joseph were my namesake (likely guess), then I am his eponym. March and Tuesday have the same namesake, thus they are eponyms of the same thing: the god of war.