John the Lydian — On November

Mischa Hoooker has sent me a further chunk of John the Lydian, which again is seasonable.  This is the first English translation of John the Lydian, On the Roman Months, (De Mensibus) book 4.  The manuscript is increasingly damaged towards the end of the text, and the translation indicates damage with <> accordingly.

 A version of the text in Microsoft Word is here: JohnLydus-November.  All this material is public domain: do whatever you like with it, whether for personal, educational or commercial use.

John Lydus, De Mensibus (Book 4)



144. Cincius, in his [work] On Festivals, says that among the ancients, November was called Mercedinus, [1] that is, “Remunerative.”  For in it, the hired laborers would contribute the profits of the past cycle to the [land]-owners, as further returns were coming in in turn.  It was called [165] November later, from the number [nine]—for it is ninth from March.

145.  An oracle from the Sibylline [Books] declared that the Romans would preserve their kingdom just so long as they took care of the city’s statues.  And this oracle was in fact fulfilled; for when Avitus, who was the last to reign over Rome, dared to melt down the statues, thereafter it was the kingdom of Italy.[2]

146.  The Colchians, who are also called Lazoi, are the Alaïnoi.

147.  Marius the Great, while making war upon the Cimbri and the Teutones, saw in a dream that he [would] overcome the enemy if he sacrificed his own daughter to the “Evil-Averting” [gods]—and, preferring his fellow-citizens to his natural instincts, he did this, and overcame the enemy.[3]

Erechtheus, the leader of Attica, also did this, persuaded not by a dream but by an oracle, and he defeated his foes.[4]

…the maiden…the kindness of the daimon…the <hammer> she went past every habitation and to those…she roused, according to Var<ro> the Roman.[5]

It is said that <something similar> hap<pen>ed to the Lace<daem>onians…<according to> Aristeides,[6] who, in the fi<fth [?] [book]…> says:  When…this [166] <plague was oppressing Lacedaemon, <with ma>ny perishing, the Pythian god gave an <or>acle that <t>he disease <would cease> if every year, a yo<uthful and noble> maiden were <sa>crificed to the <“E>vil-Averting” god<s>.  <And> as the lawless supers<tition> was thus practiced <ever>y autumn, it happened at one time that <the lot fell> to Helen, and Tynda<re>us brou<g>ht his daugh<ter, adorn>ed <with g>arl<an>ds, to the altars.  When h<e> was beginning the <la>wless <sac>rifice, an eagle swooped down and snatched the ki<ng>’s sword, <and> released it <nea>r a certain white heifer.  And his bodyguards, <fo>llowing af<ter>, and becoming eyewitnesses of what had happened, led <th>e cow to Tyndareus.  And he, marvelling at Providence, ceased from <th>e m<urd>erous custom, and, sacrificing the he<if>er, brought relief from the suffering of the plague.[7]

148.  On the fourth and third days before the Nones of November,[8] in the temple of Isis, [is] the con<cl>usion of the festivals.  And there was also celebra<ted> the one called Drepan…—<a>t which festival, Metrodorus says the Sout<h wind> blows.  And it seemed good to the multitude to go unwashed until the end, as they say, in order to escape from disease.

On the ei<ghth> day before the Id<es of No>vember,[9] honors for Dem<eter> and <Eilith>yia were performed by the women.  Eilithyia <is the> ove<rseer> of <t>hose who are giving birth, <so t>ha<t the on>e, as Plut<arch> says, may <make> t<wo> in <simi>lar fashion <to> itself.[10]  And they say that Artemis is <also su>ch, [167] for those who are p<reg>ant, in their suffering.  But accordi<ng to th>e arithmetical ac<count>, Artemis <i>s the one who produces the birth-proc<ess> that moves toward completeness / evenness [eis to artion][11] and for this purpose hurries to c<ome> forth.  Therefore, <too>, the myth is told that Apoll<o>, when he was being <b>orn from Le<to>…when he had been displayed, she, serving the mother as midwife, sh<owed[?]>…to the same forth-………herself and Apo<llo>………[12]

149. <On the seventh day before the Ides of Novem>ber[13]………ten………is said to be placed underneath………according to the <Egy>ptian Hermes, who in the so-called “Perfect Discourse” speaks as follows:  “But the souls that have gone beyond the rule of piety, when they are freed from the body, are handed over to the daimons and move down through the air [as though] launched from a sling, down to the fiery and hail-filled zones, which the poets call Pyriphlegethon and Tartarus.”[14]  Hermes, for his part, [is speaking] only about the purification of souls; but Iamblichus, in the first [book] of his work “On the Descent of the Soul,” also mentions their restoration, allotting the area above the moon as far as the sun to Hades, with whom he says the souls that have been purified stand—and that it [i.e., the sun] is Pluto; and the moon is Persephone.  That [is what] the philo<sophers> [say.]  But the sacred rites of the festival were performed with words of praise at the unquenchable fire of He<stia, concerning which Porphy>ry s<ay>s the foll<owing>:  “By this sacrifice welcoming the visible heavenly gods, and bestowing undying honors on them through fire, they would also preserve undying fire in the temples for them, on the grounds that it was most exactly like them.”[15]

<Eu>doxus say<s> winter[16] [begins] from this day.

