October is a
misnomer. So are September, November and December, for that matter. For
many of us, the problem is clearest in October because of related words we
use. If you've met an octopus and counted the tentacles or if you've
stopped lately to count the sides of one of those red signs shaped like an
octagon, you have the same answer in both cases. However, if you number
the months from January to October, you get a different result.
disagreement isn't really a mathematical problem; it isn't that the early
Romans didn't know how to count. (I assume they were more adept with Roman
numerals than most of us are today.) Their seventh through 10th months
were named very appropriately for the Latin words for seven through 10: septem,
octo, novem and decem. They did have a history of rearranging
the calendar, however, and with good reason. It kept getting out of step
with the seasons, and politically motivated adjustments didn't help any.
At first the
Romans had only 10 months and, according to one source, "seem to have
ignored the remaining 60 days, which fell in the middle of winter."
(This still sounds like an appealing idea to me, especially for severe
winters. If everything has to be canceled anyway, it makes sense to omit
it in the first place.) Every couple of years they added a short month to
try to catch up.
Then a ruler
tacked on two months at the end of the year, following September, October,
November and December. The idea of the extra months, with names similar to
our January and February, was to collect more taxes. Public officials also
kept their jobs longer.
incumbents or candidates would copy a page or two from those times, we
could postpone the upcoming elections, lengthen the campaign, pile up more
political contributions and advertising dollars, and maybe even extend the
time for harvest, except that the actual seasons would intervene.
the early Roman calendar was eventually about three months ahead of the
seasons, and something needed to be done. An astronomer who investigated
the situation for Julius Caesar suggested a way to straighten out the
discrepancy. As a result, they had a "year of confusion" with
445 days. In addition, the beginning of the year, which had been March,
was moved back to January.
fifth through 10th months, with number-related names, assumed a new
position as months seven through 12. The seventh and eighth months were
renamed for the emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus. There were attempts
in the Roman Senate to change the name of October as well.
was Antoninus, for another Roman emperor. Of course, that could have
caused more calendar problems, if there were eventually more than 12
emperors deemed worthy of such honor. An alternative possibility for
October was Faustinus, after Antoninus' wife. The name of the historian
Tacitus was still another choice. As it turned out, neither women,
historians nor mathematicians had their day (or month). Popular opinion
took over, and the former eighth month kept the same name after becoming
the 10th month.
That's why I
saw October when I changed the calendars. Turning the page on the kitchen
calendar covered up a picture of sand dunes that looked much like the
growing pile of grain beside the road at Burton View. The new picture is a
landscape with fall colors. The change reminded me of cycles of growth and
the time for a small chore.
amaryllis bulbs spend their growing season with my mother and their
dormant period with me. This year, Oct. 1 was the designated date to cut
off their remaining leaves and put the bulbs into storage.
Good night, bulbs. Sleep well.
It's October and time to rest. We'll wake you up again in the month that
says it's the 10th but really isn't.