Specifically why we have weekdays and why they're associated w what
September 20, 2022 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Did anyone here happen to ever read about... the reasons why is Friday associated with the planet Venus, etc? Why is Monday named after the moon? I've already read all of the relevant wiki articles and they all kind of stop at "Friday is associated with Venus" without delving into what human needs were humans serving when they started saying these things to each other. Does anyone know?
posted by bleep to Human Relations (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would refer you to the newish book The Week: a History of the Unnatural Rhythms that Made Us Who We Are by David Henkin. I haven’t read it myself, but the appendix has an entry for “Weekdays: naming of” that suggests the answer (to the extent it is knowable) is contained herein. If a knowledgable Mefite doesn’t come around with the precise answer to your question or you’d like to learn more it might be worth picking up at your local library or purveyor of books.
posted by reren at 2:32 PM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The days of the week are associated with the seven 'luminaries' (the wandering "planets" of ancient Hellenic/Babylonian astrology, which include the sun and the moon). This association comes from the underlying concept of planetary hours: each 'hour'* is associated with one of the luminaries, proceeding in the 'Chaldean order' from slowest-moving along the zodiac (Saturn) to the fastest (Moon).

The name of the day is (in modern times) determined by the first planetary hour of the day, starting at sunrise. Count through the 24 hours of the day and you arrive at the luminary associated with the next day: this is where the (highly non-obvious) pattern Moon-Mars-Mercury-Jupiter-Venus-Saturn-Sun comes from. If you look at the names of the days of the week in a Romance language like French, these associations are more obvious. This system is believed to have been in use from before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE up to today without any glitches because of a graffiti found on a wall in Pompeii containing a date and day of the week.

The English-language names for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday come from the Roman practice (interpretatio romana) of 'matching' the Gods of the peoples the Romans conquered onto Roman Gods; these names come from the Norse/Germanic Gods Tiw/Tyr, Woden/Odin, Thor, and Frigga/Freya. Interestingly, the Japanese names for the days of the week use the exact same system (the pattern, along with the 7-day week, was adopted from the Western calendar around the time of the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s), naming the days after their corresponding 'planets', which in Japanese are themselves named after the 5 'elements' of the classical Chinese system (Mars=fire, Mercury=water, Jupiter=wood, Venus=metal, Saturn=earth), together with the Sun and the Moon (named after the sun and the moon).

* In the system of planetary hours, the day is divided into 12 equal-length hours from sunrise to sunset, and 12 equal-length hours from sunset to sunrise; the duration of these hours varies with location and time of year.

Thank you for asking this question and allowing me to share this nifty information. :)
posted by heatherlogan at 4:00 PM on September 20, 2022 [56 favorites]

Best answer: The deeper question of "why does the day have 12 hours and the night have 12 hours instead of some other number" is probably embedded somewhere in the Babylonian base-60 numbering system. The other deeper question of "why associate hours with luminaries in the first place" probably comes from the human tendency to try to predict things using patterns, in this case Babylonian astrology.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:09 PM on September 20, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: One last thing which I think I wasn't clear enough about: Tyr, Odin, Thor, and Freya were *not* associated with planetary bodies in Norse/German religion; it was the Roman interpretation that matched them to the Roman Gods Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus, respectively, from which the association with the planets originates.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:18 PM on September 20, 2022 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Heatherlogan that is exactly what I was thinking about, thank you. Lately I've been thinking about how religions are kind of like an exploit in our brains that we exploit to help us all remember the same things & convey useful & important information like what to do at what time. So this information supports that. Ive also been finding that organizing my to do list according to Moon's day, Tyr's day, Odis's day has made my day to day a lot more peaceful & gentle, and I never have to agonize what to eat anymore. I have ALSO found that the 7 days of the week line up really nicely with the 7 chakras starting with the root on Friday. I guess they were right!
posted by bleep at 4:37 PM on September 20, 2022

Best answer: Good timing, I've just finished constructing my 2023 page-a-month pretentious kitchen calendar. Next year each month has the weekdays in a different language.
Some languages push back on naming the days after pagan deities.
In Greek Monday (Δευτέρα – the Second), Tuesday (Τρίτη – the Third), Wednesday (Τετάρτη – the Fourth), Thursday (Πέμπτη – the Fifth), Friday (Παρασκευή – The day of preparation) and Saturday (Σάββατο – the Sabbath)
In Portuguese: Mo Segunda-feira; Tu Terca-feira; We Quarta-feira; Th Quinta-feira; Fr Sexta-feira
Arabic also counts the days.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:53 PM on September 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You might also find this twitter account useful and/or interesting. It is run by an academic (primarily an organizational sociologist) who is writing a book about the development of the week.
posted by bove at 8:37 AM on September 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At least according to the tiny Chinese desk calendar distributed by a supermarket in Canada that I have in front of me at the moment, Chinese identifies six of the days of the week with numbers (with Monday being day #1, in contrast to Greek and Portuguese), and tags Sunday with the character for the sun.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

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