150. On <t>he following day,[17] [there is] a memorial of Remus and Romulus.[18]  When Amu<lius>, being tyranically dispos<ed> <toward Numit>or, <killed his> son, and <comm>anded that his daughter be a prie<stess>.  <And> when she <gave birth, as they s>ay, to Ares’ [offspring], he [i.e., Amulius] orde<red the inf>ants to be thrown into the sea.  But when his bod<ygua>rds <expo>sed them on the banks of the Tiber, a sh<e-wol>f approa<ch>ed them and offered <to> them her teats.  A sh<eph>erd, who had been watching this, to<ok> up the children and reared them as his o<wn>—and they founde<d> Rome.  The same [story can be found] also in Zopyrus of <Byzantium>…

151.  Beginning from the fifteenth of November, and all through December, the Romans would be idle, [169] being engaged only in festivities, because of the shortness of the days.

152. On the seventh day before the Kalends of December, Democritus says the sun enters Sagittarius.

It seemed good to the Romans to call beans faba, from the [term for the] West wind—when it begins to blow, this sort of plant naturally starts to sprout.  And in their [language], the West wind is called Favonius.[19]  Hence also March [is called] Zephyrites,[20] and similarly January [is called] Monias, from the monad,[21] and October, Sementilius, from the seed[22]—as antiquity has handed it down.  For the year, as established by Numa, begins from January, while the [year established] by Romulus [began] from March.  And the chronological beginning [established] by Numa is in harmony with the beginning [established] straightway by Romulus.  For indeed, Romulus began to rule in the spring, [23] but he carefully observed the month of Mars; and Numa, watching for the sun’s being in the midst of Capricorn, seems to have been in agreement with Romulus—for Capricorn is the exaltation of Mars.[24]

[1] Cf. Plutarch, Numa 18.2; Julius Caesar 59.4.
[2] Avitus was emperor 455-456.  For the (melting and) selling the metal from bronze statues, and the consequent discontent with Avitus, cf. John of Antioch, Historia Chronikê, fr. 202.
[3] Cf. Ps.-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 20 (310d 5-10).
[4] Cf. Ps.-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 20 (310d 1-5).
[5] Cf. Ps.-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 35 (314d).  Here in particular, the full text of Ps.-Plutarch will help to explain the references: “When a plague had gained a wide hold on the city of Falerii, and many perished of it, an oracle was given that the terror would abate if they sacrificed a maiden to Juno each year. This superstitious practice persisted and once, as a maiden chosen by lot, Valeria Luperca, had drawn the sword, an eagle swooped down, snatched it up, and placed a wand tipped with a small hammer upon the sacrificial offerings; but the sword the eagle cast down upon a certain heifer which was grazing near the shrine. The maiden understood the import: she sacrificed the heifer, took up the hammer, and went about from house to house, tapping the sick lightly with her hammer and rousing them, bidding each of them to be well again; whence even to this day this mystic rite is performed. So Aristeides in the nineteenth book of his Italian History.” (tr. F. C. Babbitt, LCL)
[6] As Wuensch points out, Aristodemus, not Aristeides, is cited by Ps.-Plutarch as the source for this story.
[7] Cf. Ps.-Plutarch, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories [Parallela Minora] 35 (314c 5-11).
[8] 2 and 3 Nov.  This would correspond with the Hilaria of Isis (celebrating the recovery of the parts of Osiris’ body) on the 3rd of Nov., as mentioned on the Calendar of Philocalus.
[9] 6 Nov.
[10] In this sentence, I am using the supplements suggested by Hase, printed in Wuensch’s apparatus.
[11] Cf. De Mensibus 2.7, discussing the second day of the week (Monday):  “Hence, she is called Artemis, from the even [artios] and material number [i.e., the number 2].”
[12] At the end of this section, the remnants are so scanty that little detailed sense can be made of the odd letter or word preserved.  The story, however, appears to be that Artemis helped Leto bring forth Apollo (as in Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.21).
[13] 7 Nov.
[14] Cf. De Mensibus 4.32.  For the Hermetic text cited, cf. Asclepius 28 [Nock-Festugière, Corpus Hermeticum, 2:334, printing John Lydus’ quotation as a parallel to the extant Latin translation]:  But if, on the other hand, [the highest daemon] sees [the soul] besmeared with the stains of misdeeds and befouled by vices, he casts it down from above to the depths and hands it over to the frequently quarreling squalls and twisters of air, fire, and water, so that, with eternal punishments, it may be buffeted and forever driven in different directions by the material currents.”  Lactantius, Divine Institutes 7.18.3, refers to the Asclepius as the “Perfect Discourse,” just as John Lydus does here.
[15] Porphyry, De Abstinentia 2.5—the text of Porphyry, however, reads “we too preserve the undying fire…”
[16] Alternatively, “stormy weather.”
[17] 8 Nov.
[18] T. P. Wiseman, Remus:  A Roman Myth (1995), p. 136, suggests some connection here with the Ludi Plebeii.
[19] John gives the Greek letter beta in the transliteration of both faba and Favonius.
[20] From zephyros, the Greek word for the West wind.
[21] I.e., the number one, as being the first month.
[22] Lat. semen, as John pointed out in 4.135.
[23] Alternatively, “set the beginning [i.e., of the year] in the spring.”  Interpretation is difficult because the Greek word archê can mean either “beginning” or “rule”; here, the beginning of the year has been the main issue, but if that is the only point again (i.e., the year began in March), the next part of the sentence follows illogically and redundantly.  As translated above, John Lydus is presumably referring to the Spring date of Rome’s foundation (21 April—see, e.g., Ovid, Fasti 4.807ff) and hence, the beginning of Romulus’ reign.
[24] Cf. De Mensibus 4.34.


One thought on “John the Lydian — On November

  1. A query was put to me: most of November gives the dates counting backwards to the Ides etc. But then there is this:

    “151. Beginning from the fifteenth of November…”

    The question was whether this variation in counting methods was in the Greek. Dr Eastbourne tells me that it is!

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