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IV • May

This webpage reproduces part of
The Months (de Mensibus)

John Lydus

translated by Mischa Hooker for Roger Pearse, 2014

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!


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IV • July

Johannes Lydus
de Mensibus

 p136  June

88 So then, the fifth month having been arranged in this way by King Numa, it only remained then for the sixth to be set apart in honor of the youth — for they call the younger people iuniores. It is fitting, you see, as Plato says, for the state to be administered by the counsel of the old men and by the courage of the younger men.​1 And it is not without reason, clearly, that he allotted the number six to this.​2 For this [number] is life-generating, being constituted out of itself, from the monad in sequence up to the triad,​3 and being self-sufficient. And for this reason Pythagoras dedicated this [number] to the first of the Fates.

89 On the Kalends of June​4 [there is] a festival of Hera and prayers on  p137 the Capitol.​5 All the Romans together take a taste of cold water at dawn, to ward off all manner of sickness, and especially gout — as the oracle desired — and so that there be no twin or monstrous births. This sort of custom was introduced under Hadrian, when there had been sent to him an Egyptian woman who related that on four days at irregular intervals she had given birth to four [children], then a fifth after 40 days,​6 in accordance with Aristotle who says that [once] 20 offspring were conceived, in four pregnancies.​7 And Heraclides​8 says that this happens whenever ejaculation hits the mark in the opening twice or three times, from self-control,​9 or even when the womb has been opened after the prior formation [of an embryo], as many times as the offspring is numbered.10

June is unsuitable for weddings, as the books of the Roman priests say. The account is true, and there is every necessity that a marriage occurring at this time loses [the] younger [one] — and I have experienced this outcome myself, having lost my dearest wife most suddenly.​11 And for three days, it was not permitted for women to have their hair or their nails cut.

 p138  90 The [word] Sancus signifies "sky" in the Sabine language.12

91 Not for no reason do the Hebrews abstain from the hare and the "Libyan sparrow" [i.e., the ostrich] and the "thick-knee" [bird].​13 For — amazingly — the male hare is able by nature to give birth; and the Libyan sparrow is neither a sparrow nor a quadruped — nor even a complete bird; and no one who eats a "thick-knee" does not regret [it].

92 For "oily" [liparos] [some say] "fatty" [larinos], from which [term] also [comes] lardos ["pork-fat"]. But different people [explain this] differently/[make] different [assertions].14

93 They say that the Fates, Lachesis and Clotho and Atropos, are the daughters of Necessity, and that Lachesis administers the past, Clotho the present, and Atropos the future.

94 On the fifth day before the Ides of June,​15 [there was] a festival of Hestia. On this day the bread-makers would keep festival, on account of the fact that the ancient [bread-makers] prepared bread in the shrines of Hestia. Garlanded donkeys were at the head of the procession, because the grain is ground by them.

The natural [philosophers] assert that Hestia is the earth, [so called] from its standing [hestanai]; but the theologians assert that she is so‑called "being-ness."​16 As witness, Socrates in the Cratylus says that Hestia is "primal-source-being" [pêgaia ousia], being situated in the Father.​17 But Porphyry claims that after the intelligible Hestia — that is, "being-ness" — [there is] also the overseer of the earth (and they call it chthôn):  p139 a Hestia with the same name as the former. He speaks as follows: "And on the one hand, the ruling principle of the divine potentiality has been called Hestia — whose maidenly image is placed at the hearth [hestia]; and in as much as the potentiality is generative, they signify it by the form of a large-breasted woman."​18 But the hierophants of the Romans claim that she is nothing other than the earth.19

95 Before the great flood, they say, Sicily was not an island as [it is] today, but was a promontory attached to [what was] later [called] Italy. From the surge of the deluge's currents, however, the island was jarred and moved away from its foundations; and for this reason, the part of Italy from which it broke off was named Rhegium, from the "breaking."​20 And formerly, Sicily was called Sicania. Italy contained these nine provinces: Campania, Apulia, Thuscia [i.e., Tuscany], Calabria, Umbria, Dalmatia, Lucania, Brettia [i.e., Bruttium], and Sicily.

96 . . . to Prusias king of Bithynia.

97 Among the Pythagoreans, the dyad (since it provides a sort of position and "ladder" for number) is called eleusinê,​21 in that it supplies the forward movement [proeleusis] toward the more numerous and unbounded.

98 Eudemus​22 says that at Peltae in Phrygia there was once a four-faced stone, which, when there was no wind, the farmers would lift with round wooden [poles/logs] placed underneath it — and they would produce winds. And the more the stone was raised up,​23 the more powerfully they roused the winds.  p140 And then again, they would place the stone on the ground, and there would be calm.

99 The poets call minds with understanding "black" — that is, deep; for blackness goes along with depth. For this same reason Pindar calls minds without understanding "white."24


Alas for mortals! How uneven are their fortunes!

For some do well, but for others harsh

disasters come along from god for the pious.

The Romans call fortune [tychê] Fortuna on the basis of its moving [phora] . . . inspired assistance.​26 Aristotle: . . . For nothing in fortune's power is safe or decided, as Euripides says. Inferior are those who strive for wealth beyond moderation, says the orator. Plato says that no one comes to possess the greatest wealth without having previously suffered damage to his soul.

 p141  101 The oracle says:27

Double are the daemons in man — and double are their

tribes: they wander over the ever-flourishing earth

to stand with human beings, by Zeus' rule.​28

Zeus indeed is the giver of all things, both good and bad —

he defines too the time of life for those being born,

mingling mortal bodies with [things] both foul and fair.​29

Those daemons — whoever should associate with [them] by his wisdom,

and achieve an understanding of what deeds they take delight in —

he would surpass everyone in intelligence and noble deeds,

winning noble gifts from a noble [giver] and fleeing from the foul.

