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Ancient Roman farmers prayed to Saturn when planting seeds.  This mysterious god was the potent force of life present in the combination of seed, water and fertile earth.  This force was quite evidently present in the fertilizer so Saturn also became god of manure, a very important resource.  Curiously reminiscent of SaturnHis name comes from satus, Latin for "seed".  He was portrayed as an old man with a long beard and a pruning knife or sickle, very much like a wise old gardener.  Eventually he came to preside over the winter festival of Saturnalia.  We wonder... was the old English tradition of Father Christmas, the white-bearded spirit of Yule, really Saturn in disguise?

As the crops grew the Romans might also pray to Ceres, the protectress of the grain, and at harvest time they worshipped Ops, goddess of the harvest and abundance.  English has taken a word from each of these deities.  We have the two goddesses to thank for our words cereal and opulent and Saturn gave us Saturday - the only English day-name which is borrowed directly from Latin.

The Latin dies saturni ("day of Saturn") referred to both the god and the planet.  There didn't seem to be a great deal of distinction made between them.  Of all the planets (from Greek planetoi "wanderers") known to the ancients, Saturn was the furthest from the Earth and therefore appeared to move the slowest.  This matched his character as the slow-moving forces of the soil.  When the cult of Mithras brought the week to northern Europe, the Northern tribes didn't understand Saturn.  The planet was just too faint - they had never heard of it.  As for the god... well, he didn't exactly play well in the provinces.  This life-energy stuff was a bit too touchy-feely for those warriors.  They had scant respect for farmers and had no equivalent to Saturn in their pantheon.  

That's why they just adapted his name into something pronounceable in the local tongue, like the Ancient Teutonic Saeternesdag.  Some of them did, anyway.  Others called it "bath day", after a Mithraic ritual.

Most Christian churches maintain a clear distinction between the Sabbath (Saturday) and the Lord's Day (Sunday).  Sabbath is the English form of the Hebrew shabbath ("[day] of rest", from shobath "to rest").

Few Saturdays are singled for special treatment in the calendar.  There is, of course, Holy Saturday (not, please, "Easter Saturday") which is the day before Easter Sunday and in some parts, Egg Saturday, the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday.

Words for Saturday

From the Babylonians
Babylonian ninurta "the planet Saturn"
Iranian kevan
Tamil sani
Sanskrit sanivara "day of the planet Saturn"
Bengali sanibar


From contact with Mithraism

Ancient Greek cronos Saturn
Latin dies saturni "day of Saturn"
Welsh dydd-sadwrn
Teutonic Saeternesdag
Swedish loerdag "bath day"
Icelandic laugardagur
Teutonic Saeternesdag "day of Saturn"


Derived from Latin dies saturni

Irish di-sathirne,
dia sathuirn
"day of Saturn"


Derived from Teutonic saeternesdag

English Saturday "day of Saturn"
Dutch Zaterdag
Albanian shtune


Derived from sabbath
Old High German sambaztec "sabbath day"
Ancient Greek (Christians and Jews) sabbaton "sabbath"
Ancient Romans (Christians and Jews) dies sabbati "sabbath day"
Vulgar Latin sambatum "sabbath"
French Samedi "sabbath day"
Italian Sabato "sabbath"
Spanish Sábado
Modern Greek Savato
Russian Soobbota
Bulgarian Siabota
Polish Sobota
Hungarian Szombat
Arabic yom es sabbat "sabbath day"


From Christianity

German Sonnenabend "Sunday eve"


From Christianity (via numerically challenged scribes)

Chinese li-pai san "of the week, three"

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Last Updated 06/25/02 08:33 PM