Saturday, March 26, 2005

On this day of Thermidor...: Revisiting the French Revolution

One lesser-remembered event of the French Revolution was the coup of Thermidor, when Jacobins overthrew Robespierre and his reign of terror and overthrew the traditional Christian calendar (the calendar we know today) as well.

This reordering of time was metric in nature: days would consist of ten hours of a hundred minutes of a hundred seconds. A month was to consist of three sets of ten days, with one day of rest at the end of a set of nine days. The dearth of days of rest made the reform unpopular and sadly, drew attention away from the brilliance and awesomeness of the renaming of the months of the year. The new names were the following:

1. Vendémiaire 7. Germinal
2. Brumaire 8. Floréal
3. Frimaire 9. Prairial
4. Nivôse 10. Messidor
5. Pluviôse 11. Thermidor
6. Ventôse 12. Fructidor

According to a site that explains this system in valuable depth,
The poets contributed the name of the days, choosing the names of plants, domestic animals and tools; the months rhyme three by three, according to the "sonority" of the seasons.

Now first, we can certainly acknowledge that were some mistakes made in how the French Revolution was carried out, as worthy a cause as it was. The Jacobin calendar, however, was not one of them. I mean for the love of god, my birthday would be in the month of Germinal (I think? I believe one can figure out how to convert the months between Jacobin and Christian by associating Thermidor with July and going from there); how cool is that? Lucky people born in or around July would be born in Thermidore. And how about people born in Nivôse (December)? Which of those two possiblities sounds better? I think the answer is pretty clear.

Pushing for a Jacobin calendar won't be easy. Many religious Christians are bound to challenge it, as is represented by this comment, posted in what appears to be a web forum for smug, religious types:
The idea was to stamp out anything felt to be “superstitious,” which took in anything remotely religious. Consequently, Nov. 21-Dec. 20 was renamed “Frimaire,” “month of frost or sleet,” and March 21-April 19 called “Germinal,” meaning “month of seeds.”
We all know where the noble ideals of the early French revolution–"Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"–led: to the guillotining of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, along with thousands of other political “undesirables” during the “Reign of Terror” of 1794-95. A little historical lesson of what can happen all too easily when religion is sneered at and stamped out in the name of “progress.”

Still, I'm willing to sacrifice popularity to achieve a world of metrics and months with names the like of Floréal.


Gonzalo Del Rio Villasenor said...

Elaine. I feel like I'm in French History class. So cool though. Those Frenchies.

Chris said...

As much as I love those French names (your use of "mistakes" in regard to the Revolution is a gross understatement, btw), I like our Latin ones, too. Unfortunately for both sides of this argument, the "Christian Calendar" has nothing to do with Christianity, except that they kept it. Months are named after gods or things (example: January, after the Janus, or the word ianuar meaning door), or Roman emperors, or numbers.

If it were a true Christian Calendar, we'd have months like "Advent" and "Lent" and, the best one, "Ordinary Time"...and that just doesn't make any sense.

Elaine said...

Thanks you both for your comments. Chris, your point is appreciated. I don't know, I think Ordinary Time is a pretty cool name for a month. It makes you think...