Attentive visitors to this blog may already have spotted that I’ve added a new page giving a calendar of days sacred to deities (as opposed to heroes*). Most of these dates will be familiar to those conversant with the ancient Roman calendar (e.g. Lupercalia, Saturnalia, Kalends, Ides, etc.). Some, however, are drawn from a specifically Gallo-Roman milieu, such as the dedication of altars and temples in the Gaulish provinces to deities like Caiua, Jupiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus, and Rosmerta. I’ve long used this procedure to try and keep at least one day a year sacred to certain key deities (the ones most commonly worshipped by the Treveri, in particular, but also others with whom I have a personal connection of one kind or another).
Now, the problem with this approach is that it’s limited to those inscriptions that happen to have dates on them, which the great majority don’t. Plus, the ones that are dated often double up on the same deities (Jupiter Optimus Maximus and Juno Regina, notably).
Well, given the intimate, millennia-old association between divine epiphanies and celestial phenomena,† it’s occurred to me that we might take advantage of another source of dedication dates: the first sightings of planets, moons, and stars named for deities of interest to us. This seems sneaky, but perhaps not unjustifiable if we assume that by these discoveries, the deities in question were exploiting a means by which to manifest themselves to the world.
Thanks to this method, I now have dates on my calendar for Abnoba (4 June), Arduinna (19 November), Belenos (21 January), Belisama (6 October), Ðirona (8 September), Mars Albiorix (9 November), the Matres Namausicas (22 January), Nehalennia (24 September—the traditional date of the autumnal equinox, and hence harvest-time), Taranus (2 September), Tarvos Trigaranus (23 September), and Toutatis (4 January). All of these are deities who get short shrift (or in fact no shrift) from the Italian-centred calendars that have come down to us. There may be other, more eligible sacred days dedicated to Ariadne, Nemesis, Æternitas, and the like, but I added these to the calendar as well because I couldn’t help myself!
In some cases, deities were clearly more involved in manifesting themselves than in others (ahem, Eris!), and the selection of the name was plainly the astronomer’s thoughtful dedication to a deity who was felt to be at work. In other cases, where no deity was at work, the astronomers were on their own, and sometimes the names they chose were frankly silly. (Minor planet 3568, for instance, was named ASCII—though not by the original discoverer.) But I’m happy to have dates in my calendar for the deities listed above, by hook or by crook.
* Some, however, are counted in both places if they were both heroes and (then) deities. Hercules, Quirinus, and Æsculapius would all fall under this heading; I’ve included the diui and diuae in both places as well.
† The divine Julius’ comet springs to mind as an example.