November 25, 2003

*Ask Jen

Simon writes, "Can you please list the famous 'On this day events' for May 7 and May 8. This post will explain why."

I'm not sure I can add anything to your lifetime of knowledge accrued for the sole purpose of annoying your brother, but here are some main ones...

May 7: Birthdays...Sir Francis Beaufort (British naval officer, invented wind force scale), Gary Cooper (actor), Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (composer), Tim Russert ("Meet the Press"), Johnny Unitas (football player). History...Vietnam's victory over France ended Indochina War, Germany's first surrender in WWII, Lusitania torpedoed by Germany in 1915, 27th Amendment ratified (forbidding mid-term pay raises for Congress).

May 8: Birthdays...Harry Truman (president), David Attenborough (author, naturalist), Ronnie Lott (football player). History...Beatles' last album released, Lavoisier execution ("father of modern chemistry" guillotined for role as tax collector), Germany's second WWII surrender or V-E Day.

Jim asks, "When did the hour become used? That is, when did the standard of 1/24th of the day become a popular unit of time? I was watching a special on the Giza plateau yesterday and one of the things they said just seemed wrong. In the temple in front of the Sphinx there were 12 podiums for statues and the narrator said these were for the 12 months and the 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of the night. Was the hour really used 5000 years ago?"

The Egyptian calendar of 12 months was developed in the 4200s B.C. and the Egyptians were one of the earliest to divide the day into 24 parts, but one difference between their hour and ours was that their hour could lengthen or shorten depending on the time of year. For example, their daytime summer "hours" were longer than 60 minutes and their nighttime summer "hours" were shorter than 60 minutes. My best educated guess would be that the program was correct, assuming the temple was built after 4000 B.C.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at November 25, 2003 12:08 PM


Great answer, Jennifer. Thanks!

Posted by: Jim at November 25, 2003 12:09 PM

Seriously though, Jen, you're really the Encyclopedia Britannica, aren't you?

Posted by: Daniel at November 25, 2003 12:20 PM

Germany surrendered twice? Not even France is that bad.

Posted by: Simon at November 25, 2003 08:43 PM

The issue of hours lengthening and shortening is rather common historically speaking. Considering the time broken into day and night. A day hour is 1/12th of the time from sunup to sundown and vice-a-versa for night hours. They are still used in Jewish ritual law.

Posted by: Kin at November 26, 2003 02:17 AM