The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Colosseum needs no introduction. When people talk about Rome and ancient architecture in general, this will immediately come to mind. After all the centuries of wear and tear, it’s still one of the most impressive ruins out there. I wish I had more time to explore inside (*you* try walking from Vatican City to here and back and dealing with the huge lines in a single afternoon!), but I’m so glad I finally got to see it. A larger version is viewable here.

Why IS It Called February?

Hey, folks. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s only a week left in February. Most people (in the states, anyway) associate this month with holidays like Valentine’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the occasional Leap Year bizarreness. With all that stuff to think about, it’s easy to overlook the month itself. Aside from being the shortest of the twelve, February is the hardest to pronounce. Seriously, try saying February out loud. Correctly.

Go on, don’t be shy.

Yeah, that ‘r’ in the middle doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. You’ve got the Romans to thank for the awkwardness. February comes from the Latin term februum, which means purification. It refers to Februalia, a purification ritual held on the 15th. Rather than scrubbing up the house, their version of spring cleaning was more about the cleansing of the self; there was a focus on sacrifices and atonement for previous misdeeds. Not exactly the Valentine’s Day you were expecting, was it? It makes sense, considering that February used to be the last month on the calendar; what better way to kick off New Year’s than cleansing yourself of the past?

The idea caught on so well that it even got its own deity. Februus was the Roman god of – you guessed it – purification. He lived in the underworld, which would’ve taken the whole cleansing thing to the spiritual level. The Etruscans also considered him a god of wealth and the dead, which means he had to share the spotlight with Pluto, the ruler of the afterlife. I’m pretty sure you can figure out who won that popularity contest. You can’t get much cooler than being King of the Afterlife. Or having a wife as awesome as Persephone, for that matter. Just think, our last planet-that’s-not-actually-a-planet could’ve been called Februus.

Oh, and watch your spelling and pronunciation. Februus could easily be mistaken for Febris, the Roman goddess of fevers and malaria. Because those usually involve a completely different kind of cleansing.

Why IS It Called January?

Hey, folks. We’re about halfway through January already. But have you ever thought about why the first month of the year is called “January”? Well, it’s all thanks to Janus. No, not the James Bond villain from Goldeneye. No, not one of Saturn’s moons. Like a lot of modern naming conventions, it goes back to the Romans. According to Cicero and other ancient writers, Janus was their god of beginnings and transitions. It sounds kind of lame at first glance, but there some awesome implications when you think about it. Every gate, door, ending, marriage, harvest, boundary, and shifts between war and peace were his domain. This guy was responsible for the flow of time itself. He even had two faces (no, not like that one guy) just so he could look into both the past and the future at the same time.

And you thought Doc Brown was awesome.

“January” is a reference to Janus by way of the Latin word Ianuarius. It – along with Februarius – were supposedly added to the calendar by Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome. That dude was responsible for creating a lot of religious and cultural traditions in the empire, some of which still lingers in modern times. Ever hear the term “vestal virgin”? Yeah, that was his idea. So was the construction of Ianus geminus, the Temple of Janus. It had doors on both ends (of course!) which were only shut during peacetime. That last part was really rare, because, you know, it was Ancient Rome. If you were a king and got to close the temple to symbolize peace for the empire, you earned some serious bragging rights. It’s like having “Won the Nobel Prize” on your resume.

Oh, one last thing: Today’s entry was posted on January 14th. According to some Roman calendars, today is marked as dies vitiosus. It basically means that something is bad or faulty about that specific day. One calendar, the Fasti Verulani, gives us the reason: it was Mark Antony’s birthday. You know, the guy who loved Cleopatra so much that he betrayed the empire and tried to go to war against Augustus? Even if you’re not well-versed in history, I’m pretty sure you can figure out how well that went down. Let’s just say the consequences (both short and long-term) were…messy. You know you’ve messed up when your enemies can legally declare your birthday to be inherently evil.