Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Week of Heavenly Bodies

By Salvatore Di Vita

Many Italian-American children learned to recite the days of the week in Italian even though they never learned much else of the language. As a child, I was proud of the fact that I was able to pronounce the words domenica, lunedi’, martedi’, mercoledi’, giovedi’, venerdi’, and sabato. And from that time on, I knew them and used them when necessary.

But it was later, after studying Italian, that I discovered the significance of those words. To explain, we need to go back to about 250 BC. You see, the ancient Romans were an enterprising bunch. After conquering Greece, they helped themselves to everything they could get their hands on, including the Greek gods… and oh yes, the goddesses too, (No sexism here). However, not happy with the Greek names for their gods (and goddesses), the Romans renamed them in Latin.

Although there were many gods, only seven in particular served to name the days of the week. What is more, they translate quite easily into Italian: They are Luna – lunedi’, Mars – martedi’, Mercury – mercoledi’, Jupiter – giovedi’, Venus – venerdi’ and Saturn – sabato. They ‘re the same heavenly bodies we often see when looking upward. How strange it is to realize that the ancient Romans left us a legacy of names for each day of the week. Ah, but what happened to Sunday ?

Well, Sunday seems to have undergone a kind of modification through the years. To begin with, we must remember that Sunday is considered to be the first day of the week and Saturday the last. The Hebrews, recognizing Saturday as being the seventh day and wishing to honor God in their own way, followed closely the passages in the book of Genesis which narrate the creation of heaven and earth by God in six days. It then goes on to say, “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it,… and He rested from all His work.” Therefore, the day which they call the Sabbath was set aside as their holy day.

The Romans, after converting to Christianity and in response to the Sabbath, were believed to have changed the first day of the week from “Dies Solis”, day of the Sun, to “Dies Dominus”, the day of the Lord, or as the Italians call it, “domenica”. Sunday, or “domenica” , therefore, became the Christian holy day. After all this, I kind of chuckle when I think of the relationship between days and planets, especially when I read the book title, Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars . You see, I was born on a Tuesday, “martedi’.

Ahh, those Romans! Ya gotta love ‘em!