Like a Stream Returning Not Again

Like a Stream Returning Not Again…

Our February 20 newsletter is out. Please check it out.

Time is something that humanity has always known and measured. Early humans marked the days of the year to know when the solstices were, when to plant crops, when to expect the monsoons. But we tend to think of timekeeping as a more modern device. Clocks to tell workers their shift at the factory, or when to expect the next train. (Time zones were the creation of the railroads to allow them to synchronize their schedules.)

I did some reading for a time-travel story. Would people a thousand years ago have said, “I’ll meet you in an hour,” or “it took fifteen minutes to get to the market?” I found that as early as 1500 B.C., sundials were in use that divided the day into twelve parts, the basis for our modern clock faces. The division of circles into sixty parts dates back to the early Babylonians. The astronomer Ptolemy divided them again into sixty. The first divisions were minutae (minutes), and the second divisions were minutae secundae (seconds). But while the hours were divided into minutes and seconds over two thousand years ago, they weren’t used until the first mechanical clocks in the early fourteenth century, the time of Chaucer. (But a ‘moment’ was about 1/40 of an hour. Go figure.)

But the idea of time as something precious that can be wasted, which seems so modern, makes an appearance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

Let’s lose as little time now as we may.
My lords, it’s time that wastes both night and day,
That robs us while we sleep without defense,
And while awake, through our own negligence.
It’s like a stream returning not again,
Descending from the mountain to the plain.
Well Seneca, like others of his measure,
Bewails the loss of time more than of treasure:
‘Of chattels there may be recovery,
But we are ruined by loss of time,’ said he.

Now that I’ve wasted this time in researching minutia that might be at best background for a story someday, I’ll leave you with this question. How can you count to twelve on the four fingers of one hand, as the ancient Babylonians might have? Or for a bonus question: A clerk in a hardware store once counted out 31 items for me using one hand. How did he do it? The first five people to send me a correct answer at will win a free certificate for a kindle copy of one of our books, Sellenria or Knots. The answers will appear in next month’s newsletter.

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