Daryn Lehoux’s thesis on ancient astronomical calendars is online

I’m still thinking about parapegma, the ancient peg-calendars to predict star- and weather-movements.  A google search has revealed that the opening parts of Daryn Lehoux’s 2007 book are a version of his 2000 PhD thesis, which is online at ScribD here.   It’s a Canadian thesis, which leads me to wonder whether Canadian theses are online for free, and if so where?

The thesis doesn’t include the texts and translations.  But it doesinclude the key question, “what is a parapegma”?  The general quality of writing, tho, is considerably inferior to the final version, and it is not nearly so readable.   Those with a library room in their country estate, and $155 to spare, will be better advised to buy the book.  We peasants, however, will still gain value from the thesis.

in this work I address the broader question of how one mode of prediction, cyclical astrological prediction, functioned in the ancient world. I examine a diverse set of texts and instruments collectively known as parapegmata. These were used for predicting and tracking such things as astronomical events, day-to-day weather changes, lunar phenomena, and certain types of astrological influences. …

The word parapegma (pl.: parapegmata] refers to an ancient instrument which was used to keep track of astronomical, astrological or astrometeorological cycles using a moveable peg or pegs. By extension, the word also refer to a group of texts which were derived from these instruments, and which tracked the astrometeorological cycle typically by linking it to a calendar.

 …  they provided some means for locating the current day in the context of the larger temporal scheme, either by indexing the cycle to a calendar, or by indicating the current day with a peg. I call this process tracking a lunar or astrometeorological cycle. In inscriptional parapegmata, each entry would have a hole drilled beside it to receive a moveable peg. The peg would be shifted on each consecutive day, and thus the inscription beside the peg would contain the information pertaining to the current day.

There were also non-inscriptional, literary parapegmata in both Greek and Latin. A typical example of these would list the dates of a coming year in, for example, the Roman or Egyptian calendar, and, for particular dates, offer astronomical and weather predictions for that year. In this respect, they are rather like a pared-down version of a more modern Farmer’s Almanac. These calendars were used in Greece from at least the fifth century B.C., and there are Western European and Byzantine examples dating well into the Middle Ages and beyond.

The Romans translated Greek parapegmata into Latin, and they were developing their own versions by the first century B.C., with some interesting modifications. In particular, their inscriptional parapegmata were often used to keep track of lunar days, hebdomadal days and nundinal days. There was also a corresponding Egyptian tradition dating from at least the fourth century B.C., which may or may not be independent from the Greek.

The astronomical phenomena frequently recorded in the parapegmata are the solstices and equinoxes for a given year, and what are called the ‘phases’ of the more important fixed stars.  …

Until the early twentieth century, the only known parapegmata were found in the astronomical or divinatory manuscripts of, for example, Ptolemy, Geminus, and Johannes Lydus. A typical entry from one of these looks like this:  …

(Month of] [Thoth,] [day] 1: [at the latitude where the day is 14 1/2 hours [long], the (star) on the tail of Leo sets.  According to Hipparchus , the Etesian winds stop. According to Eudoxus, rain, thunder, the Etesian winds stop.

Looking at entries such as this, it was unclear why this sort of text was called a parapegma in Greek, which derives from the verb parapegnumi meaning ‘to fix [something) beside something else.’ The sense of this derivation remained obscure untii the discovery of the Miletus parapegmata at the beginning of the twentieth century. These newly discovered parapegmata differed from the literary ones in three respects: They were carved in stone rather than being written down in manuscripts, they contained no calendrical information [i.e., no dates in any civil or religious calendar], and they had holes bored into them beside or near the weather or astronomical entries. These holes corresponded to the number of days between, for example, two phases of a star.  …

It seems therefore probable that there was only one peg which was moved each day frorn hole to hole, thus indicating only the current date, and the current astronomical or astrometeorological situation. The empty peg holes would aliow one to count the number of days between now and the next significant event.

All this is extremely interesting, although an edition of the texts and translations, and ideally a corpus of inscriptions, is required to substantiate this.  It seems that Lehoux realised the same, when preparing the book version.

All this reminded me strongly of the calendar in the Chronography of 354, which displays the nundinal days.  I never found a good account of how these worked, but the thesis contains an explanation of these too.

Lehoux’s thesis is good.  But it remains just a thesis.  The final product, the book, is infinitely better.  I just wish I could afford to buy a copy!

Books like this one are a real blessing.  This is a book that takes a field in which there is only scholarship in German — and English-speaking scholars do not, on the whole, display much in the way of German language skills — and makes the whole subject accessible to English speakers, places it in context, and deals with questions of the kind that I have struggled with, while working on Antiochus.  It’s like a travel handbook to a new and totally unfamiliar country.  But once he has this, the interested reader will be able to locate the major cities, find a hotel, and know which sites to visit!


7 thoughts on “Daryn Lehoux’s thesis on ancient astronomical calendars is online

  1. I’ve asked about theses online elsewhere, but it seems to be a hit-n-miss situation. Some authors upload them, e.g. on Scribd, or own home-page, or (I’ve found one) on university page… This is helpful for reference (if Google spots them! and with pot-luck I’ve stumbled on some very useful ones) but unclear if this is the final version, or is it on the way towards publication (in an improved or revised form?) I haven’t found any “policy” on the procedure. It seems that the only ‘safe’ way (if one intends to refer to a thesis) is to attempt to contact the author.
    Happy New Year.

  2. It’s one of those things that will iron itself out over time. In ten years, I imagine every PhD candidate will upload their thesis.

  3. Apparently there’s a copy over at Wright State University, about a mile from my parents’ house. Since they don’t really have a big astronomy or classics program, I guess it must be the history department that has a big budget, or the librarians just have a really good discount publisher’s catalog. 🙂

    It really does sound interesting. I’ll have to check it out, so to speak.

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