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Hail Cæsar!

Regular leap years really are a nice idea. I’m glad that Cæsar was inspired to create them. Calendars before his innovation were a real mess.

But there’s something lost in Cæsar’s calculation (a loss made only more acute by Gregory’s interference). Before Cæsar, the pontifex maximus had to base the year’s calendar on astronomical observations. True, the decisions were often influenced more by political and economic observations — a longer year meant a longer term of office. But there’s still a real earthiness in a system that forces you regularly to pit your measurements against the real world, and just as regularly yield to that reality.

Our calendar now is so mathematical. So scientific. So perfect — or so we think. In reality, it’s still inaccurate. How can we measure years in days when neither days nor years are of equal length? But it’s all so mathematically elegant that we fool ourselves into thinking that reality is our own measurement of nature and not nature itself.

Calendars were a mess before Cæsar because nature was a mess. It’s still a mess. So we trust our reliable but ultimately imaginary arithmetic more than we trust nature, and our current calendar’s inevitable error is ignored.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to have spring every February and midsummer in June and midwinter for Christmas. And thanks to Cæsar (and his Christian successor) we should all be able to enjoy that for at least a few thousand years more.

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