Mar 302016


 My birthday has rolled around again – 65 !!! Two years ago I did a sort of omnibus of anniversaries and birthdays for the day, followed with a recounting of significant birthdays past which I promised not to repeat the following year:

I kept my word:

This year I’ll look at a few more birthdays and anniversaries. It’s quite a day. I’ll begin with a slight puzzle.

Quite a few websites say something to the effect that today was the Day of Bau in ancient Babylonia. For example:


Bau had various names in Mesopotamia including Nintinugga, goddess of healing and consort of Ninurta in the Babylonian pantheon. She is identical with the goddess of Akkadian mythology, known as Bau or Baba, though it would seem that the two were originally independent. She was the daughter of An and Ninurta’s wife. She had seven daughters, including Hegir-Nuna (Gangir). She was known as a patron deity of Lagash, where Gudea built her a temple. But I cannot find any primary sources that refer to 30th March as a special day for her. Yet numerous “pagan” sites list today as a special day for her. This seems to be a case where one person asserts something, and numerous others repeat the “fact” without checking.


We’re on slightly more solid ground in ancient Rome. 30th March was, for a time, the feast day of Janus and Concordia, a day celebrating peace and harmony at the end of what was the first month before the introduction of the Julian calendar. While Janus is sometimes surnamed belliger (warrior) and sometimes pacificus (peacemaker) in accord with his general function of beginner of things, he is mentioned as Janus Quirinus in relation to the closing of the rites of March at the end of the month together with Pax, Salus and Concordia: Janus Quirinus which stresses the quirinal function of bringing peace to Rome and the hope that soldiers will return victorious. In the Fasti, a multi-volume work on the origins of Roman festivals, Ovid says:

March 30th

When, counting from that day, the shepherd has four times penned
The sated kids, and the grass four times whitened with fresh dew,
Janus must be adored, and with him gentle Concord,
And the Safety of Rome, and the altar of Peace.


I’m inclined to believe that the legendary martyrdom of Quirinus of Neuss on this date in 116 is an early Christian conflation of events in Rome in the 2nd century with Janus Quirinus, but sources are fragmentary. Saint Quirinus of Neuss (German: Quirin, Quirinus), sometimes called Quirinus of Rome (which is the name shared by another martyr) is venerated as a martyr and saint of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. His cult was centered at Neuss in Germany, though he was a Roman martyr.


According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a Roman martyr named Quirinus was buried in the Catacomb of Prætextatus on the Via Appia. The Martyrologium Hieronymianum mentions Quirinus’ name and place of burial. Legends make him a Roman tribune who was ordered with executing Alexander, Eventius, and Theodolus, who had been arrested by order of Trajan. Quirinus converted to Christianity, however, after witnessing miracles performed by these three saints, and he was baptized along with his daughter Balbina. He was then martyred on March 30 by being decapitated.

According to a document from Cologne dating from 1485, Quirinus’ body was donated in 1050 by Pope Leo IX to an abbess of Neuss named Gepa (who is called a sister of the pope). In this way the relics came to the Romanesque Church of St. Quirinus at Neuss (Quirinus-Münster) which still exists.


Inhabitants of that city invoked him for aid during Siege of Neuss by Charles the Bold that occurred in 1474-5. His cult spread to Cologne, Alsace, Scandinavia, western Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy, where he became the patron saint of Correggio. Numerous wells and springs were dedicated to him, and he was invoked against the bubonic plague, smallpox, and gout; he was also considered a patron saint of animals. Pilgrims to Neuss sought the Quirinuswasser (Quirinus water) from the Quirinusbrunnen (Quirinus spring or pump-room).

A farmers’ saying associated with Quirinus’ feast day of March 30 was “Wie der Quirin, so der Sommer” (“As St. Quirinus’ Day goes, so will the summer”).


On March 30, 1791, the French Academy of Sciences defined the length of a meter. Before this date, there were two definitions for a meter: one based on the length of a pendulum and the other based on a fraction of the length of a half-meridian, or line of longitude. The Academy chose the meridian definition. One meter was defined as one ten-millionth of the distance from the Equator to the North Pole. Not awfully accurate, I’m afraid, but it was a start. Today, a meter is “the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second.”

