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The ancients distinguished


dies civilis (νυχθήμερον), the time in which the sun apparently completed a course around the earth, including thus both night and day; and


dies naturalis or the time between the rising and the setting of the sun. The civil day began with the Athenians at the setting of the sun; with the Romans (as with the Egyptians and Hipparchus) at midnight; with the Babylonians at the rising of the sun, and with the Umbrians at mid-day (Macrob. Saturn. i. 3; Gell. iii. 2).

At the time of the Homeric poems, the natural day was divided into three parts ( Il. xxi. 111). The first, called ἠώς, began with sunrise and comprehended the whole space of time during which light seemed to be increasing—i. e. till mid-day ( Il. viii. 66 Il., ix. 84; Od. ix. 56). The second part was called μέσον ἦμαρ or mid-day, during which the sun was thought to stand still (Hermias, ad Phaedr. p. 342). The third part bore the name of δείλη or δείελον ἦμαρ ( Od. xvii. 606; cf. Buttman's Lexilog. ii. n. 95), which derived its name from the increased warmth of the atmosphere. The last part of the δείλη was sometimes designated by the words ποτὶ ἕσπερα or βουλυτός ( Od. xvii. 191; Il. xvi. 779).

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 πρωΐ or πρῲ τῆς ἡμέρας; the later—i. e. from 9 or 10 till noon—πληθούσης τῆς ἀγορᾶς or περὶ πλήθουσαν ἀγορὰν. 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 πρωΐη or πρωΐα, and δείλη ὀψίη or ὀψία. This division continued to be observed down to the latest period of Grecian history, though another more accurate division, and one more adapted to the purposes of common life, was introduced at an early period; for Anaximander, or according to others, Anaximenes, is said to have made the Greeks acquainted with the use of the Babylonian chronometer or sundial (called πόλος or ὡρολόγιον, sometimes with the epithet σκιοθηρικόν or ἡλιαμάνδρον), by means of which the natural day was divided into twelve equal spaces of time. These spaces were, of course, longer or shorter according to the various seasons of the year. The name hours (ὧραι), 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 Alexandrian astronomers. See Pollux, Onom. i. 68.

During the early ages of the history of Rome, 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). In the Twelve Tables only the rising and the setting of the sun and mid-day (meridies) were mentioned as the parts into which the day was then divided. Varro (L. L. vi. 4, 5) and Isidorus ( Orig. v. 30 and 31) likewise distinguished three parts of the day—viz. mane, meridies, and suprema, sc. tempestas, after which no assembly could be held in the Forum.

But the division of the day most generally observed by the Romans was that into tempus antemeridianum and pomeridianum, the meridies itself being considered only as a point at which the one ended and the other commenced. As it was of importance that this moment should be known, an officer (see Accensi) of the consuls was directed to proclaim the time of mid-day, 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. 293, 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. 212). In B.C. 263, M. Valerius Messala brought one which he had taken at the capture of Catina; and although this was incorrect, having been constructed for a place 4¡ farther south than Rome, it was in use for 99 years before the error was discovered. In B.C. 164, the censor Q. Marcius Philippus had a more exact sundial constructed; but the time was still unknown in cloudy weather. Scipio Nasica, therefore, erected in B.C. 159 a public clepsydra, which indicated the hours of the night as well as of the day (Censor. 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. In daily life numerous terms were in use to denote the different parts of the day, mostly of a general and somewhat vague character. (Cf. Varr. L. L. vi. 4-7; Servius on Aen. ii. 268; iii. 587; Orig. v. 31, 32.) See, also, 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 of holding assemblies of the people all the days were divided into dies fasti, dies nefasti, and dies partly fasti, partly nefasti.

1. Dies fasti, in the wider sense, were days on which legal and political business could be lawfully transacted. They were divided into:

(a) Dies fasti, in the narrower sense, marked with F in the calendars. On these legal business could be conducted (Ovid, Fast. i. 48, fastus erit per quem lege licebit agi; Varr. L. L. vi 29, dies fasti per quos praetoribus omnia verba sine piaculo licet fari). The word is derived by the ancients from fari; but, although the root is undoubtedly the same, the more immediate connection is with fas.

(b) Dies comitiales, days on which meetings of the people could legally be held, and on which, if there was no meeting convened, courts could be opened (Macrob. Saturn. i. 16).

These days are marked C in the calendar.

2. Dies nefasti were days on which no legal or political business could be done (Varr. L. L. vi. 30). These are again divided into two quite distinct classes:

(a) Dies nefasti or feriati, on which no business could be done because the day was sacred to some festival. These are marked NP in the calendars. This sign was commonly interpreted nefastus parte or nefastus principio, and was explained to mean that the day was one during the earlier part of which no business could be done. But Mommsen (Chronol. p. 220; C. I. L. i. 366) showed that this view was quite untenable, and explains the sign to be, like M' when used as an abbreviation for Manius, a modification of the archaic M with five strokes (MV).

(b) Dies religiosi or vitiosi, sometimes called atri, marked in the calendars by R. These were unlucky days, which had been declared to be such by a decree of the Senate in consequence of some disaster which had taken place upon them. All the dies postriduani were included under this head —i. e. the days after the Kalends, the Nones, and the Ides—because these were believed to have been especially unfortunate (Ovid, Fast. i. 59, 60). On these days it was not only unlawful to transact any legal or political business, but it was also unlucky to begin any affair of importance. Cf. Gell. iv.9.5.

3. Days partly fasti and partly not, including:

(a) Dies intercisi, marked in the calendars by EN, for endotercisi (endo- being an archaic form of in, as in endoperator). On these days a victim was sacrificed in the morning and the exta offered in the evening. Between the sacrifice and the offering the day was fastus; before the former and after the latter it was nefastus (Varr. L. L. vi. 31; Ovid, Fast. i. 49).

(b) Dies fissi, three in number. To two of these, March 24 and May 24, are prefixed the letters Q. R. C. F.—i. e. quando rex (sacrorum) comitiavit, fas. These days were, even in ancient times, confused with the Regifugium—i. e. February 24— and the letters were wrongly interpreted quando rex comitio fugit. To the third, June 15, is prefixed Q. ST. D. F.—i. e. quando stercus delatum fas; on this day the temple of Vesta was solemnly cleansed by the Vestals, and the filth carried away or thrown into the Tiber (Ovid, Fast. vi. 707), no other business being permitted on this day.

Mommsen (C. I. L. i. p. 373) calculates that the year contained 45 dies fasti, 194 dies comitiales, 48 dies nefasti or feriati, 57 dies religiosi, 8 dies intercisi, and 3 dies fissi.

Another division of the days of the year was of a purely religious character, with which naturally the former division to a certain extent coincided in a city so dominated by religious scruples as Rome:

1. Dies festi, on which the gods were honoured by (a) sacrificia, (b) epulae, (c) ludi, (d) feriae. See Feriae.

2. Dies profesti, ordinary working-days.

3. Dies intercisi, of a mixed character.

For the Nundinae, see the article with that title.

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