January 08, 2008

#01-059: Planets and the Days of the Week

bracelet made of seven cameos, each depicting a Roman god or goddess associated with a day of the week: Diana (moon=Monday), Mars (Tuesday), Mercury (Wednesday), Jupiter (Thursday), Venus (Friday), Saturn (Saturday), Apollo (Sun=Sunday)
The Roman gods of the days of the week, starting with Diana the Moon Goddess (Monday)

Note: Sometimes the meanings of names are hidden away. But in fact, throughout European cultures and sometimes even in others, the names of the seven days of the week are directly tied to a fixed set of what were called "the seven visible planets" (including the Sun and the Moon). Find out the others!

Get Ready: Sunday, Moonday, and Saturnday are easy. But can you guess which planets the other days were named for?

In Lessons #01-016, #01-057, and #01-058, we learned about the names of the months; now let's look at the names of the days of the week.

The Chinese system of naming days is very sensible. It counts the days in order from 1-6, starting with Monday. But why isn't Sunday Number 7? It's easy to see that Sunday is Sun Day: It uses the Chinese symbol for the sun, 日, instead of a number. The ancient Chinese seven-day week shares Babylonian roots with the western week.

Just as Sunday is the Sun's Day in English, it's easy to see that Monday is "Moon Day" and Saturday is "Saturn's Day." But what about the other four days?

You may notice that Sun, Moon, and Saturn are things we see in the sky. In fact, the ancient Babylonians named seven visible "planets": Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. (They were a little wrong, of course; only the last five are "planets." The Sun is a star, and the Moon is a satellite of the Earth. But we'll forgive them--they didn't have telescopes!)

In fact, these words name not only days and planets, but also gods.

"Sun" and "Moon" are good Germanic words. The Romans called the Sun "Sol" and the Moon "Luna": these names survive in the adjectives "solar" and "lunar." But "sun" comes from the German "Sunne," the name of the Sun goddess in Germanic (or "Norse") mythology. And the German word for "Moon" actually came from the word "Mani," the name of the Norse Moon goddess. Saturn is the name of the sixth planet and its god in both English and German, and nearly the same in Latin (Saturnus).

With the other four days, we have to do some "comparative mythology."

Mars is the Roman god of war. His equivalent in German mythology was a god named Tyr. In Old English this became Tiw, so the day was Tiwes' Day--Tuesday.

Mercury was a messenger god. Unfortunately, things get a little confused here for English speakers. "Wednesday" is "Woden's Day," but the god Wodin (or Odin) is not a messenger, but a king of gods. Perhaps the confusion came because stories of Odin often include birds used as messengers.

Thursday is more straightforward: Thor of the Germanic peoples is a thunder god with a bad temper, much like the hotheaded Roman Jupiter or Greek Zeus.

Finally, everybody loves Friday! And that's fitting, because the Germanic goddess Frigg is the goddess of love and fertility, like the Roman Venus. Friday is Frigg's Day. (Incidentally, she was the wife of Odin.)

And so the Norse gods are hiding in the names of most of our days!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_the_days_of_the_week#Greco-Roman_tradition

Practice: Which of the seven days:

  1. doesn't have a number in Chinese?
  2. is named for a god of war?
  3. would be Number 4 in Chinese?
  4. is named for the Norse king of gods?
  5. has a name in other languages related to the word "lunar"?
  6. is named for a Norse god parallel to Jupiter (Zeus)?
  7. is named for Odin's wife?
  8. is named for a god with virtually the same name in three languages?
  9. is named for a guy who used birds as messengers?
  10. is named for a star, not a planet?
  11. is named for someone named "Tyr"?
  12. is named for the love goddess?
  13. is named for a goddess named "Mani"?
  14. is named for a guy with a hammer?

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 8, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. Sunday; 2. Tuesday; 3. Saturday; 4. Wednesday; 5. Monday; 6. Thursday; 7. Friday; 8. Saturday; 9. Wednesday; 10. Sunday; 11. Tuesday; 12. Friday; 13. Monday; 14. Thursday