February 02, 2008

February Is Black History Month

Once dead last among the listed months of the Roman calendar, February was relegated to second place in the early reshuffling of the calendar's values by command of Numa, fabled second king of the many, many kings of earliest Rome.

Abrupt, brief thing, February.

The word February is rooted in the original formal tendency of the Latins to end the calendar year with a brisk period of review devoted to the expiation of that forgone thing, the past year. Such expectably dour ceremonies as were thought necessary to get the job done drew an uncomfortable crowd no doubt, and thus understandably came to be replaced to the relief of discomfitted Latins by the more mirthfully disposed inclinations embedded in the newer calendar said to have been made by Numa, second king in the fabulous pack of kings of the Latins, who proposed a space at end–year called Saturnalia where all manner of communal merriment could see the old year off and the new one in instead.

Numa decreed December last and January first from that day forward, and joined them in Saturnalia, moving February and its ceremonial expiations to the second month of the Roman calendar from its culminating position of before.

In passing through February such Latins as might be inclined would naturally continue to endeavor in the course of that brief second month, time permitting, to assay the duncity, destructiveness and depravity that was the honest Roman share in the recently completed year past, should any decent memory of it linger in the saturnalian fizz of merry January's wake.

The other, alternate, calendar supplanted by Numa's took the month of the spring equinox as the firstmonth of its year, and thus the month previous to the equinox (call it February for the purposes of expiation) was the last month of any fully seasoned calendar. This widely understood calendar, with its ultimate month meaningfully reserved for expiations, came to be supplanted, as did so many other local customs, when the Romans took Numa's calendar on the road.

By moving truncated little February to second place, the subtle hand (suggested to be Numa's) lifted up the period of expiation and transferred it as compactly as possible to second place as well, while moving it not at all with respect to the seasons, cleverly synchronizing the timing of its dutiful reflections, and thus the whole Roman calendar, with the other alternate supplanted calendar known by the wide range of people to Rome's north and west for example, and thus the month previous to the equinox (call it February again), last month of the cycled seasons, continued to be the reserved space it was meant to be for the judgment and summary enactment of hopefully corrected coursings all along.

Overall it was a downgrade for February's rectifying expiations. February, once the fraught conclusive month of judgment and compensation at year's end, became the stuff of second thoughts in the calendar's second month of the now comfortably inhabited new year of Numa's Roman calendar. Judgments which were February's preserve were mooted by the prior festive accommodations of January. And as for compensation, the rectifying gesture, the corrected course, the learned use of the unmade misstep in future, all of which are entailed by the judgments left to February, oh, yes, of course. All well and good. But secondary to the concerns of the calendar of Numa, which is already well on its way before it gets around to that.

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