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Days of the week: The gods we meet every day

UPPER-INTERMEDIATE Vydáno dne 27.02.2008

What questions would you ask gods if you met them in today's world? In Britain, you can have an afternoon tea party with Frigg, the Norse goddess of beauty and Odin's wife. Or in the USA, you can kick up the engine of your roadster and take a ride on the Route 66 with Thor, the old Germanic and Norse god of thunder, with your hair running wild by the wind.



Days of the week:

The gods we meet every day

In English, names of the days of the week are derived from Roman, Germanic and Norse mythology. In modern times, these names are not more than ordinary words to us. Seven of many.

In ancient world, things used to be different. People were wondering about things, trying to find their origins. Likewise, they were looking up at the sky, observing motionless stars. And they figured out that there were also other heavenly bodies, not motionless at all. These were planets. Dots of light wandering through the universe. Soon they found out their motion is regular. They associated them with time as they had understood it.

Since cultures of our ancestors were full of questions for which they could not find reasonable answers, they made up stories. These stories explained unexplainable. They became myths, they became religions. No wonder planets observed in the sky and associated with their days became perceived as incarnations of their gods.

Thanks to the long history of English language, words for the days of the week came from different cultures and languages and so the week pantheon is pretty rich and diverse.

According to Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible's Old Testament, Sabbath (a Hebrew word meaning Day Of Rest) was the week's last day on which the God had a relax time after the six-day long creation toil. This day equals to Saturday in English and that is why the week starts with Sunday in English-speaking countries.

Okay. Ready for a special parade? So let us meet the gods in person.


Sunday: Do not get disappointed

Would you guess what planet is associated with this day? Easy, isn't it? You can object that the Sun is not a planet. You are right. It is a star.

Do not get dissapointed that you are not meeting any god. For ancient cultures, the Sun and its daily cycle were crucial because their lives depended on its light and warmth making it possible to grow plants and get rid of the fear of the nightly shadows. Every morning, they were afraid the great gold sphere would not rise up in the heavens again. So the Sun was mostly understood as an incarnation of their most important deity and they were begging it with their prayers to come back the other day.

In many Romance languages, Sunday is called the Lord's Day (Domingo in Spanish, dimanche in French, domenica in Italian: based on the Latin expression Dies Dominica) since this was the day when the God started his one week creation feast.


Monday: Keep the moon safe from the wolf

Easy to remember - Monday is the Moon Day. The word moon is associated with the Norse god Mona (Máni). He was pulling the moon accross the sky, trying to escape and save it from a mythological wolf. At the end of the world, the wolf will catch them and tear the moon into pieces. This apocalyptic period of the world is called Ragnarok in Norse mythology.

In Romance languages, Monday is also the Moon Day (lunes in Spanish, lundi in French, lunedi in Italian: coming from Latin Dies Lunae).


Tuesday: Shake the only hand of Tyr

Tyr (referred to as Tiw, Tiu or Tew in Old English) was the god of combat. He had just one hand and the story behind it is as follows.

The prophecy of the sybil that three siblings would bring troubles to gods alarmed the pantheon and Odin (see also the section for Wednesday) decided to get rid of them. One of them was Fenrir, a huge mythological wolf. They tried to bound him, but he was too strong and tore any chain they used.

Finally they asked dwarves to make a special, untearable binding called Gleipnir. It consisted of six wondrous ingredients which do not exist any longer because the gods took them from the world for good. These were the sound of a cat's footfall, the beard of a woman, the breath of a fish, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear (meaning rather sensibilities in this case) and the spittle of a bird.

Fenrir did not believe them that they would set him free again after having tried the binding on him. Tyr had to put his arm in his mouth as the guarantee. That is why one of his arms is missing. And again, when Ragnarok begins, the wolf will free himself from Gleipnir and avenge this deception by devouring Odin.

In Romance languages, this day belongs to Mars, the Roman god of war (martes in Spanish, mardi in French).


Wednesday: On the way to the afterlife

The fourth day of the week is named after Odin (Wodan or Woden). In Anglo-Saxon world, Woden is not necessarily the mirror of the Norse Odin. Up to the seventh century, he was worshipped as the main deity. He was the psychopomp which is a word for someone who helps deliver human souls to the afterlife.

In Romance languages, the name of the day comes from Latin Dies Mercurii (miércoles in Spanish, mercoledi in Italian, mercredi in French), associated with Mercury, the Roman god of trade, profit and commerce.

In German, the word for Wednesday is simply Mittwoch, meaning the middle of the week.


Thursday: When the hammer is smashing up the skies

And we have just arrived to Thursday, named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. He travels through the heavens in a charriot, wearing a special belt and iron gloves which give him extra strength to lift his giant hammer.

Romance languages based their fifth day's name upon the Latin Dies Iovis, meaning the Day of Jupiter (jueves in Spanish, jeudi in French, giovedi in Italian). Jupiter was a chief Roman god, the god of laws and social order. His attribute was a thunderbolt.


Friday: The day of beauty

Frigg was the Norse goddess of beauty, love, household, fertility and motherhood. She was Odin's wife. She wonderfully balances out the dreadfulness of all the masculine gods sitting around our week table.

Derived from Latin Dies Veneris, Friday is viernes in Spanish, vendredi in French and venerdi in Italian. The day belongs to Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty, love and fertility.


Saturday: Even the God needs to relax

Here we come to the only day of the English week which brings a Roman god to our heavenly party. The word Saturday is derived from Saturn, the god of harvest and agriculture. Buying all the food in supermarkets, we can hardly imagine how important this guy was for our distant ancestors.

In Latin, the word for Saturday is Sambata Dies, meaning the Day of Sabbath (sábado in Spanish, sabato in Italian, samedi in French). Sabbath is a Hebrew word for the Day of Rest. It was the last day of the all-in-one-week creation run. A day when the God finally had some relax, lying in the Garden of Eden and curiously waiting for what happens next.




English Anglo-Saxon German Spanish Italian French
Sunday Sunnandæg Sonntag domingo domenica dimanche
Monday Monandæg Montag lunes lunedi lundi
Tuesday Tiwesdæg Dienstag martes martedi mardi
Wednesday Wodneesdæg Mittwoch miércoles mercoledi mercredi
Thursday Thresdæg Donnerstag jueves giovedi jeudi
Friday Frigedæg Freitag viernes venerdi vendredi
Saturday Sæternesdæg Samstag/Sonnabend sábado sabato samedi




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Text: Ladislav Sedlák. Copyright © Help for English

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