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p408 Dies

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on pp408‑410 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

DIES (of the same root as διός and deus, Buttmann, Mythol. II. p74) The name dies was applied, like our word day, to the time during which, according to the notions of the ancients, the sun performed his course round the earth, and this time they called the civil day (dies civilis, in Greek νυχθήμερον, because it included both night and day. See Censorin. De Die Nat. 23; Plin. H. N. II. 77, 79; Varro, De Re Rust. I.28; Macrob. Sat. I.3). The natural day (dies naturalis), or the time from the rising to the setting of the sun, was likewise designated by the name dies. The civil day began with the Greeks at the setting of the sun, and with the Romans at midnight; with the Babylonians at the rising of the sun, and with the Umbrians at midday (Macrob. l.c.; Gellius, III.2). We have here only to consider the natural day, and as its subdivisions were different at different times, and not always the same among the Greeks as among the Romans, we shall endeavour to give a brief account of the various parts into which it was divided by the Greeks at the different periods of their history, and then proceed to consider its divisions among the Romans, to which will be subjoined a short list of remarkable days.

At the time of the Homeric poems, the natural day was divided into three parts (Il. XXI.111). The first, called ὴώς, began with sunrise, and comprehended the whole space of time during which light seemed to be increasing, i.e. till midday (Il. VIII.66, IX.84, Od. IX.56). Some ancient grammarians have supposed that in some instances Homer used the word ὴώς for the whole day, but Nitzsch (Anmerkungen zur Odyssee, I.125) has shown the incorrectness of this opinion. The second part was called μέσον ἦμαρ or midday, during which the sun was thought to stand still (Hermias, ad Plat. Phaedr. p342). The third part bore the name of δείλη or δείελον ἦμαρ (Od. XVII.606; compare Buttmann's Lexilog. II. n95), which derived its name from the increased warmth of the atmosphere. The last part of the δείλη was sometimes designated by the words ποτὶ ἓσπεραν or βουλυτός (Od. XVII.191, Il. XVI.779). Besides these three great divisions no others seem to have been known at the time when the Homeric poems were composed. The chief information respecting the divisions of the day made by the Athenians, is to be derived from Pollux (Onom. I.68). The first and last of the divisions made at the time of Homer were afterwards subdivided into two parts. The earlier part of the morning was termed πρωῒ or πρὼ τῆς ἡμέρας: the later, πληθούσης τῆς ἀγορᾶς, or περὶ πλήθουσας ἀγορὰν (Herod. IV.181; Xen. Memorab. I.1 §10, Hellen. I.1 §30; Dion Chrysost. Orat. LXVII). The μέσον ἦμαρ of Homer was afterwards expressed by μεσημβρία, μέσον ἡμέρας, or μέση ἡμέρα, and comprehended, as before, the middle of the day, when the sun seemed neither to rise nor to decline. The two parts of the afternoon were called δείλη πρωϊη or πρωϊα, and δείλη ὀψίη or ὀψία (Herod. VII.167, VIII.6; Thucydid. III.74, VIII.26; compare Libanius, Epist. 1084). This division continued to be observed down to the latest period of Grecian history, though another more accurate division, and more adapted to the purposes of common life, was introduced at an early period; for Anaximander, or according to others, his disciple Anaximenes, is said to have made the Greeks acquainted with the use of the Babylonian chronometer or sun-dial (called πόλος or ὡρολόγιον, p409sometimes with the epithet σκιοθηρικόν or ἡλιαμάνδρον) by means of which the natural day was divided into twelve equal spaces of time (Herod. II.109; Diog. Laërt. II.1.3; Plin. H. N. II.6.78;º Suidas, s.v. Ἀναξίμανδρος.) These spaces were, of course, longer or shorter according to the various seasons of the year. The name hours (ὧραι),a however, did not come into general use till a very late period, and the difference between natural and equinoctial hours was first observed by the Alexandrine astronomers.

