[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
IV • October

This webpage reproduces part of
The Months (de Mensibus)

John Lydus

translated by Mischa Hooker for Roger Pearse, 2013

The translation has been placed in the public domain by Roger Pearse.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
IV • December

Johannes Lydus
de Mensibus


144  p164  Cincius, in his [work] On Festivals, says that among the ancients, November was called Mercedinus,1 that is, "Remunerative." For in it, the hired laborers would contribute the profits of the past cycle to the [land]-owners, as further returns were coming in in turn. It was called  p165 November later, from the number [nine] — for it is ninth from March.

145 An oracle from the Sibylline [Books] declared that the Romans would preserve their kingdom just so long as they took care of the city's statues. And this oracle was in fact fulfilled; for when Avitus, who was the last to reign over Rome, dared to melt down the statues, thereafter it was the kingdom of Italy.2

146 The Colchians, who are also called Lazoi, are the Alaïnoi.

147 Marius the Great, while making war upon the Cimbri and the Teutones, saw in a dream that he [would] overcome the enemy if he sacrificed his own daughter to the "Evil-Averting" [gods] — and, preferring his fellow-citizens to his natural instincts, he did this, and overcame the enemy.3

Erechtheus, the leader of Attica, also did this, persuaded not by a dream but by an oracle, and he defeated his foes.4

. . . the maiden . . . the kindness of the daimon . . . the hammer she went past every habitation and to those . . . she roused, according to Varro the Roman.5

It is said that something similar happened to the Lacedaemonians . . . according to Aristeides,6 who, in the fifth [?] [book] . . . says: When . . . this  p166 plague was oppressing Lacedaemon, with many perishing, the Pythian god gave an oracle that the disease would cease if every year, a youthful and noble maiden were sacrificed to the "Evil-Averting" gods. And as the lawless superstition was thus practiced every autumn, it happened at one time that the lot fell to Helen, and Tyndareus brought his daughter, adorned with garlands, to the altars. When he was beginning the lawless sacrifice, an eagle swooped down and snatched the king's sword, and released it near a certain white heifer. And his bodyguards, following after, and becoming eyewitnesses of what had happened, led the cow to Tyndareus. And he, marvelling at Providence, ceased from the murderous custom, and, sacrificing the heifer, brought relief from the suffering of the plague.7

148 On the fourth and third days before the Nones of November,8 in the temple of Isis, [is] the conclusion of the festivals. And there was also celebrated the one called Drepan . . . — at which festival, Metrodorus says the South wind blows. And it seemed good to the multitude to go unwashed until the end, as they say, in order to escape from disease.

On the eighth day before the Ides of November,9 honors for Demeter and Eilithyia were performed by the women. Eilithyia is the overseer of those who are giving birth, so that the one, as Plutarch says, may make two in similar fashion to itself.10 And they say that Artemis is also such,  p167 for those who are pregant, in their suffering. But according to the arithmetical account, Artemis is the one who produces the birth-process that moves toward completeness/evenness [eis to artion]11 and for this purpose hurries to come forth. Therefore, too, the myth is told that Apollo, when he was being born from Leto . . . when he had been displayed, she, serving the mother as midwife, showed [?] . . . to the same forth- . . . . . . . . . herself and Apollo . . . . . . . . .12

149 On the seventh day before the Ides of November13 . . . . . . . . . ten . . . . . . . . . is said to be placed underneath . . . . . . . . . according to the Egyptian Hermes, who in the so-called "Perfect Discourse" speaks as follows: "But the souls that have gone beyond the rule of piety, when they are freed from the body, are handed over to the daimons and move down through the air [as though] launched from a sling, down to the fiery and hail-filled zones, which the poets call Pyriphlegethon and Tartarus."14 Hermes, for his part, [is speaking] only about the purification of souls; but Iamblichus, in the first [book] of his work "On the Descent of the Soul," also mentions their restoration, allotting the area above the moon as far as the sun to Hades, with whom he says the souls that have been purified stand —  p168 and that it [i.e., the sun] is Pluto; and the moon is Persephone. That [is what] the philosophers [say.] But the sacred rites of the festival were performed with words of praise at the unquenchable fire of Hestia, concerning which Porphyry says the following: "By this sacrifice welcoming the visible heavenly gods, and bestowing undying honors on them through fire, they would also preserve undying fire in the temples for them, on the grounds that it was most exactly like them."15

Eudoxus says winter16 [begins] from this day.

