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Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

Time and its natural measurers,   pp. 1-14 ff. PDF (9.3 MB)

Page 5

Fixing our attention for the present upon the
solar day, or day of mean time, let us remark in
the first place that, amongst the nations of anti-
quity, there were no divisions of the day beyond
what were indicated by sun-rise and sun-set.
Even among the Romans for many ages, the only
point in the earth's daily revolution of which
any public notice was taken was mid-day, which
they used to announce by the sound of trumpet,
whenever the sun was observed shining straight
along between the Forum and a place called
Gricostasis. To divide the day into a certain
number of parts was, as has been remarked, an
arbitrary arrangement, which only could be
adopted when means had been invented of
mechanically measuring time. We accordingly
find no allusion to hours in the course of the
Scriptural histories till we come to the Book of
Daniel, who lived 552 years before Christ. 'Then
Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was aston-
ished for one hour, and his thoughts troubled
him.' The Jews and the Romans alike, on intro-
ducing a division of the day into twenty-four
hours, assigned equal numbers to day and night,
without regard to the varying length of these
portions of the solar day; consequently, an hour
was with them a varying quantity of time, accord-
ing to the seasons and the latitude. Afterwards,
the plan of an equal division was adopted, as was
also that of dividing an hour into 60 minutes,
and a minute into 60 seconds.
Before the hour division was adopted, men
could only speak of such vague natural divisions
as morning and evening, forenoon and afternoon,
or make a reference to their meal-times. And
these indications of time have still a certain hold
upon us, partly because they are so natural and
obvious, and partly through the effect of tradi-
tion. All before dinner is, with us, still morn-
ing-notwithstanding that the meal has nominally
been postponed to an evening hour. The Scotch,
long ago, had some terms of an original and
poetical nature for certain periods of the day.
Besides the dawin' for the dawn, they spoke of
the skreigh o' day, q. d., the cry of the coming
day. Their term for the dusk, the gloaming, has
been much admired, and is making its way into
use in England.
Intimately connected with the day is the WEEK,
a division of time which, whatever trace of a
natural origin some may find in it, is certainly
in a great measure arbitrary, since it does not
consist in all countries of the same number of
days. The week of Christian Europe, and of
the Christian world generally, is, as is well
known, a period of seven days, derived from the
Jews, whose sacred scriptures represent it as a
commemoration of the world having been created
by God in six days, with one more on which
he rested from his work, and which he therefore
sanctified as a day of rest.
Of weeks there are 52, and one day over, in
ordinary years, or two days over in leap-years;
and hence the recurrence of a particular day of
the month never falls in an immediately succeed-
ing year on the same day of the week, but on
one a day in advance in the one case, and two
in the other. Every twenty-eight years, however,
the days of the month and the days of the week
once more coincide.
The week, with its terminal day among the
Jews, and its initial day among the Christians,
observed as a day of rest and of devotion, is to
be regarded as in the main a religious institution.
Considering, however, that the days have only
various names within the range of one week,
and that by this period many of the ordinary
operations of life are determined and arranged,
it must be deemed, independently of its connec-
tion with religion, a time-division of the highest
While the Romans have directly given us the
names of the months, we have immediately derived
those of the days of the week from the Saxons.
Both among the Romans, however, and the
Saxons, the several days were dedicated to the
chief national deities, and in the characters of
these several sets of national deities there is, in
nearly every instance, an obvious analogy and
correspondence; so that the Roman names of the
days have undergone little more than a transla-
tion in the Saxon and consequently English
names. Thus, the first day of the week is Sunnan-
daeg with the Saxons; Dies Solis with the Ro-
mans. Monday is Monan-daeg with the Saxons;
Dies Lun with the Romans. Tuesday is, among
the Saxons, Tues-daeg-that is, Tuesco's Day-
from Tuesco, a mythic person, supposed to have
been the first warlike leader of the Teutonic
nations: among the Romans it was Dies Martis,
the day of Mars, their god of war. The fourth
day of the week was, among the Saxons, Woden's-
daeg, the day of Woden, or Oden, another
mythical being of high warlike reputation among
the northern nations, and the nearest in character
to the Roman god of war. Amongst the Romans,
however, this day was Dies Mercurii, Mercury's
Day. The fifth day of the week, Thors-daeg of
the Saxons, was dedicated to their god Thor,
who, in his supremacy over other gods, and his
attribute of the Thunderer, corresponds very
exactly with Jupiter, whose day this was (Dies
Jovis) among the Romans. Friday, dedicated to
Venus among the Romans (Dies Veneris), was
named by the Saxons, in honour of their corre-
sponding deity (Friga), Frigedaeg. The last day
of the week took its Roman name of Dies Saturni,
and its Saxon appellative of Seater-daeg, respect-
ively from deities who approach each other in
It may be remarked, that the modern German
names of the days of the week correspond toler-
ably well with the ancient Saxon: Sonntag, Sun-
day; Montag, Monday; Dienstag, Tuesday;
Mittwoche, mid-week day [this does not corre-
spond, but Godenstag, which is less used, is
Woden's day]; Donnerstaq, Thursday [this term,
meaning the Thunderer's day, obviously corre-
sponds with Thors-daeg]; Freitag, Friday; Sam-
stag or Sonnabend, Saturday [the latter term
means eve of Sunday]. The French names of
the days of the week, on the other hand, as befits
a language so largely framed on a Latin basis,
are like those of ancient Rome: Dimanche [the
Lord's Day], Lundi, Mardi, Mercr~di, Jeudi,
Vendredi, Samedi.
With reference to the transference of honour

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