One more birthday:

jaastin jaastin2

John Astin (1930 and still going), whom I remember as Gomez in the 1960s series, The Addams Family.  Fond memories.


Speaking of the 60’s, Jeopardy!, originally hosted by Art Fleming had its debut on this date in 1964.

I don’t normally record death dates in these posts except in reference to saints, but three on this date are worthy of note:

1840 – Beau Brummell, English-French fashion designer (b. 1778)

1925 – Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher and author (b. 1861)

2004 – Alistair Cooke, English-American journalist and author (b. 1908)

Last year I was in China and had a rather muted celebration because I had to work, and was living in a hostel with no kitchen.


Here’s an album:

This year’s album will get here at some point.  It’s 4 am right now and I’ve got a long day. Dinner is in the works (cream is the theme):

Appetizers: Italian ham and cheeses plus deviled eggs (with cream filling).

Soup: Cream of wild mushroom and leek.

Fish: Fresh anchovies with a crème of smoked salmon.

Main: Braised quail, rabbit and beef in a spicy cream sauce.

Dessert: Wild berries in a chilled custard of eggs, cream, and mascarpone.

Every recipe is my own creation. I hope my guests don’t go home hungry.

Feb 232016


Today was once celebrated in ancient Rome as the Terminalia, a festival in honor of the god Terminus, who presided over boundaries. His “statue” was typically a stone or post stuck in the ground to mark property boundaries. His worship is reputed to have been instituted by Numa Pompilius (753–673 BCE), legendary successor to Romulus, who was credited with having instituted a number of important Roman civil and religious institutions.


According to legend, Numa ordered that every landowner should mark the boundaries of his property by stones to be consecrated to Jupiter Terminalis, and at which, every year, sacrifices were to be offered at the festival of the Terminalia. On the festival the two owners of adjacent property crowned the “statue” with garlands and raised a crude altar, on which they offered up some corn, honeycombs, and wine, and sacrificed a lamb or a suckling pig. They concluded with singing the praises of the god. The public festival in honor of this god was celebrated at the sixth milestone on the road towards Laurentum, presumably because this was originally the extent of Roman territory in that direction.


One of Numa’s first acts was the construction of a temple to Janus (also god of boundaries) as a symbol of peace and war. The temple was constructed at the foot of the Argiletum, a major road in the city. After securing peace with Rome’s neighbors, the doors of the temples were shut and remained so for all the duration of Numa’s reign, a unique case in Roman history. Closing the temple doors as a sign of peace remained important throughout the Roman Republic and Empire.


Numa reportedly sought to instill in Romans respect of lawful property and non-violent relationships with neighbors. The cult of Terminus involved rejection of violence and murder. The god was a testament to justice and a keeper of peace. In a somehow comparable, more moral rather than legal fashion, Numa sought to associate himself with one of the roles of Vegoia, from the religious system of the neighboring Etruscans by deciding to set the official boundaries of the territory of Rome, which Romulus had never wanted, presumably with the same concern of preserving peace. This act is reminiscent of the proverb, “good fences make good neighbors.”

The festival of the Terminalia was celebrated in the Roman calendar as a. d. VII. Kal. Mart., that is, the 23d of February, or, the day before the Regifugium (“king’s flight”) whose precise nature is obscure. During a short period, Terminalia was the last day of the year in Rome, and Regifugium was the first of the new year. Thus, Terminalia signified both spatial and temporal boundaries.


The central Terminus of Rome (the place to which all roads led) was the god’s ancient shrine on the Capitoline Hill. The temple of Jupiter, king of the gods, had to be built around it (with a hole in the ceiling since Terminus demanded open-air sacrifices) by the city’s last king, Tarquinius Superbus, who had closed down other shrines on the site to make room for his prestigious project. But the augurs had read into the flight patterns of birds that the god Terminus refused to be moved, which was taken as a sign of stability for the city.

