Sunday, September 7, 2014

Apple #683: Days of the Week

I was thinking about doing a Daily Apple on Tuesday.  Wednesday is hump day, Thursday is now apparently throw-back Thursday, Friday is the end of the work week, but what about Tuesday?  No one pays any attention to Tuesday.  Except sometimes there are two-for-Tuesday things.

I wondered what Tuesday is named for.  I don't know if I was taught this way, or if this is something my brain came up with on its own, but I thought that the days of the week were named for Roman gods.  Saturday is named for Saturn, obviously.  The other ones I was less sure about. Thursday must be named for Thor -- not Roman, but still a mythological god.  Friday was maybe named for Friya.  But again, what about Tuesday?  Could there be some relationship to the word "two?"

Days of the week -- in bottlecaps
(Photo from BeansThings on Flickr)

Wrong. Some of my assumptions were actually correct, but for wrongity wrong reasons.  Saturday is in fact named for Saturn, but, oh, let me show you what I found out.

  • The days of the week are named for the planets in our solar system, including the sun & the moon. (The planets are named for gods, so there's some overlap here.)
  • This is more obvious in the Romance languages than it is in English. 
  • Let me show you with a table.  Blogger is terrible at handling tables, so I hope this turns out OK.

Day Celestial Body French Spanish Italian
Sunday Sun Dimanche Domingo Domenica
Monday Moon (Luna) Lundi Lunes Lunedì
Tuesday Mars Mardi Martes Martedì
Wednesday Mercury Mercredi Miércoles Mercoledì
Thursday Jupiter (Jove) Jeudi Jueves Giovedì
Friday Venus Vendredi Viernes Venerdì
Saturday Saturn Samedi Sábado Sabato

  • It's really easy to see where French, Spanish, and Italian used the names of the planets for their days of the week.  The only one that doesn't quite fit is Sunday.  In these languages, their word for Sunday means "Day of the Lord."
  • I suppose if the Earth's rotation had allowed for more days of the week, we'd also have days named after Uranus and Neptune and maybe even Pluto.
  • But hang on a minute.  The order of the planets in this list does not correspond with the order in which we usually think of them, in terms of their distance from the sun.

Nine planets (minus Pluto) and their position relative to the sun. This is not how our days of the week are ordered.
(Image from Nine Planets)

  • Here is what some people have proposed as the reason for this order.  Put the celestial bodies in our list in a circle, assuming Earth is at the center.  Order them according to their time of revolution around the earth, and you get this:

(Diagram from The Calendar FAQ)

  • OK, now start with the moon (Monday), and count one position clockwise around the circle for each hour of the day: Saturn 1, Jupiter 2, Mars 3, Sun 4, Venus 5, etc.  Stop when you hit 24 and your finger will be on Mars.  The next day of the week.  Do the same thing again, beginning with Mars, and the 24th position will be Mercury. And so on until you have the planets listed in the order we've seen above.
  • Pretty clever, eh?
  • So why don't our words for days of the week look like those French & Spanish words?   Why isn't our Tuesday more like Mars Day?
  • Answer: because of that whole Old English thing.

Celestial Body Old English Current English
Sun Sunne Sunday
Moon (luna) Mona Monday
Mars Tiu Tuesday
Mercury Wōden Wednesday
Jupiter (Jove) Þunor Thursday
Venus Frigg Friday
Saturn Saturnus Saturday

  • You can definitely see the similarities between Old English and our present-day English.
  • But it sure seems like a big leap from "Mars" to "Tiu," and from "Mercury" to "Wōden." And what's that weird letter Þ?
  • Tiu -- sometimes spelled Tiw, this was the name of the Old English/Germanic god of war.  Mars was the Roman god of war.  Tiu's name is a descendant of the old Norse name for their god of war, Tyr.  Just as people say the Roman god of war, Mars, and the Greek god Ares were the same thing (though they kind of weren't), so you could also say that Tiu and Mars were pretty much the same gods. Tiu is also known as the god of hand-to-hand combat, heroism, and justice.

This is Tiu, or Tiw.  He was kind of a bad-ass.  There was a seriously bad wolf, Fenrir (hello, Harry Potter fans) whom the gods were trying to tie up and subdue. The wolf said he would never give up unless one of the gods put their hand in his mouth. Tiu was the only god who had the guts to do so.  The dwarves made a magical ribbon and the gods used it to bind up the wolf, but not before he'd bitten off Tiu's hand. So Tiu is often depicted as being one-handed.
(Image from Saxons and Vikings in Britain)

  • Wōden -- this is another descendant of a Norse god, in this case, Odin.  Wōden was an Anglo-Saxon god who was the big cheese, in charge of all sorts of things. He created the earth and sky out of the body of a dead giant, he made the first man and woman, and he made the laws that govern the universe.  You'd think that would make him like Jupiter/Jove, but he was also the god of learning, poetry, and magic. So he got correlated with Mercury, who was the god of poetry, communication, speed, trickery, and the escort to Hades.  Tiu (or Tiw) was one of his children.