150 On the following day,17 [there is] a memorial of Remus and Romulus.18 When Amulius, being tyrannically disposed toward Numitor, killed his son, and commanded that his daughter be a priestess. And when she gave birth, as they say, to Ares' [offspring], he [i.e., Amulius] ordered the infants to be thrown into the sea. But when his bodyguards exposed them on the banks of the Tiber, a she-wolf approached them and offered to them her teats. A shepherd, who had been watching this, took up the children and reared them as his own — and they founded Rome. The same [story can be found] also in Zopyrus of Byzantium . . .

151 Beginning from the fifteenth of November, and all through December, the Romans would be idle,  p169 being engaged only in festivities, because of the shortness of the days.

152 On the seventh day before the Kalends of December, Democritus says the sun enters Sagittarius.

It seemed good to the Romans to call beans faba, from the [term for the] West wind — when it begins to blow, this sort of plant naturally starts to sprout. And in their [language], the West wind is called Favonius.19 Hence also March [is called] Zephyrites,20 and similarly January [is called] Monias, from the monad,21 and October, Sementilius, from the seed22 — as antiquity has handed it down. For the year, as established by Numa, begins from January, while the [year established] by Romulus [began] from March. And the chronological beginning [established] by Numa is in harmony with the beginning [established] straightway by Romulus. For indeed, Romulus began to rule in the spring,23 but he carefully observed the month of Mars; and Numa, watching for the sun's being in the midst of Capricorn, seems to have been in agreement with Romulus — for Capricorn is the exaltation of Mars.24

The Translator's Notes:

1 Cf. Plutarch, Numa 18.2; Julius Caesar 59.4.

2 Avitus was emperor 455‑456. For the (melting and) selling the metal from bronze statues, and the consequent discontent with Avitus, cf. John of Antioch, Historia Chronikê, fr. 202.

3 Cf. Ps.‑Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 20 (310D5‑10).

4 Cf. Ps.‑Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 20 (310D1‑5).

5 Cf. Ps.‑Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 35 (314D). Here in particular, the full text of Ps.‑Plutarch will help to explain the references.

6 As Wuensch points out, Aristodemus, not Aristeides, is cited by Ps.‑Plutarch as the source for this story.

7 Cf. Ps.‑Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 35 (314C5‑11).

8 2 and 3 Nov. This would correspond with the Hilaria of Isis (celebrating the recovery of the parts of Osiris' body) on the 3rd of Nov., as mentioned on the Calendar of Philocalus.

9 6 Nov.

10 In this sentence, I am using the supplements suggested by Hase, printed in Wuensch's apparatus.

11 Cf. de Mensibus 2.7, discussing the second day of the week (Monday): "Hence, she is called Artemis, from the even [artios] and material number [i.e., the number 2]."

12 At the end of this section, the remnants are so scanty that little detailed sense can be made of the odd letter or word preserved. The story, however, appears to be that Artemis helped Leto bring forth Apollo (as in Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.4).

13 7 Nov.

14 Cf. de Mensibus 4.32. For the Hermetic text cited, cf. Asclepius 28 [Nock-Festugière, Corpus Hermeticum, 2:334, printing John Lydus' quotation as a parallel to the extant Latin translation]: "But if, on the other hand, [the highest daemon] sees [the soul] besmeared with the stains of misdeeds and befouled by vices, he casts it down from above to the depths and hands it over to the frequently quarreling squalls and twisters of air, fire, and water, so that, with eternal punishments, it may be buffeted and forever driven in different directions by the material currents." Lactantius, Divine Institutes 7.18.3, refers to the Asclepius as the "Perfect Discourse," just as John Lydus does here.

15 Porphyry, de Abstinentia 2.5 — the text of Porphyry, however, reads "we too preserve the undying fire . . ."

16 Alternatively, "stormy weather."

17 8 Nov.

18 T. P. Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth (1995), p136, suggests some connection here with the Ludi Plebeii.

19 John gives the Greek letter beta in the transliteration of both faba and Favonius.

20 From zephyros, the Greek word for the West wind.

21 I.e., the number one, as being the first month.

22 Lat. semen, as John pointed out in 4.135.

23 Alternatively, "set the beginning [i.e., of the year] in the spring." Interpretation is difficult because the Greek word archê can mean either "beginning" or "rule"; here, the beginning of the year has been the main issue, but if that is the only point again (i.e., the year began in March), the next part of the sentence follows illogically and redundantly. As translated above, John Lydus is presumably referring to the Spring date of Rome's foundation (21 April — see, e.g.Ovid, Fasti 4.807 ff.) and hence, the beginning of Romulus' reign.

24 Cf. de Mensibus 4.34.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 29 Aug 15