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Time Cycles

Page created: 2022-07-28 , updated: 2023-04-26

The book Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week by Eviatar Zerubavel is pretty dry reading. But several ideas were quite thought-provoking. One of which, was the idea that the concept of the week gives us more than just structure in a way I’d never considered.

Namely, the comfort of the weekly cycle versus the never-ending progression of the days:

We talk about "Saturdays", yet never about "July 15, 1967s."

I think it’s interesting to consider how much more comfortable it is to treat time as a series of the same days over and over again, another Monday, another Tuesday and so on. The alternative being in comparison to thinking of specific days, thousands of days, millions of days. Because doesn’t that lead to thinking about how many of those days we might see in our lifetimes? How many more mornings we’ll wake up? (Shudder.)

What other repeating time events do we have? I suppose every astronomical cycle such as moon phases, orbits around the sun (seasons, solstices, and equinoxes) is a potential point of reference that transcends the years.

Come to think of it, even certain hours are universal points: "High Noon", or "The Witching Hour," are singular concepts that revisit us every single day.

But especially powerful, I think, are the human constructions around those events such as our many cultural celebrations of the winter solstice. You can describe these plural days in the singular: "The shortest day of the year," or "Halloween."

You can also be more specific ("this Halloween" or "last Halloween"), but there’s always the option of speaking of all the days at once ("I love Halloween".)

Here’s a weird one: Anniversaries (including birthdays). Those are celebrations of a specific event that occurred in the past. And yet we can also refer to the celebration days in the singular, "I always get sick on his birthday."

Good morning, eternity!

In Tracking the Appearances of "Rosy-Fingered Dawn" in The Odyssey (, 2018), Jason Kottke quotes Emily Wilson describing her translation of The Odyssey:

Dawn appears some twenty times in The Odyssey, and the poem repeats the same line, word for word, each time: emos d’erigeneia phane rhododaktulos eos: "But when early-born rosy-fingered Dawn appeared…​" There is a vast array of such formulaic expressions in Homeric verse, which suggest that things have an eternal, infinitely repeatable presence. Different things will happen every day, but Dawn always appears, always with rosy fingers, always early.

Though it seems excessively poetic to anthropomorphize the morning like this, I don’t think it’s too far off from imagining Santa Claus as a jolly old manifestation of December 25th, coming down our chimney at midnight every year, as foretold on our calendars (or, more powerfully, our calendar in the singular.)