The calender or the clock, which came first, and why does it matter? A study of time and a study of the philosophy of history and why they are two different things.


Life has its rhythms. Probably the first distinction was between the periods of daylight and darkness which were gradually broken down into what we now refer to as hours. After the day was organized the next distinction may have been lunar cycles – the most easily observable period – and then seasons.  The  realization of the repetition of the hours, days, cycles and seasons and the ability to record them first for the necessary purposes of hunting and  agrarian management, then for religious purposes and finally for civil purposes. This is all pretty straightforward and well presented in Feeney’s history of the Roman Calendar.

And then we have a study of Historiometry – a seemingly harmless belief that progress is natural, not to say inevitable, in history and that it can be charted and encouraged. What could seem more natural to the modern mind. Taking a slightly closer look we find that the modern configuration of this opinion comes from Sir Francis Galton who famously observed, ” I have no patience with the hypothesis occasionally expressed, and often implied, especially in tales written to teach children to be good, that babies are born pretty much alike, and that the sole agencies in creating differences between boy and boy, and man and man, are steady application and moral effort. It is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretensions of natural equality. The experiences of the nursery, the school, the University, and of professional careers, are a chain of proofs to the contrary.” In a society that is devoid of steady application and moral effort – in one that in fact discourages both – it is easy to be sympathetic to this point of view. However since Galton was a convinced hereditarian, eugenicist, proto-geneticist,  and the half-cousin of Charles Darwin we are willing to allow a defense of hereditary insanity.

The real problem with a philosophy of history is that – assuming it posits the evolutionary progress of man – it leads to eugenics which is not quite so innocent as the idea that better parents make better babies. The logical conclusion of eugenics in the twentieth century was the Nazi quest for the super race. What it will be in the twenty first century we are not certain. There are two other possibilities for a philosophy of history – the first being that man is fallen and continues to fall – which allows for all sorts of repression of the sort that gave rise to the nanny state of socialism in its mildest form and the pogroms and Gulags of the Soviets at its logical conclusion. The second choice is that history is a cycle that will always repeat itself and your life is pretty much determined by where you get on or off the merry-go-round. These meaningless approach gives way to nihilism for some and consumerism for others.

Timepieces, including calendars, a very useful things when used to order our daily lives. When they are used to support philosophical opinions they are very dangerous things.

Caesar’s calendar : ancient time and the beginnings of history Berkeley : University of California Press, c 2007      Denis Feeney Time  Social aspects  Rome Hardcover. 1st ed., later printing. xiv, 372 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 303-333) and indexes. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

The ancient Romans changed more than the map of the world when they conquered so much of it; they altered the way historical time itself is marked and understood. In this brilliant and exhilarating book Denis Feeney investigates time and its contours as described by the ancient Romans, first as Rome positioned itself in relation to Greece and then as it exerted its influence as a major world power. Feeney welcomes the reader into a world where time was moveable and changeable and where simply ascertaining a date required a complex and often contentious cultural narrative. He investigates the pertinent systems, including the Roman calendar, which is still our calendar, and its near perfect method of capturing the progress of natural time; the annual rhythm of consular government; the plotting of sacred time onto sacred space; the forging of chronological links to the past; and, above all, the experience of empire, by which the Romans meshed the city-state’s concept of time with those of the foreigners they encountered and thereby established a worldwide web of time.

The measure of reality : quantification and Western society, 1250-1600 Cambridge [England] ; New York, NY, USA : Cambridge University Press, 1997      Alfred W. Crosby Historiometry Hardcover. xii, 245 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Western Europeans were among the first, if not the first, to invent mechanical clocks, geometrically precise maps, double-entry bookkeeping, precise algebraic and musical notations, and perspective painting. By the sixteenth century more people were thinking quantitatively in western Europe than in any other part of the world. The Measure of Reality discusses the epochal shift from qualitative to quantitative perception in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. This shift made modern science, technology, business practice, and bureaucracy possible.

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