This is Odin, the Norse god whose Anglo-Saxon counterpart was Wōden. Odin was seriously cool. He's flanked by his two ravens, Thought and Memory, who flew off and came back to him with news of each day's events. It's hard to see it in this drawing, by he's often shown missing one eye because he agreed to lose one for the privilege of drinking from the fountain of wisdom.
(Image from U Colorado Mythology Course)

  • Þunor -- First of all, that weird letter Þ is called a "thorn." It's from the Old English alphabet and it's pronounced th. So you'd say this name Thunor.  Looks like thunder, doesn't it?  This is the Anglo-Saxon god whose counterpart in Norse mythology is Thor, who was the god of thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, and war. (I'm beginning to wonder, who wasn't a god of war?)  Þunor was another son of Wōden's. 

Þunor, or Thor, using his hammer to fight off the giants. In addition to all those other strong-man things, he was also the god of protection of humankind.
(Painting by Winge, 1872, from Wikipedia)
  • Frigg --  Frigg was the wife of Wōden. Sometimes her name is spelled Frigga. Some say she is not the same goddess as Freya; others say she is very similar and so might be the same.  She is the goddess of love, marriage, and motherhood.  She weaves the web of destiny, so she knows everyone's fate, but she does not reveal it. This may explain why Friday is such an exciting day of the week.

Frigg, goddess of love and marriage and motherhood, and also weaver but not revealer of destinies. She looks like she knows more than she's telling, doesn't she?
(Image from Norse Gods and Goddesses)

  • The rest of the days -- Sunday / sun; Monday / moon; Saturday / Saturn -- seem pretty obvious, so I won't go into them in detail. You get the picture.
  • You might be thinking, well, this is only Western cultures that have named their days of the week this way.  
  • It is true that in many other languages, the days of the week are simply numbered -- 1st day, 2nd day, 1st day off, 2nd day off.  
  • But take a look at the days of the week in Japanese:

Orthography Romanization Translation
Sunday  日曜日  nichiyōbi  Sun day
Monday 月曜日  getsuyōbi Moon day
Tuesday  火曜日  kayōbi Fire day
Wednesday 水曜日  suiyōbi Water day
Thursday  木曜日  mokuyōbi Wood day
Friday  金曜日  kin'yōbi  Gold day
Saturday 土曜日  doyōbi  Earth day

  • You might think at first that this is a completely different method for naming the days of the week -- at least, except Sunday & Monday.
  • But if we look at these names through the lens of the Chinese theory of the five elements (yes, I know Chinese and Japanese culture are two different things, but they did borrow things from each other quite often), you start to see something pretty familiar.  Remember, the Japanese terms are elements.
    • Fire -- the color red, south, summer, midday, and the planet Mars
    • Water -- the color black, north, winter, midnight, and the planet Mercury
    • Wood -- the color green, east, spring, dawn, and the planet Jupiter
    • Gold -- the color white, west, autumn, dusk, and the planet Venus
    • Earth -- the color yellow, the center, the end of each season, and the planet Saturn
  • Adding those definitions to our chart, we get this:

Orthography Romanization Translation Celestial Body
Sunday  日曜日  nichiyōbi  Sun day Sun
Monday 月曜日  getsuyōbi Moon day Moon
Tuesday  火曜日  kayōbi Fire day Mars
Wednesday 水曜日  suiyōbi Water day Mercury
Thursday  木曜日  mokuyōbi Wood day Jupiter
Friday  金曜日  kin'yōbi  Gold day Venus
Saturday 土曜日   doyōbi  Earth day Saturn

(with thanks to Bathrobe's Days of the Week)

  • Again, pretty cool, eh?
  • By the way,  the days of the week in Chinese (Mandarin), are essentially numbered, as in ritual-day one, ritual-day two, ritual-day three, etc.  
  • However, there is one old set of names in Mandarin for the days of the week that nobody uses anymore, and that set is based on the planets.  
  • The theory, very speculative, is that the planet-based names originated in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. That tradition was picked up on by the Greeks and Romans and spread through the Western world. It also traveled westward to cultures in Persia, the Middle East, and Central Asia, and eventually reaching China and Japan.

Oxford Dictionaries, Just Plutonic? Roman gods and their relationship to the days of the week
Bathrobe's Days of the Week, In the West, Japanese, Chinese
The Calendar FAQ, The Week
Lawrence A. Crowl, The Seven-Day Week and the Meanings of the Names of the Days
Calendars through the Ages, Our Seven-day Week
Infoplease, Woden
Behind the Name, Þunor and Thor
Encyclopedia Mythica, Frigg
Norse Mythology for Smart People, Frigg

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