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From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@sirius.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) The calendar
Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999 19:31:59 


I have done a lot of work on the calendar, so allow me to share a few notes.

You wrote:
>I can only recall a single instance when a specific date is mentioned in
>the Urth cycle, and that is only a day of an unnamed month.

"Hallowmass Eve (which is to say, the full of the Spading Moon)," ("The
Cat," first few pages).  This is probably the best of all calendar
references in the text.  The months each have many names, according to
Wolfe (when I asked him): the Spading Moon shows a good example of one.  It
reinforces the Lunar nature of the Commonwealth calendar, as well as the
agricultural sense (Spading Moon), and the religious sense (Hallowmass Eve,
aka Halloween).  There is also the suggestion that the previous month is
the Harvest Moon.

That is to say: we have Harvest Moon (first full moon after Sep 23) and
Hunter's Moon (the full moon after Harvest Moon); Spading might be equal to
Harvest, but to get closer to our Halloween, Spading must instead be
Hunter's Moon.

>Roche remarks: "Today is
>what? The eighteenth--it's been under three weeks." The "under three weeks"
>refers to the elapsed time since the Feast of Holy Katharine and his
>elevation. (I, VIII)
>The Feast occurs in spring, which, because the seasons are six months out
>of phase in the Southern Hemisphere, comes after the warm weather of summer
>when it was warm enough to swim, which came earlier that same calendar year.

First of all, the Feast occurs "in the fading of winter"; i.e., somewhere
between Aug 1 and Sep 23.

Next, as in Biblical times, one tells the date by looking at the Moon: it
is hung there in the sky as a calendar.  It seems, judging from the court
schedule at Thrax, that the month begins on New Moon (which of course makes
perfect sense!).

Next, let's establish some hard numbers:

Vernal Equinox    Mar 20    Southern Hemisphere Autumn begins
mid-Spring        May  1    mid-Autumn
Summer Solstice   Jun 21    S. Hemisphere Winter begins
mid-Summer        Aug  1    mid-Winter
Autumnal Equinox  Sep 23    S. Hemisphere Spring begins
mid-Autumn        Nov  1    mid-Spring
Winter Solstice   Dec 22    S. Hemisphere Summer begins
mid-Winter        Feb  1    mid-Summer

(Southern Hemisphere dwellers please chime in regarding the ballpark
accuracy of these numbers)

. . . the Spading Moon of the Commonwealth should fall somewhere around May
1, and, if Halloween is here, too, then it has been shifted along to match
the proper season (local Autumn).

. . . New Year's Day in the Commonwealth is apparantly on the first New
Moon after Summer has begun (i.e., Dec 22), that is, somewhere between Dec
23 and Feb 1.

>The winter in which he discovered Triskele and Valeria fell between the
>fight in the necropolis and the Feast. In an appendix to CLAW Wolfe notes
>that the months are lunar, lasting 28 days, and the weeks are 7 days. He
>also notes that a watch is 1/10 of a night, or about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
>This figure must be based on the average length of a night, which works out
>to 12 hours. Therefore in Sev's era the days are 25-hour days. Also, in
>SWORD, in the story that Cyriaca tells of the founding of Ultan's library,
>she notes that the years used to be longer than they are now (III, VI).

Stop.  The "watch" as a unit of time is =seasonally= variable.  The long
watches of a winter night really =are= longer than the short watches of a
summer night (historical note: this is close to the way time was reckoned
in Japan--the Dutch even made variable clocks for them, with levers that
shifted through the seasons). The only time the night is really 12 hours
long is at the equinoxes.

Lunar month is ballpark 28 days; but more accurately 29.53 days (for
phases) or 27.322 days (for both revolution and sidereal day).  (You can
see why the ballpark figure is so handy!)

>St. Catherine's Day is Nov. 25. (I should say "was": contrary to Wolfe's
>opinion as to the historicity of the saint, the Vatican, in an attempt to
>purge its vast pantheon of some of its more dubious saints and martyrs,
>abolished her feast day, amongst others, in 1969.) At any rate, we are not
>told just how much shorter the year is in Sev's day than now, or if there
>are 12 or 13 months in the year.

Lunar calendars have thirteen months (13 x 28 = 364).  Period.  They never
match up to solar calendar time, but nobody cares--the seasons (solar
determined) are floating anchor points in the Commonwealth, and on Earth
the Islamic holidays drift from season to season.

If my hard numbers are roughly correct, Nov 25 is (S.H.) late Spring rather
than late Winter.  Granted, the feast day may have been shifted to match
the proper season, except that where it is (late Winter, according to text)
isn't exactly the proper season (mid-Autumn--where C's feast day is in

Catherine Alex. -- Nov 25
Catherine Geno. -- Sep 15
Catherine Sien. -- Apr 29/30
Catherine Swed. -- Mar 24

Comparing these numbers with the other numbers, it seems as though
Catherine of Genoa has a feast day at the time closest to the target.  FWIW.

>25-hour days, for 28 days,

Stop.  I strongly resist the idea that the Urth days are 25 hours long.
All the other numbers match up to ancient calendar methods, I don't see why
the length of day would be different.

Granted, one avenue I have not explored is: given that Lune is closer in
orbit, what sort of (slower) velocity must it have to maintain a 28 day
period.  (And maybe it is exactly 28 days, instead of some fraction?)

Furthermore, there is, naturally, the gap between astronomical seasons and
perceived seasons.  In part this is probably due to the fact that seasonal
weather (the features that alert us to "season") takes a bit longer or
shorter to develop.  Boundaries are fuzzy.  So when Severian talks of
seasonal weather, it is quite vague.  December seems like Winter to me, but
21 days of it ain't (go figure).

Anyway, there's a pile of notes for you--happy hunting!


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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