the seven-day week

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Have you ever thought about Tuesday? How do you rate it in your Days of the Week ranking, how did the seven-day week come to be, or even considered just HOW did the days of the week get their names? Let’s begin our journey with the Babylonians, who marked time with lunar months.

Perhaps the greatest legacy to modern western astronomy was left to us by the Babylonians. We still use many of their original constellations, and the records they kept of astronomical occurrences allow us a glimpse into their view of the heavens.

The Babylonian calendar, a chronological system used in ancient Mesopotamia, was 12 complete cycles of phases of the Moon. Their lunar year was about 354 days. They reconciled it with the solar year, or year of the seasons, by the occasional insertion of an extra month. Their regular activities were curtailed during several days of the month:

  • first – the first visible crescent
  • seventh – the waxing half-moon
  • fourteenth – the full moon
  • nineteenth – dedicated to an offended goddess
  • twenty-first – the waning half-moon
  • twenty-eight – the last visible crescent
  • twenty-ninth – the invisible moon
  • thirtieth (possibly) – the invisible moon

The major periods were seven days, 1/4-month long. This seven-day period was later regularized and disassociated from the lunar month to become our seven-day week.

The Naming of the Days

The Greeks named the days week after the sun, the moon and the five known planets, which were named for the gods Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronus. They called the days of the week the Theon hemerai “days of the Gods”. The Romans substituted their equivalent gods for the Greek gods, Mars, Mercury, Jove (Jupiter), Venus, and Saturn. (The two pantheons are very similar.) The Germanic peoples in turn substituted their gods for the Roman gods, Tiu (Twia), Woden, Thor, Freya (Fria), but did not substitute Saturn.

Sunday – Sun’s day

Middle English sone(n)day or sun(nen)day
Old English sunnandæg “day of the sun”
Germanic sunnon-dagaz “day of the sun”
Latin dies solis “day of the sun”
Ancient Greek hemera heli(o)u, “day of the sun”

Monday – Moon’s day

Middle English monday or mone(n)day
Old English mon(an)dæg “day of the moon”
Latin dies lunae “day of the moon”
Ancient Greek hemera selenes “day of the moon”

Tuesday – Tiw’s day

Middle English tiwesday or tewesday
Old English tiwesdæg “Tiw’s (Tiu’s) day”
Latin dies Martis “day of Mars”
Ancient Greek hemera Areos “day of Ares”

Tiw (Twia) is the English/Germanic god of war and the sky. He is identified with:

  • the Norse god Tyr
  • the Roman god Mars
  • the Greek god Ares

Wednesday – Woden’s day

Middle English wodnesday, wednesday, or wednesdai
Old English wodnesdæg “Woden’s day”
Latin dies Mercurii “day of Mercury”
Ancient Greek hemera Hermu “day of Hermes”

Woden is the chief Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic god. Woden is the leader of the Wild Hunt. Woden is from wod “violently insane” + –en “headship”. He is identified with the Norse god Odin.

Mercury is the Roman god of commerce, travel, thievery, eloquence and science. He is the messenger of the other gods.

Hermes is the Greek god of commerce, invention, cunning, and theft. He is the messenger and herald of the other gods. He serves as patron of travelers and rogues, and as the conductor of the dead to Hades.

Thursday – Thor’s day

Middle English thur(e)sday
Old English thursdæg
Old Norse thorsdagr “Thor’s day”
Old English thunresdæg “thunder’s day”
Latin dies Jovis “day of Jupiter”
Ancient Greek hemera Dios “day of Zeus”.

Thor is the Norse god of thunder. He is represented as riding a chariot drawn by goats and wielding the hammer Miölnir. He is the defender of the Aesir, destined to kill and be killed by the Midgard Serpent.

Jupiter (Jove) is the supreme Roman god and patron of the Roman state. He is noted for creating thunder and lightning.

Zeus is Greek god of the heavens and the supreme Greek god.

Friday – Freya’s day

Middle English fridai
Old English frigedæg “Freya’s day”
composed of Frige (genetive singular of Freo) + dæg “day” (most likely)
or composed of Frig “Frigg” + dæg “day” (least likely)
Germanic frije-dagaz “Freya’s (or Frigg’s) day”
Latin dies Veneris “Venus’s day”
Ancient Greek hemera Aphrodites “day of Aphrodite”

Freo is identical with freo, meaning free. It is from the Germanic frijaz meaning “beloved, belonging to the loved ones, not in bondage, free”.

Freya (Fria) is the Teutonic goddess of love, beauty, and fecundity (prolific procreation). She is identified with the Norse god Freya. She is leader of the Valkyries and one of the Vanir. She is confused in Germany with Frigg.

Frigg (Frigga) is the Teutonic goddess of clouds, the sky, and conjugal (married) love. She is identified with Frigg, the Norse goddess of love and the heavens and the wife of Odin. She is one of the Aesir. She is confused in Germany with Freya.

Venus is the Roman goddess of love and beauty.

Aphrodite (Cytherea) is the Greek goddess of love and beauty.

Saturday – Saturn’s day

Middle English saterday
Old English sæter(nes)dæg “Saturn’s day”
Latin dies Saturni “day of Saturn”
Ancient Greek hemera Khronu “day of Cronus”

Saturn is the Roman and Italic god of agriculture and the consort of Ops. He is believed to have ruled the earth during an age of happiness and virtue.

Cronus (Kronos, Cronos) is the Greek god (Titan) who ruled the universe until dethroned by his son Zeus.

Sources

William Morris, editor, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New College Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1976

Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Portland House, New York, 1989

William Matthew O’Neil, Time and the Calendars, Sydney University Press, 1975

Other, internet sources

As always, in closing I leave you with this; INTENT. My intention is to provide ideas and open minds to their discussion, from which we all may learn. With certain ventures, however, I must advise caution. I put to you that I have no desire to harm anyone. Any discussions from this posting are to be academic only. I seek no practical application, neither do I have desire for knowledge of such. Please keep your comments civil.