During the early ages of the history of Rome, when artificial means of dividing time were yet unknown, the natural phenomena of increasing light and darkness formed with the Romans, as with the Greeks, the standard of division, as we see from the vague expressions in Censorinus (De Die Nat. 24). Pliny states (H. N. VII.60) that in the Twelve Tables only the rising and the setting of the sun were mentioned as the two parts into which the day was then divided, but from Censorinus (l.c.) and Gellius (XVII.2) we learn that midday (meridies) was also mentioned. Varro (De Ling. Lat. VI.4, 5, ed. Müller; and Isidor. Orig. V.30 and 31) likewise distinguished three parts of the day, viz., mane, meridies, and suprema, scil. tempestas, after which no assembly could be held in the forum. The lex Plaetoria prescribed that a herald should proclaim the suprema in the comitium, that the people might know that their meeting was to be adjourned. But the division of the day most generally observed by the Romans, was that into tempus antemeridianum and pomeridianum, the meridies itself being only considered as a point at which the one ended and the other commenced. But as it was of importance that this moment should be known, an especial officer [Accensus] was appointed, who proclaimed the time of midday, when from the curia he saw the sun standing between the rostra and the graecostasis. The division of the day into twelve equal spaces, which, here as in Greece, were shorter in winter than in summer, was adopted at the time when artificial means of measuring time were introduced among the Romans from Greece. This was about the year B.C. 291, when L. Papirius Cursor, before the war with Pyrrhus, brought to Rome an instrument called solarium horologium, or simply solarium (Plaut. ap. Gellium, III.3 §5; Plin. H. N. VII.60). But as the solarium had been made for a different latitude, it showed the time at Rome very incorrectly (Plin. l.c.) Scipio Nasica, therefore, erected in B.C. 159 a public clepsydra, which indicated the hours of the night as well as of the day (Censorin. c. 23). Before the erection of a clepsydra it was customary for one of the subordinate officers of the praetor to proclaim the third, sixth, and ninth hours; which shows that the day was, like the night, divided into four parts, each consisting of three hours. See Dissen's treatise, De Partibus Noctis et Diei ex Divisionibus Veterum, in his Kleine Lateinische und Deutsche Schriften, pp130, 150. Compare the article Horologium.

All the days of the year were, according to different points of view, divided by the Romans into different classes. For the purpose of the administration of justice, and holding assemblies of the people, all the days were divided into dies fasti and dies nefasti.

Dies fasti were the days on which the praetor was allowed to administer justice in the public courts; they derived their name from fari (fari tria verba; do, dico, addico, Ovid. Fast. I.45, &c.; Varro, De Ling. Lat. VI.29, 30, ed. Müller; Macrob. Sat. I.16). On some of the dies fasti comitia could be held, but not on all (Cicero, pro Sext. 15, with the note of Manutius). Dies might be fasti in three different ways:

  1. dies fasti proprie et toti or simply dies fasti, were days on which the praetor used to hold his courts, and could do so at all hours. They were marked in the Roman calendar by the letter F, and their number in the course of the year was 38 (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, III. p314);

  2. dies proprie sed non toti fasti, or dies intercisi, days on which the praetor might hold his courts, but not at all hours, so that sometimes one half of such a day was fastus, while the other half was nefastus. Their number was 65 in the year, and they were marked in the calendar by the signs

    Fp = fastus primo
    Np = nefastus primo
    En = endotercisus
    Q. Rex C. F = quando Rex comitio fugit
    , or quando Rex comitiavit fas
    Q. St. Df = quando stercus defertur
  3. dies non proprie sed casu fasti, or days which were not fasti properly speaking, but became fasti accidentally; a dies comitialis, for instance, might become fastus, if either during its whole course, or during a part of it, no comitia were held, so that it accordingly became either a dies fastus totus, or fastus ex parte (Macrob. Sat. I.16; Varro, De Ling. Lat. l.c.)

Dies nefasti were days on which neither courts of justice nor comitia were allowed to be held, and which were dedicated to other purposes (Varro, l.c.). According to the ancient legends they were said to have been fixed by Numa Pompilius (Liv. I.19). From the remarks made above it will be understood that one part of a day might be fastus while another was nefastus (Ovid. Fast. I.50). The nundinae, which had originally been dies fasti for the plebeians, had been made nefasti at the time when the twelvemonths-year was introduced; but in B.C. 286 they were again made fasti by a law of Q. Hortensius (Macrob. Sat. I.16). The term dies nefasti, which originally had nothing to do with religion, but simply indicated days on which no courts were to be held, was in subsequent times applied to religious days in general, as dies nefasti were mostly dedicated to the worship of the gods (Gellius, IV.9, V.17).

In a religious point of view all days of the year were either dies fasti, or dies profesti, or dies intercisi. According to the definition given by Macrobius, dies festi were dedicated to the gods, and spent with sacrifices, repasts, games, and other solemnities; dies profesti belonged to men for the administration of their private and public affairs. They were either dies fasti, or comitiales, or comperendini, or stati, or proeliales. Dies intercisi were common between gods and men, that is, partly devoted to the worship of the gods, partly to the transaction of ordinary business.

We have lastly to add a few remarks on some of the subdivisions of the dies profesti, which are likewise defined by Macrobius. Dies comitiales were days on which comitia were held; their number was 184 in a year. Dies comperendini were days to which any action was allowed to be transferred (quibus vadimonium licet dicere, Gaius IV § 15). Dies stati were days set apart for causes between Roman citizens and foreigners (qui judicii p410causa cum peregrinis instituuntur). Dies proeliales were all days on which religion did not forbid to commence a war; a list of days and festivals on which it was contrary to religion to commence a war is given by Macrobius. See also Festus, s.v. Compare Manutius, De Veterum Dierum Ratione, and the article Calendarium.


Thayer's Note:

a hours: for which, see the article Hora.


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