IT is often inquired which day should be considered and called the birthday of those who are born in the third, the fourth, or any other hour of the night; that is, whether it is the day that preceded, or the day that followed, that night. Marcus Varro, in that book of his Human Antiquities which he wrote On Days, says: 1 “Persons who are born during the [p. 241] twenty-four hours between one midnight and the next midnight are considered to have been born on one and the same day.” From these words it appears that he so apportioned the reckoning of the days, that the birthday of one who is born after sunset, but before midnight, is the day after which that night began; but that, on the other hand, one who is born during the last six hours of the night is considered to have been born on the day which dawned after that night. However, Varro also wrote in that same book 2 that the Athenians reckon differently, and that they regard all the intervening time from one sunset to the next as one single day. That the Babylonians counted still differently; for they called by the name of one day the whole space of time between sunrise and the beginning of the next sunrise; but that in the land of Umbria many said that from midday to the following midday was one and the same day. “But this,” he said, “is too absurd. For the birthday of one who is born among the Umbrians at mid-day on the first of the month will have to be considered as both half of the first day of the month and that part of the second day which comes before midday.” 3 But it is shown by abundant evidence that the Roman people, as Varro said, reckoned each day from midnight to the next midnight. The religious ceremonies of the Romans are performed in part by day, others by night; but those which take place by night are appointed for certain days, not for nights; accordingly, those that take place during the last six hours of the night are said to take place on the day which dawns immediately after that night. [p. 243] Moreover, the ceremony and method of taking the auspices point to the same way of reckoning; for the magistrates, whenever they must take the auspices, and transact the business for which they have taken the auspices, on the same day, take the auspices after midnight and transact tile business after midday, when the sun is high, and they are then said to have taken the auspices and acted on the same day. Again, when the tribunes of the commons, who are not allowed to be away from Rome for a whole day, leave the city after midnight and return after the first lighting of the lamps on the following day, but before midnight, they are not considered to have been absent for a whole day, since they returned before the completion of the sixth hour of the night, and were in the city of Rome for some part of that day. I have read that Quintus Mucius, the jurist, also used to say 4 that a woman did not become her own mistress who, after entering upon marriage relations with a man on the day called the Kalends of January, left him, for the purpose of emancipating herself, on the fourth day before the Kalends of the following January; 5 for the period of three nights, during which the Twelve Tables 6 provided that a woman must be separated from her husband for the purpose of gaining her independence, could not be completed, since the last 7 six hours of the third night belonged to the next year, which began on the first of January. Now since I found all the above details about the duration and limits of days, pertaining to the observance and the system of ancient law, in the works of our early writers, I did not doubt that Virgil also [p. 245] indicated the same thing, not directly and openly, but, as became one treating poetic themes, by an indirect and as it were veiled allusion to ancient observance. He says: 8
For dewy Night has wheeled her wayFor in these lines he wished to remind us covertly, as I have said, that the day which the Romans have called “civil” begins after the completion of the sixth hour of the night.
Far past her middle course; the panting steeds
Of orient Morn breathe pitiless on me.