A calendar is like a chain that emerges out of the waters of oblivion and holds the ship of history to its moorings. Beneath the surface of the waters, there must have been sunk some kind of an anchor.
P.W. Wilson, The Romance of the Calendar
Last night I started reading Robert Holdstock’s Celtika. At the beginning of the novel, Merlin is already about 500 years old, and it struck me that our calendar, our way of marking time is, in fact, an artificial construct.
What was it like during those centuries when people struggled to make sense of time passing?
Although we in the here and now regard the calendar as fixed and accurate, it is neither. The Mayans actually beat the West in terms of calendar accuracy, but fitting hours, minutes and seconds into the movement of a planet is a tricky business.
In what we now regard as the year 530 AD a scholar and monk named Dionysius Exiguus was working out calculations for when Easter would fall during the next 19 years and posited that “it was inappropriate to date the years by the reign of one of the most notorious persecutors that the Church had ever known” — the Roman emperor Diocletian. He worked out a new year numbering system he called Anni Domini Jesu Christi, establishing year one according to his calculation of the birth of the Christian martyr Jesus Christ.