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Bill Thayer

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Johannes Lydus:
The Months (de Mensibus)

This curious work, although written in Greek, is about the months of the Roman calendar. It is in four Books, Book IV accounting for two‑thirds of it, in which the individual months are treated each in their turn, in a free-associative style: biology, religion, occasional bits of astronomical and weather information, some of the Roman festivals (but by no means all, not even most of them nor the most important, and none of them treated in any comprehensive way), and a great deal of somewhat mystical philosophical speculation of various kinds. Although late — John the Lydian was a nominally Christian writer in sixth-century Byzantium — it's valuable as a window onto classical Antiquity, and was written as such, one of a number of projects of the time to preserve what by then had become an almost vanished world.

The transcription onsite is incomplete.

The Greek text was established in its present form over a hundred years ago, and only one very small section of it is onsite, almost in the nature of a test: the rest is readily available on GoogleBooks.

In English, however, the situation is altogether different. At the time this translation was started, there had never been an English translation of the de Mensibus. Now interest in our writer must be in the air, since in 2013 the Edwin Mellen Press published a four-volume The Works of Ioannes Lydus: new critical translations of the entire corpus of his writing (the de Ostentis, the de Mensibus, and the de Magistratibus) by Anastasius Bandy et al. That exhaustive scholarly resource, however, is of course not online; Andrew Eastbourne's translation — no less scholarly — presented here thru the generosity of Roger Pearse is thus the only one accessible to most of us. That said, if the sections onsite are in their final form, the translation as a whole remains a work in progress, and further sections will likely be added from time to time.

Technical details on the layout of this site follow the Table of Contents.

Greek Text

English Translation


IV.1‑19 p63



20‑26 83



27‑43 91



44‑51 114



52‑55 126



56‑62 136



63‑70 141



71‑120 149



121‑134 158



135‑143 161



144‑152 164



153‑162 169


Technical Details

Editions Used, Copyright

In this Web transcription, the Greek text is that of Wünsch's edition (Teubner, 1898), and the English translation is Andrew Eastbourne's, 2012–––.

The copyright on the Greek lapsed in 1986, Richard Wünsch having died in 1915; and the English translation has most generously been placed in the public domain by Roger Pearse, who commissioned it.


This transcription is being minutely proofread: in the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe them to be completely errorfree; any red backgrounds would mean that the chapter had not been proofread. The header bar at the top of each chapter page will remind you with the same color scheme.

As elsewhere onsite, emended text is differentiated by a variant color:

basic language of the page • emended

Latin • emended

Greek • emended.

The customary <angled brackets>, which I usually retain when I find them in a source, I have in this case omitted, as the emendations are so frequent in some portions of the text as to make it hard to read.

If you should spot something that looks like a mistake in either the Greek or the English, please drop me a line, of course.

Pagination and Local Links

The pagination is that of Wünsch's edition of the Greek text; for citation purposes, it is indicated by local links in the sourcecode and made apparent in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this linep57). Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

Local links are also provided for each section, and a few other links that were required to accommodate the cross-references or for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

[image ALT: A rosette design formed of intersecting circles, derived from the Latium Parapegma. It serves on this website as the icon for my transcription of the Eastbourne translation of the 'de Mensibus' of John Lydus.]

The appropriately mystical-looking device I use onsite to indicate this work is rather more appropriate because it isn't mystical at all. It's a simplified and colorized version of the following photograph:

[image ALT: zzz.]

The Latium Parapegma — the erudite name of this thing in the scholarly literature — is a peg calendar: every day you moved the peg over one hole, and if you didn't forget, you could tell what day it was: the day of the month in the elaborate rosette, and in the column of unnumbered holes along the left, the nundines (don't know what those are? see the article Nundinae in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities).

The column on the right is for the most part a list of placenames, in the locative case and the longer ones slightly abbreviated. Fabrateria, Aquinum, and Casinum are along the via Latina, very close together and in that order as you travel from Rome (towards the bottom of grid square Ll of this map of ancient Latium). There were several towns named Interamnia; the most likely, it seems to me, is the one least far from Rome, Interamnia Nahars (now Terni), then in Sabine country, now in Umbria, but might be considered to be at the northern border of the Latium; Minturnae, well to the south of Rome, might similarly be considered to be at the southern border of the Latium, and Capua, farther still, is in Campania outright, then as now. Finally Invico is not a place name, but seems to be in vico, "in the village". Now why one would move pegs among the places isn't clear to me, unless the market days of these eight places followed in exact succession; or maybe the purpose was to track the master of properties there as he moved around to inspect them: Columella, for example, advises the good master to visit his farms often (R. R. I.2), and Cato hints at it as well (R. R. 4).

What we see here is a reconstruction in the Museo della Civiltà Romana in Rome; the original slab of stone is in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, and has been copied by the museum in Rome in a darker shade. The larger, lighter-colored portion is the altogether modern reconstruction. For further details, see Roger Pearse's blog article.

Photo © Jona Lendering 2009, by kind permission.

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Site updated: 20 May 14