The Translator's Notes:

1 Wuensch cites ("cf.") Republic 412C — but this passage simply indicates that the old should rule over the young. The thought regarding the characters of old and young is proverbial; note, e.g., Pindar fr. 199 (tr. W. H. Race, LCL) on Sparta: ". . . there the counsels of elders and the young men's spears prevail . . ."; cf. Hesiod, fr. 321: "Deeds belong to the young, counsels to the middle-aged, and prayers to the old." Aristotle, Rhetoric 1390B; Bion fr. 64 (Diogenes Laertius 4.50).

2 It is not clear what the reference of "this" (fem. sg.) is. Simply supplying "month" is impossible because it would be masculine. The most recent fem. sg. noun is "courage"; presumably, then, the idea is that the number six symbolizes the courage of the youth (or simply the youth itself, also a fem. abstract noun in Gk. here) — and the month was dedicated to the youth.

3 I.e., 6 = 1 + 2 + 3.

4 1 June.

5 This would be the celebration of Juno Moneta.

Thayer's Note: The citations of Ovid, Macrobius, etc. are given in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, s.v. Iuno Moneta.

6 The story is also found in some legal texts (Digest 5.4.3 and 34.5.7).

7 Aristotle, Historia Animalium 7.4 [584b31].

8 Maas, John Lydus and the Roman Past, p128, understands this as a reference to Heraclides Ponticus, but Wehrli's edition (Die Schule des Aristoteles, vol. 7: Herakleides Pontikos) does not include it. The explanation cited shares some common features, however, with Democritus' views; cf. [Hippocrates], On the Nature of the Child 31 and the commentary in I. M. Lonie, The Hippocratic Treatises "On Generation" "On the Nature of the Child" "Diseases IV" (Berlin, 1981), pp252‑4.

9 Or, "after a [period] of abstinence." Gk. apo egkrateias. It seems likely, however, that this is a corrupt reflection of the Greek term epikrateia ("predominance"), which was important for Democritus' theory of how an embryo's sex was determined; cf. Democritus fr. 138D in C. C. W. Taylor, The Atomists: Leucippus and Democritus. Fragments (Toronto, 1999).

10 The language here is not clear, but two scenarios are envisioned: first, multiple conceptions in one act of intercourse; second, "superfetation" — fertilization after an embryo is already developing in the womb. For discussion of ancient views of multiple births see V. Dasen, "Becoming Human: From the Embryo to the Newborn Child," in Evans Grubbs et al. (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World (2013), pp20‑23.

Thayer's Note: A celebrated summary and critique of ancient notions on superfetation — if only in hares (as well as their sexuality and retromingency or opisthuresia) — is given by the 17c medical doctor Sir Thomas Browne in Pseud. Ep. III.17; that page with citations of the passages in the ancient authors and further modern notes.

11 Standard treatments of John's biography miss this statement — e.g., Maas, p31, says that apart from John's references to his wife in the context of their wedding, he "never mentioned her again."

12 This is a reference to the deity Semo Sancus (Dius Fidius), celebrated on 5 June; for the Sabine connection see Varro, de Lingua Latina 5.66; Ovid, Fasti 6.213‑18. R. D. Woodard, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult (Urbana, 2006), pp184‑5, assembles the evidence for the associations of this god with the open sky.

Thayer's Note: More accessible details on Semo Sancus, since online: Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, pp104‑106 and Platner & Ashby, Topographical Dictionary, s.v. Semo Sancus.

13 Gk. charadrios — a bird sometimes identified as a kind of plover; cf. Lev. 11.19 (LXX).

14 This reference appears to have been part of an explanation that offerings of lard were made to Juno (Ovid, Fasti, 6.169; Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.12.33).

15 9 June — the Vestalia.

Thayer's Note: See my addition, Vestalia, to Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

16 Gk. ontotês, the state of (truly) being/existing.

17 Cf. Plato, Cratylus 401C (only giving the connection with ousia ["being"]).

18 Porphyry, On Images fr. 6 [= fr. 357 Smith] (cited in Eusebius, Praep. Ev. 3.11.7, which Smith numbers as fr. 357A).

19 Cf. Ovid, Fasti 6.267: Vesta eadem est et terra.

20 Gk. rhêxis [with verbal root rhêg].

21 Not attested elsewhere.

22 Wuensch refers to the discussion in Müller, F. H. G. 2:20 (Eudemus of Paros, or Naxos — a historian of the Classical era); however, the identity of John's Eudemus is not certain. Aelian cites a "Eudemus" for a number of strange stories of animal lore, which are often attributed to the Peripatetic philosopher Eudemus of Rhodes; cf. S. A. White, "Eudemus the Naturalist," in Bodnár and Fortenbaugh, Eudemus of Rhodes (2002), pp207 ff.

23 It appears that the text needs to be emended (ἐξήρθη rather than ἐξῃρέθη) to reflect the verb αἴρειν rather than αἱρεῖν [Bandy makes this emendation].

24 Pyth. 4.109.

25 This section is a re‑worked/truncated version of 4.7. See notes on that section for the quotations.

26 "Assistance" (ὠφέλειαν) is simply a variant reading here (i.e., most likely a scribal error) for 4.7's "simplicity" ἀφέλειαν (or vice versa).

27 Chaldaean Oracles, fr. 215 Des Places (categorized as "dubious").

28 Des Places accepts Kroll's emendations, such that the line reads: "having been appointed by Zeus' rule to stand with human beings."

29 Or "for [people] both foul and fair."

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Page updated: 14 Feb 18