Terminalia may have descendants in later customs, such as beating the bounds. In times past in Britain, especially because for centuries precise maps were unusual, it was common to make a formal perambulation of the parish boundaries on Ascension Day or during Rogation week. Knowledge of the limits of each parish needed to be handed down so that such matters as liability to contribute to the repair of the church, and the right to be buried within the churchyard were not disputed. The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the parochial officials headed a crowd of boys who, armed with green boughs, usually birch or willow, beat the parish boundary markers with them. Sometimes the boys were themselves whipped or even violently bumped on the boundary-stones to make them remember. The object of taking boys along was supposedly to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible. Priests would pray for the parish’s protection in the forthcoming year and often Psalms 103 and 104 were recited, and the priest would say such sentences as “Cursed is he who transgresseth the bounds or doles of his neighbour.”


The ceremony had an important practical purpose. Checking the boundaries was a way of preventing encroachment by neighbors; sometimes boundary markers would be moved, or lines obscured, and a folk memory of the true extent of the parish was necessary to maintain integrity of borders by embedding knowledge in oral traditions.

In England the custom dates from Anglo-Saxon times, as it is mentioned in laws of Alfred the Great and Æthelstan. In England a parish-ale, or feast, was always held after the perambulation, which assured its popularity, and in Henry VIII’s reign the occasion had become an excuse for so much revelry that it attracted the condemnation of a preacher who declared “these solemne and accustomable processions and supplications be nowe growen into a right foule and detestable abuse.”

Beating the bounds had a religious side in the practice which originated the term Rogation, the accompanying clergy being supposed to beseech (rogare) the divine blessing upon the parish lands for the ensuing harvest. This feature originated in the 5th century, when Mamertus, Archbishop of Vienne, instituted special prayers and fasting and processions on these days. This clerical side of the parish bounds-beating was one of the religious functions prohibited by the Royal Injunctions of Elizabeth I in 1559; but it was then ordered that the perambulation should continue to be performed as a quasi-secular function, so that evidence of the boundaries of parishes, etc., might be preserved.


Some locations have maintained traditions of beating the bounds, although now they are merely a quaint holdover with vague religious overtones.


For me as an anthropologist this is a highly significant holiday. It emphasizes physical boundaries (city limits, property lines etc.) and temporal boundaries (year’s end and beginning). Anthropologist Victor Turner used the term “liminal” for such boundaries – from the Latin, “limen,” a threshold. These are places and times of immense power and danger in all cultures, because on the cusp of them you are capable of mixing things up, and, thereby destroying the order of the world. Are dawn and dusk, day or night? They are both and neither. Which side are you on when you are “sitting on the fence”? Why is a bride in the West traditionally carried over the threshold? Boundaries are of immense importance to ALL cultures – although what counts as a boundary varies enormously.


Chief offerings on Terminalia were bread, honey, wine, and lamb or suckling pig. This gives you abundant choice for a contemporary recipe. Apicius in De Re Coquinaria gives us this:

Porcellum assum tractomelinum: porcellum curatum a gutture extenteras, siccas. teres piperis unciam, mel, vinum, impones ut ferveat, tractam siccatam confringes et partibus caccabo permisces. agitabis surculo lauri viridis, tam diu coques, donec lenis fiat et impinguet. hac impensa porcellum imples, surculas, obduras charta, in furnum mittes, exornas et inferes.

The title, porcellum assum tractomelinum, means suckling pig “treated with honey” but there’s wine and bread involved as well. Loosely the text says:

Clean the pig through the neck and dry it. Crush pepper with honey and wine, and put it on the heat. Break up some toast and mix it with the sauce. Add bay leaves and mix until the paste is smooth and cooked. Fill the pig with this dressing and put it in the oven. Garnish and serve.

You’ll have to make of this what you will. There’s no indication of proportions of ingredients. For my tastes I’d use a lot of toast and just moisten it with wine and honey, mixed, seasoned with pepper and bay laurel.

