[Milton-L] Battle of the Calendars

Carol Barton, Ph.D. cbartonphd1 at verizon.net
Fri Mar 9 14:06:38 EST 2012


This is from today's installment of _Delancey Place_. I thought it might be useful to some of you in presenting the new date/old date enigma to your students (and the Shakespeare/Cervantes example will help to make it accessible):



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In today's excerpt - there are different calendars in use throughout the world today which result in different dates and years being ascribed to the same day. In 1616, the situation was significantly more diverse:


"On April 23, 1616, two literary giants, William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, accomplished the feat of dying on the same date but different days. Mainly for the reason of their shared date of death, the United Na­tions named April 23 the International Day of the Book.


"Shakespeare, seven years the younger, went first, on Tuesday. Miguel de Cervantes, despite a life of hardship, held on another week and a half, until Saturday. This was possible because Spain had adopted the Gregorian calendar proposed in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. Britain, however, recoil­ing at any whiff of papism, did not adopt the new calendar until 1752, and it lagged, in 1616, ten days behind. Although Shakespeare's death date is traditionally given as April 23, according to the new calendar he would have died on May 3.




"At that time there was as little agreement about when the year began as about what day it was. In many parts of Europe it had been traditional to consider a date such as Annunciation Day-the day nine months before Christmas when it was revealed to Mary that she would bear a child-as the beginning of the year; standardizing on January 1 was a newfangled notion based on an ancient tradition, the Roman consular year. The Euro­pean states adopted the new date for the new year each in its time: Venice in 1512, Spain in 1556, France in 1564, Scotland in 1600, Russia in 1700, and so on. ...




"Matters become even more confounding when considering non-Western cultures. Some, like the Persians, who thought of the period we call 1616 as made up of parts of the years 994 and 995, celebrated the new year around the spring equinox. Others related the new year not just to the solar cycle but also to the phases of the moon: lunar new years were celebrated in East Asia, the Himalayas, and many parts of Southeast Asia. Some calendars reflected ancient histories: in China the year was 4252-4153; in the Maya long count it was probably 4730; in the Hebrew reckoning-in which the new year began in the fall-it was 5376-5377.




"All of which makes the study of a single calendar year an arbitrary and confused construct. It is not always certain which system a recorded date belongs to - historical documents give the impression that William III of England set sail from the Netherlands on November 11 and arrived in England on November 5. In some cases, more than one system was used at any given time: for many years both 'old style' (stilo vetere) and 'new style' (stilo novo) dates were in use in England. In East Asia, a year might be designated by a reign date or identified only by its associated zodiac animal, so that a reference to an event in the year of the dragon might point to 1616, or 1628, or some other year."




Author: Thomas Christensen 
Title: 1616: The World in Motion

Publisher: Counterpoint
Date: Copyright 2012 by Thomas Christensen
Pages: 9-10
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