Vol. 2, Issue 6
March 19, 2007

Vol. 2, Issue 6
March 19, 2007

Greetings to all our friends and especially to those who have recently subscribed -- and happy Spring!... which it will be this Tuesday evening on the equinox; more on that below. I hope the illnesses that have plagued many of us this late winter are leaving you and yours alone.

Below you'll find a more lengthy De Astris than usual, and its equinoctial theme will serve for the Cogitemus and Anno Domini as well. I hope you enjoy this bouquet of musings; please forward it to your friends.


1) SCHOLA NEWS: Italy Tour and other upcoming events
2) DE ASTRIS: Spring Equinox
3) SIC LOCUTUS: Antisthenes


SCHOLA NEWS: Italy Tour and other upcoming events

As I've mentioned before in this space, the Schola Italy Tour is coming up, May 29-June 11, and there are spaces available. You can read all about the itinerary and costs here: http://www.scholatutorials.org/ScholaTravel/Italy07.html.  If you're interested, please contact me -- I'd be delighted to have you join us.

There are three Latin In A Week sessions this summer. Read about them here: http://www.scholatutorials.org/intensivelanguage.html.  Again, I'd be delighted to see you there.


DE ASTRIS: The Spring Equinox

Tomorrow -- Tuesday, March 20th -- at exactly 8:07 PM Eastern time (7:07 Central, 6:06 Mountain, 5:07 Pacific), the sun will cross the equator on its annual journey north for the summer. This is the spring (or "vernal") equinox in the northern hemisphere. Around this time, the sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west. After this, the sun will rise further and further north of the due east point on the horizon and set further north of the due west point. Around this time the days and nights are of equal length, which is why this moment in the year is called the "equinox" (the word literally means "equal night"). But after this the days will be longer and the nights shorter, till the summer solstice in late June. Were it not for the government's officious meddling with our clocks, around this time the sun would rise and set at almost exactly six o'clock, but after this it will rise earlier and set later. This is a moment of celestial balance -- but the old legend which says that you can balance an egg on its end at the moment of equinox is simply not true. If it were, maybe this would be a good time to try to balance our checkbooks.

The spring equinox was, for much of history, the beginning of the new calendar year, and it makes much more sense to start the year now than at some arbitrary date like, oh say, January 1. Absolutely nothing happens of any cosmic significance on January 1, but the spring equinox is immensely significant. Spring begins in the northern hemisphere, with the start of the new agricultural (and for the pre-industrial world, sailing) season.

At the moment of the vernal equinox, the sun is in the constellation Pisces, just below the Great Square of Pegasus. Two thousand years ago the sun was in Aries every spring but a slight wobble in the earth's rotation, like a spinning top slowing down, means the the sun has slowly shifted one constellation to the west in the zodiac. So modern astrology, which relies on the heavenly arrangements of two thousand years ago, is way off.

Just below the Circlet of Pisces and just above the spot in the sky where the sun stands at the moment of equinox, there is a tiny cross ringed with pairs of stars like jewels, visible only with binoculars or a telescope. It's delightful to think that there is a cross standing just above the sun as we approach Easter Week.

Finally, the equinox is an anchor point for determining when Easter will be each year. The early Christian Church argued about whether Easter should fall on the first full moon of the new year (remember, the year began at the equinox back then) as the Jews calculate Passover, or on the first Sunday after the first full moon. Since we Christians celebrate Christ's resurrection every Sunday of the year, how much more appropriate (most argued) to keep the special annual feast of the resurrection on a Sunday -- and so at the Council of Nicea in 325 the Church settled on the latter formula. There was still dissent here and there over the next few centuries but eventually all of Christendom came to agree that Easter would be celebrated on The First Sunday After the First Full Moon After the Spring Equinox. And that is the formula which all of Western Civilization uses to this day. Since the equinox is March 20, and the first full moon after that will be Monday, April 2, and the first Sunday after that will be April 8, that is the date of Easter this year.



To the wise, nothing is foreign.