Geeking the days away.

Following a discussion during my last Japanese lesson, I just posted the following to my classmates. As it turned out to be quite long and involved (but possibly interesting), I thought I might as well also post it here.

In case anyone was wondering what I was blathering on about at the last lesson:

The seven-day week, which is used almost globally, is surprisingly consistent in its naming around the world - at least once you refer to the astrological and religious traditions of the countries involved.

There seems to have been a widely-held concept of "seven luminaries" in a number of ancient cultures (although possibly not always under that name). These "luminaries" were based on the seven brightest lights in the day and night sky:

The Sun
The Moon

In the Chinese and Japanese traditions, the luminaries corresponding to planets were associated with an Element (obviously, not the four elements of the greeks, or the 100-odd of modern chemistry). In Latin, Greek and Nordic traditions, they were all associated with gods.

The Chinese and Japanese elements, and their related planets, were:

Fire: Mars (Mars is Kasei, Fire star in Japanese)
Water: Mercury (again, known as Suisei, Water Star)
Wood: Jupiter / Mokusei
Gold/Metal: Venus / Kinsei
Earth (element): Saturn / Dosei

From which you'll recognise the Japanese weekdays of

Nichiyoubi (Sun Day)
Getsuyoubi (Moon Day)
Kayoubi (Fire Day)
Suiyoubi (Water Day)
Mokuyoubi (Wood Day)
Kinyoubi (Gold Day)
Doyoubi (Earth Day)

Days in the western traditions tend to be based on the names of the gods for which the planets are named. Italian and French have the closest modern equivalents to these names:

Sunday: Early Latin: Dies Solis (Day of the Sun), Later Latin: Dominica (Day of God)
Italian: Domenica, French: Dimanche

Monday: Dies Lunis, (Day of the Moon)
Italian: Lunedi, French: Lundi

Tuesday: Dies Martis (Day of Mars)
Italian: Martedi, French: Mardi

Wednesday: Dies Mercurii
Italian: Mercoledi, French: Mercredi

Thursday: Dies Jovis (The god Jupiter was also known as Jove)
Italian: Giovedi, French: Jeudi

Friday: Dies Veneris (Day of Venus)
Italian: Venerdi, French: Vendredi

Saturday: Dies Saturni
Italian: sabato, French: samedi
(NB: the Greek name of Savvato for the Hebrew Sabbath is also a contender here).

So where do the English names come from? Sunday, Monday and Saturday are understandable from the Latin names, but the rest are very unclear.

The answer is that English (and German and Dutch) names tend to come from the Nordic tradition, which wanted the days of the week to use the names of their own gods, not the Roman ones. A mapping known as the "Interpratio Romana" linked gods from various pantheons to each other, and this gave us the new names.

The war-god Mars equated to Tiw or Tyr, Old English god of single combat and victory. Therefore, Mars Day is Tiw's Day, or Tuesday.

Wodan, or Wotan/Odin, god of the dead, appears to have been equated to the god Mercury, so Mercredi becomes Wodan's Day.

Thor (or Thunor), god of Thunder, took the role of Jove, also god of Thunder and of the sky, so that Jeudi becomes Thor's Day.

Frigg or Frigga (possibly Freya, Freyja) was the only Norse goddess to get a day to her name. She is described both as "Chief Goddess' and 'Beloved', so when the ancient Norse were looking for someone to take the day named for the Roman goddess of Love, she seems to have been top of the list. The "Interpratio Romana" between Venus and Frigga appears to be the least clear of those mentioned here. In any case, Venerdi became Frigg's Day.

The names of the days of the week in almost all European languages can be drawn from the above. Spanish names are almost the same as French/Italian. German/Dutch names tend to match the English:

Sunday: Sonntag/Zontag
Monday: Montag/Maandag
Tuesday: (Doesn't map; Dienstag/Dinsdag mean "Assembly Day", but Danish is Tirsdag and Swedish Tisdag, both from Tiw/Tyr).
Wednesday: Mittwoch ("Midweek") in German, Dutch is Woensdag
Thursday: Donnerstag/Donderdag (Thunder Day, for Thor god of Thunder)
Friday: Freitag/Vrijdag for Frigg/Freyja
Saturday: Samstag/Saterdag, both (I think) still for Saturn, who was obviously hard to shift, although other nordic nations call it "Washing Day".

Portuguese names are Domingo, 2nd Day, 3rd Day, 4th Day, 5th Day, 6th Day, Sabado. I guess they're less superstitious.

Right, that'a about 3 times what I though I was going to write, and I bet I've bored you all witless, so I'm going to bed.

(PS: I could have tried to do the Japanese names in Kana but I was afraid of what people's email clients would do to it).

References (among others):

And a probably unhealthy fixation with European languages and mythology.
Posted by parsingphase, 2009-11-02 23:01

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