Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Ante Diem IV Idus August

Modern Date : August 10th

Ante Diem IV Idus August
Fourth Day to the Ides of August

This is one of the dies comitiales when committees of citizens could vote on political or criminal matters.

Today continues the Opet Festival in Egypt, in which the statue of Amun was ferried in a procession from Karnak to Luxor.

August was originally called Sextilis, or the sixth month (after March). It was renamed in honor of Augustus Caesar, the most revered of the Roman emperors.

Puck's Fair
A three-day festival held in the little village of Killorglin in County Kerry. On the evening of the first day, Gathering Day, a white puck (from the Gaelic poc, a male goat), his horns bedecked with ribbons and rosettes, is borne in triumph in a lorry to a platform in the square. The Foley family is charged with the task of caring for the goat, which includes feeding him cabbages. On the following day, Puck's Fair Day, the decorated King presides over a great cattle, horse and sheep fair. On the final day, Scattering Day or Children's Day, the goat-king is dethroned by a throng of excited children. Accompanied by pipers, he is processed through town and over the bridge, whereupon he is turned loose. Or, according to MacNeill, he is carried around on the shoulders of four men, while the shopkeepers contribute to his upkeep, then auctioned off.

An old rhyme warns of what will happen to anyone who threatens the goat:

The hand that kills King Puck
Will wither like the dew.
The blade that cuts his whiskers
Will pierce your heart too.
The rope that hangs old Puck
Will execute its maker. . .

This fair was once a Lammas fair as indicated by a patent from 1613 that gives the proprietor the right "to hold a faire in Killorglin on Lammas Day and the day after." When the calendar was changed in 1752, it included an exemption for fairs stating that they might continue to be held on the natural day of the year to which people were accustomed.

Two other customs connect it with Lammas: dancing around the bonfires at night to traditional Irish music and the belief that if a single girl goes to Puck Fair she will leave “doubled.”

Although it is tempting to see the goat as evidence of an ancient pagan rite, MacNeill (The Festival of Lughnasa, Oxford University Press 1962) develops a convincing argument that it was a rather late development, perhaps first appearing in the 18th century, and influenced by English fair customs.

Yashodhara, the wife of Buddha, is honored this day. The wife of Shakyamuni (Buddha) before he renounced secular life; mother of Rahula. According to the Buddhist scriptures, she was a very beautiful woman, and Shuddhodana, Shakyamuni's father, wished for her to be his son's wife. Yashodhara's father offered his daughter to the man who could prove himself most worthy through various feats of intellect and strength, and Shakyamuni easily surpassed all rivals, including his cousin Devadatta. After the birth of their son Rahula, Shakyamuni renounced secular life and eventually attained enlightenment. Yashodhara converted to his teachings and became a Buddhist nun. (Bummer)

The Pairika of Persia are honored today. They correspond to the Indian Apsaras. Worshipped in the pre-Zoroastrian religion, the Pairikas are the prototypes of the Peris, the nymphs or female angels of later Persian tradition, and also of the Parigs or Witches of Manichaeism. The Pairikas, in the shape of worm-stars, are said to fly between the earth and the heavens at this time. This refers to shooting stars which fall every year at about the time (the Perseid meteor showers) when Tistrya (Sirius) is supposed to be most active.

Nicholas of Cusa
Birthday of Nicholas of Cusa (1400), the Christian mystic who taught the immanence of Divinity in all of Creation. Nikolaus Kryffs or Krebs was the son of a wealthy shipper on the river Mosel. He was born in Kues, now Bernkastel-Kues, about 30 km from Trier, an old town in the Palatinate, founded by the Romans. He was named Cusanus, as usual in the Latin speaking church environment, from the Latin name of the town.

He was ordained in 1440 and became a cardinal in 1448 and then became the bishop of Brixon (now Bressanone) in 1450. (The 'cardinal' was a title, while the 'bishop' was an office.)

He was interested in geometry and logic. He contributed to the study of infinity, studying the infinitely large and the infinitely small. He looked at the circle as the limit of regular polygons and used it in his religious teaching to show how one can approach truth but never reach it completely.

Cusa is best known as a philosopher who argued the incomplete nature of man's knowledge of the universe. He claimed that the search for truth was equal to the task of squaring the circle.

In 1444 he became interested in astronomy and purchased sixteen books on astronomy, a wooden celestial globe, a copper celestial globe and various astronomical instruments including an astrolabe.

His interest in astronomy certainly led him to certain theories which were true and others which may still prove to be true. For example he claimed that the Earth moved round the Sun. He also claimed that the stars were other suns and that space was infinite. He also believed that the stars had other worlds orbiting them which were inhabited. He got so much right that perhaps this will also be found to be true one day.

Cusa published improvements to the Alfonsine Tables which gave a practical method to find the position of the Sun, Moon and planets using Ptolemy's model. These tables had originally been compiled in 1272 with the support of King Alfonso X of Castile.

Like many learned men of his time, Cusa also wrote on calendar reform.

Giordano Bruno is said to have written:

If [Nicholas of Cusa] had not been hindered by his priest's vestment, he would have even been greater than Pythagoras!

St Lawrence
Feast of St. Laurence, one of the most admired Christian martyrs. During a time of persecution, he sold the sacred vessels of the church and gave the money as alms to the poor, thus becoming the patron of the poor. This so enraged the Prefect of Rome that he ordered the saint to be roasted to death on a gridiron. St. Lawrence is reputed to have said to the soldiers who were roasting him, "You can turn me over. This side is done now," which is how he became the patron of cooks. He also protects against burns.

In Italy on this day, people show their respect for him by eating cold meals, rather than grilling or roasting. In Marradi, they eat watermelon; in Imperia, an enormous dinner salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, olives and anchovies. In Florence, the bakers and pastrycooks used to display their work in the plaza on this day.

The Perseid meteor showers are sometimes called "the fiery tears of St Lawrence."