Jan 012016


Today is New Year’s Day according to the Gregorian calendar, which is more or less universally used for daily affairs, although many cultures use other calendars for the timing of celebrations and anniversaries such as the new year. When a new year starts (or when a day starts) is obviously arbitrary. I once read of a bar in California that celebrated a “new year” every day at midnight with balloons, champagne, and Auld Lang Syne. There are many measures of time that are human creations, such as the hour, minute, or week, but the year (as well as day and month), is set by astronomical facts (one revolution of the earth around the sun), regardless of human perceptions and ideas. But because the year is a cycle, there is no obvious starting or ending point. All manner of dates have been used in the past in different cultures.

During the Middle Ages under the influence of the Catholic Church, many countries in western Europe moved the start of the year to one of several important Christian festivals – December 25 (the Nativity of Jesus), March 1, March 25 (the Annunciation), or even Easter. Eastern European countries (most of them with populations showing allegiance to the Orthodox Church) began their numbered year on September 1 from about 988 CE.


In England, January 1 had been celebrated as the New Year festival, but from the 12th century to 1752 the year in England began on March 25 (Lady Day). So, for example, the Parliamentary record notes the execution of Charles I as occurring on January 30, 1648, (as the year did not end until March 24), although modern histories adjust the start of the year to January 1 and record the execution as occurring in 1649.

Most western European countries changed the start of the year to January 1 before they adopted the Gregorian calendar. For example, Scotland changed the start of the Scottish New Year to January 1 in 1600. England, Ireland and the British colonies changed the start of the year to January 1 in 1752. Later that year in September, the Gregorian calendar was introduced throughout Britain and the British colonies. These two reforms were implemented by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750.

January 1 became the official start of the year in various countries as follows:

1362 Grand Duchy of Lithuania
1522 Republic of Venice
1544 Holy Roman Empire
1556 Spain, Portugal
1559 Prussia, Sweden
1564 France
1576 Southern Netherlands
1579 Duchy of Lorraine
1583 Dutch Republic (northern)
1600 Scotland
1700 Russia
1721 Tuscany
1752 Great Britain (excluding Scotland) and its colonies


There is no telling when and in which culture a new year’s festival was first celebrated. It was certainly known in ancient Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago. Also, it is certainly the case that a new year’s celebration was independently invented several times – Mayans, Aztecs, Jews, Chinese etc. etc.


The Romans dedicated New Year’s Day to Janus, the pagan god of gates, doors, and beginnings, for whom the first month of the year, January, is also named. Janus was depicted as having two faces: one looking forwards, the other, backwards . This tradition may have started in 153 BCE, when it was stipulated that the two annual consuls, after whose names the Romans identified the years, acceded to office on that day. After Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 BCE and was subsequently murdered, the Roman Senate voted to deify him on 1 January 42 BCE, in honor of his life and his institution of the new rationalized calendar. Ever after 1 January was the unequivocal start of the new year in the Roman Empire until its collapse.


There’s a host of New Year’s customs I don’t need to dwell on – champagne, fireworks, resolutions and so on. Besides those that have become widespread, there are also those that belong to individual cultures. One from Europe I observe is to do a little of something(s) I hope to do throughout the year. Sympathetic magic I suppose. I also follow the custom from the U.S. South of eating “poor” on New Year’s Day. Both greens and black-eyed peas, symbolizing wealth, are traditional foods. I usually cook up greens with ham and potatoes, hoppin’ John (rice and black-eyed peas), and hush puppies on New Year’s Day. My recipe for hush puppies is here: Here’s hoppin’ John as I made it today. Quantities are not necessary, but the amounts of rice and black-eyed peas should be about even, and they should dominate the dish.


Hoppin’ John

Soak black-eyed peas in cold water overnight. The following morning drain the peas, cover them with water, add a ham hock and simmer until the peas are cooked. Meanwhile cook an equal amount of long grained white rice. Drain both the peas and rice, reserving the broth from the peas. Strip the meat from the ham hock.

Melt a little lard in a heavy skillet. Sauté a small amount of chopped white onion and the ham until the onion is translucent. Add the rice, peas, and a small amount of broth, and heat through. If you like you can add parsley, but it is not necessary. Serve with greens and hush puppies.