The March Hare

Imbolc                                                                      Hare Moon

According to the Oxford Companion to the Year (OCY), the notion of mad as a MarchSmit.Lepus_sechuenensis hare comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the mating habits of the Lepus.  It was folk wisdom that the hare got up to all kinds of peculiar behavior in March because this was its month to mate. The behavior including standing on their hind legs and boxing with each other.  Apparently though the bunnies do in fact stay at it for several months of the year.

 

March

Imbolc                                                                     Hare Moon

March began the Roman year.  No surprise then that it gets its name from the Roman god Marsof war, Mars. The Romans were relentless campaigners, always concerned that the border was insecure and pushing it out further just to be sure.  Many historians think this expansion caused Rome to fall, but it has always seemed to me that a death of natural causes is closer to the truth.  Rome had just run its course.

When you string together the Tigris and Euphrates civilization, the Egyptian civilization, the Greeks, then the Romans and after them Europe and after Europe, the U.S.A., you find a civilization with roots actually deeper than those of China.

The apparent difference of course is the longer continuity between the ancient Xia dynasty and the rule of the Communist Party in today’s Middle Kingdom.  I bought this argument for a long time, seeing China as a deeper and perhaps richer civilization than the one to which I am heir.

Now, though, I’ve begun to see the long continuities in the West, too, and the division of mdc_westciv_at_cour heritage into the large categories I used above as not a lot different from China’s dynastic history.  What I mean is that the “Chinese” civilization actually has it roots in several splintered entities roughly equivalent to Rome, Greece, et al.

The Shang were a rough and tumble group, practicing human sacrifice and, according to their successors, the long lived Zhou dynasty, “drunkards” who lost the mandate of heaven.  The Zhou broke down in its later years into many states, states different enough to have their own money, weights and measures, armies and governance.  It was these states who became the warring states, giving a historical era its name.

The Qin dynasty, short, only an Emperor (Qin Shi Huang Di) and his dissolute son long,download was the first instance of a unified China, but even the Qin dynasty failed to include much of what is now considered China.

The Roman Republic was at least its equal in physical size.  And remember that the glory of Greek civilization, Egypt and Mesopotamia had come and declined by then.

The Han dynasty, roughly contemporary with the Roman Empire’s early centuries, had a bit more ofHan China, especially extending west along the great Silk Road, but as you can see it still only covers a portion of contemporary China. I emphasize this point to draw a parallel between Western civilizations consolidation under the Romans and the shifting fortunes of China’s ruling dynasties and their geographical extent.  Later the Han will fall and the period of the Three Kingdoms will occur, again China splintered into warring states, not unified.

This pattern of consolidation and disruption continues and becomes even more pronounced when the Mongols under Kublai Khan and later the Manchurians capture China and rule it for centuries.

Yes, there is a central continuity in the Chinese written language, a storehouse of history and art.  Yes, there is a continuity of sorts in the imperial form of government, but its thread is broken many, many times.

My only argument here may be with myself, disabusing myself of the monolithic cultural rise of Chinese civilization, but I’m not sure this aspect of Chinese history gets much attention in Western learning.

I am also saying that Western civilization, though markedly different, brings its own riches to the table of the 21st century.  Hopefully these two great rivers of human ingenuity can come to embrace each other and create a global civilization neither Western nor Eastern, but Earthian.

Poor February

Imbolc                                                                        Valentine Moon

February was the end of the Roman year and the name of the month comes from the Lupercalia bacchanal before a statue of Pan, Poussinlatin februa.*  The ides of a Roman month, either the 13th or the 15th were sacred to Jupiter.  On the ides of the last month of the year Roman tradition involved ceremonies and rituals related to cleansing and purification. (see definitional material below)  Presumably this allowed them to enter the new year in March clean of impurities from the old year.

Lupercalia, a celebration which has convoluted possible relations with Valentine’s Day, came to be dominant in Roman times during the ides.  Certain ancients related this celebration to the Lykaen region of Greece where King Lycaon affronted Zeus and brought about his transformation into a wolf.  Lycaos, the mountain after which the region got its name, was sacred to Pan.

Thus, Lupercalia was thought by early Romans to be a wolf festival, partly for Pan and triumph of Pan, Poussinthe wolf-like nature of the Lykaen kingdom, but also, and later more often, association with the she-wolf who suckled the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus.  Her cave was near the Palantine Hill and has recently, 2007, been provisionally located.  It was called the Lupercal and was, like Lycaos, sacred to Pan.

The Lupercalia festivities were held near the cave.

February was the shortest month and had an even number of days because, according to Roman belief, odd numbers had favor with the gods.  (Vergil:  God rejoices in the odd number.”  Until the 19th century the Germans called the month Hornung, or ‘the bastard gotten in the corner.’  The Scots Gaeli name, an Gerran, means the gelding.  Poor February.  It also had, in Europe at least, the reputation of having the worst weather of the year.

Much of the above information gleaned from The Oxford Companion to the Year, a 1999 imprint of Oxford University Press.

N.B.  Both of the Poussin paintings here:  Bacchanal Before a Statue of Pan (above) and The Triumph of Pan (below) have been associated with Lupercalia.

 

*from Lewis and Short via Perseus:

februa , ōrum, n., the Roman festival of purification and expiationcelebrated on the 15th of the month hence called February (v. Februarius); whence, Februālis , Febrūlis , and Februāta ,surnames of Junowho was worshipped at this festival; Februātus , the festival itself; and Februus , a surname of Lupercuswho presided over this festival

Spenser on February

Imbolc                                                           Valentine Moon

And lastly, came cold February, sittingaquarius

In an old wagon, for he could not ride,

Drawne of two fishes for the season fitting,

Which through the flood before did softly slyde

And swim away:  yet had he by his side

His plow and harness fit to till the ground,

And tooles to prune the trees, before the pride

of hasting Prime did make them burgein round:

So past the twelve Months forth, and their dew places found.

Spenser, The Faerie Queene, VII, vii. 43